Tag Archives: middle grade

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.

***

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.

7 Comments

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.

 

3 Comments

Filed under Book Launch, Celebrations, Launch, Uncategorized

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.

rp-gif

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.”

profile-picelaine-at-12

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.

5 Comments

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.

Awkward.gif

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.

findingperfect_final

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.

Sunrise gif

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.

4 Comments

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

Strong Girls in Middle Grade

CharmedChildrencover-1

This week we’re celebrating the release of Janet Fox‘s brilliant new middle grade novel, The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle. The setting is haunting, the plot is tight and tense, the writing is gorgeous. (You don’t have to take my word for it–check out the incredible blurbs and three starred reviews at the bottom if this page!)

But perhaps my favorite thing about this book is the strength of its main character, Kat. She is clever and fierce and good, and she absolutely never gives up. She’s so unique and memorable, and she joins some pretty impressive ranks of strong girls in middle grade. Here are some of the Emus’ favorites:

penderwicksMegan Wagner Lloyd: There are so many fantastic girl protagonists in MG! A few wonderful ones that come to mind: I love the Penderwick sisters (in the Penderwick series by Jeanne Birdsall) for their determination and the way they embrace each sister’s uniqueness. I love Pacy (in The Year of the Dog series by Grace Lin) for her creativity, her yearning, and the way she is always puzzling out the different things that make her Pacy. I love Ellie (in The Fourteeth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm) for her curiosity, openness, and kindness. I’ll stop there (I could go on for ages!).

Darcey Rosenblatt: Harriet the Spy is certainly a fav, but meg in A Wrinkle in Time is my all time favorite and sort of saved my life because she was nerdy and under appreciated but turned out to kind of save the world!!

Katie Slivensky: Annabeth Chase from Percy Jackson. Smart, quick–that girl has her act together. Which is incredibly necessary, because she’s in a series with a monster attack every other page.

juniperLaurie Thompson: Princess Juniper of the Hourglass, because she is oh so real and has to learn as she goes, mistakes and all! 🙂

Hayley Barrett: Ada in The War That Saved My Life.

Sarvinder Naberhaus: I always liked Laura Ingalls Wilder because she wasn’t a goody-two-shoes like her sister Mary.

Elly Swartz: I loved Rose in Rain Reign by Ann Martin. She stays true to who she is, and is a take-charge kind of girl.

Carole Gerber: I like Meg in Little Women. Shows how “up” I am on current MG titles! Yay for Louisa May Alcott, one of the first to write about strong girls.

lizziebrightMylisa Larsen: Oh, there are so many that I love. Delphine from P.S. Be Eleven (and surrounding books in that series.) Odge from The Secret of Platform 13 (though she is technically a hag not a girl but she reads as middle grade girl to me.) Igraine the Brave. Lizzie Bright. The Penderwick sisters. Aerin from The Hero and the Crown. Vida Wojciehowski (“My public calls me Velveeta.”) from Bluefish. I adore Vida Wojciehowski. Just as I loved Jo March with every fiber of my 14 year old heart when I first met her. My daughter is sitting here and her current picks are Tamora Pierce’s Alanna and Varian Johnson’s Gaby de la Cruz.

Andrea Wang: I love Hermione from the Harry Potter series. She’s unabashedly brainy, a steadfast friend, and always prepared. I covet her little beaded handbag with the Undetectable Extension Charm on it.

Jason Gallaher: A new favorite of mine is Mya Tibbs from Crystal Allen’s The Magnificent Mya Tibbs: Spirit Week Showdown. Mya has personality for days! She’s a cowgirl loving, taradiddle telling, hogtying practicing spitfire who isn’t afraid to face life’s challenges head on.

Thank you, Emus! And thank you, Janet, for giving us another strong middle grade girl to read about and root for!

6 Comments

Filed under Book Launch, Characters, Launch, Uncategorized

The Aftermath

westportal

Book Scavenger in the wild!

What a wonderful stretch of launch weeks we’ve had around here! Book Scavenger has been out in the world for a little over two months now, and in that time we’ve also celebrated the launches of Mothman’s Curse, My Dog is the Best, Penny & Jelly, Another Kind of Hurricane, There Once Was an Old Dragon, and our latest The Looney Experiment. Whew! It’s been the summer of celebrations!

And speaking of The Looney Experiment and celebrating, a big congratulations to Teresa Robeson! You are the winner of a signed copy of Luke’s new book!

So what do I have to report post-publication? It’s been a whirlwind. It’s felt like a dream. It’s been awesome and stressful and boring and humbling and probably every emotion in-between.

The sequel for Book Scavenger is officially on the schedule for next year, and so I’ve been working on it every spare chance I get. I’ve even been given an official pub date. If all goes according to plan, then you should be able to find The Unbreakable Code in bookstores and libraries June 7, 2016. Gulp. And I’ve also seen a rough sketch for the cover, which, woah! That makes it feel real. (And I’m so excited about the direction they’re going in too! The cover is going to be awesome.)

There is a definite transition you go through having your first book published, at least speaking for myself. Beforehand there were a lot of anticipatory nerves. Most of those stemmed from preparing for something you’ve never experienced before. Before last June, I’d never done a presentation for 200 4th, 5th, and 6th graders. I was freaking out about that! I knew what I was going to say, but I wasn’t sure how it would go over and what the overall experience would be like.

Springer1

Turned out it was super fun! So much fun, I’m eager to do it again!

And a launch party. I’ve attended launch parties for other authors, but never experienced my own. Would people come? Would they enjoy themselves? If people did come, would I then be totally awkward and weird having people stare at me while I tried to put coherent sentences together in an at least moderately entertaining fashion?

LindenTree20

At the awesome Linden Tree Bookstore, who hosted my first-ever launch party!

LauraYoung7

And the equally awesome Book Passage at the Ferry Building, who hosted my second ever launch party!

People did come! I was truly humbled, amazed, and grateful for the enthusiasm and support friends and family showed me and Book Scavenger. And strangers!! There were strangers at my book launch parties! I was so excited, I wanted to run up and hug them and shout “I don’t know you and you’re here!!! You’re here and you’re buying my book!”

I should have done that, shouldn’t I? That would have been kind of awesome.

The nerves do subside with a little experience. I did my first Skype visit with a book group at a San Francisco library recently. I was a kind of nervous beforehand, but not as nervous as I’d been before my other events. And as soon as I saw those kids on my computer screen, I was excited. And in a state of awe–these were kids who read my book! What a trip.

CLNcQLtUcAAWbNV

Hearing from readers has been the coolest part of the debut experience so far, hands down. Young readers, adult readers, teachers, librarians, and booksellers . . . Having people take the time out of their day to reach out and let me know they enjoyed Book Scavenger, that they are glad it exists in the world, that they are happy to have spent some time with these characters I sat with for 12 years . . . I don’t really have the words to describe how that feels. The closest word I can think of is GRATITUDE.

I’m so very grateful to be on this journey.

 

____________________________________

jenn.bertman-2002139Jennifer Chambliss Bertman is the author of the middle-grade mystery, Book Scavenger (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt/Macmillan, 2015). Book Scavenger has been selected as an Indie Next Kids’ Top Ten Pick for Summer 2015, an Amazon Best Book of 2015 So Far, and one of five books chosen for the Publisher’s Weekly Best Summer Reads 2015, among other accolades. A sequel titled The Unbreakable Code will be published in 2016, followed by a stand-alone middle grade mystery in 2017. She has an MFA in Creative Writing and worked in publishing for over a decade before becoming a children’s book author. More information can be found about her and her books at jenniferchamblissbertman.com and bookscavenger.com.

 

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized, Writing and Life

Luke Reynolds’ The Looney Experiment – An Ode to Teachers

Welcome to Day Two of the EMU’s Debuts launch party for Luke Reynolds and his charming new middle grade novel, The Looney Experiment. If you haven’t already snagged a copy of the book for yourself, or for the nearest young reader in your life, I’m pretty sure you will Looney Experimentwant to by the end of this launch week. Yesterday, Megan introduced some of the looney things we’ve done in our pasts. Today, we’re stepping into the shoes of Atticus, the protagonist of The Looney Experiment, and to the teacher who impacted his life so profoundly, Mr. Looney. We’ve blown the cobwebs out of our memory noggins to reflect on the teachers who helped to shape each of us.

male-teacher-cartoonMs. McCauley was my third-grade teacher. She was the no-smiles type of teacher who left a lasting imprint on my life. You see, I was a slow-as-molasses type of reader when I was little. So slow that it made reading not fun. But Ms. McCauley realized something was wrong. Turned out, only my right eye read. The left one did nothing, causing the whole reading process to slow way way down. She taught me how to strengthen my eye, my reading and ultimately, my love for books. Thank you, Ms. McCauley!     Elly Swartz

red-crayon-pencil-clipartMy first through third grade teacher, Mrs. Knight, is definitely the teacher who sparked my creativity. As long as I did my homework in math and science, she would let me sit at my desk and write stories until my fingers fell off. Mrs. Knight even staged readings in “The Circle” (which was actually a square and still to this day gets me in an Inception-like rabbit hole of “what in the heck did this misnomer mean?!?!”), and kept our books in the classroom library. I will forever remember Mrs. Knight, and wouldn’t be here today without her.     Jason Gallaher

green-crayon-pencil-clipartMy favorite teachers were both band teachers: Mr. Jacobus in junior high and Mr. Duffer in high school. Mr. Jacobus helped me develop a love and appreciation for music. With his encouragement I discovered a drive to set goals and improve as a musician. In high school, Mr. Duffer exposed us to an impressive range of composers and taught us to dream big. Under his guidance we won several competitions and learned not to be afraid of a challenge. I will always be grateful for the incredible gift of music they nurtured. It continues to shape my life in unexpected ways. Case in point: those early band days are providing inspiration for my current work-in-progress!   Christine Hayes

red-crayon-pencil-clipartTeachers often told me that I was good at writing, but I never really felt like I had any particular talent for it. Writing finally came alive for me in middle school when—believe it or not—we got to diagram sentences! Our teacher, Mrs. Lysdahl, showed me that language could be logical and fit together like pieces of a puzzle as well as being beautiful and creative. It delighted me that it could be both of those things at once, and the exercise appealed to both sides of my brain. I loved finding particularly beautiful and/or powerful sentences and then analyzing them, taking them apart to see what made them tick. It somehow brought the “hard” part—being creative—back down to earth for me, and made it seem less like a magical talent that you either had or didn’t have and more like a skill that I could really master if I worked hard enough.   Laurie Ann Thompson

green-crayon-pencil-clipartMr. Arkle taught 12th-grade honors English and blew my mind when he assigned us an E-Prime essay. At that age, I already loved to write, but I always did it quickly, with abandon. E-Prime demanded that I choose each word with care. It opened my eyes to the power of being deliberate. It also taught me what it meant to edit; I spent hours searching through that paper and eliminating tiny slips and weaknesses. Two decades later, that assignment and its lessons remain vivid in my writing mind. Thank you, Mr. Arkle.   Megan Morrison

red-crayon-pencil-clipartTwo teachers come immediately to mind. And they are husband and wife!  Scott Kalter and Sydney Long.  Scott was my 6th grade teacher in a tiny 4 room schoolhouse. His energy and passion were anything but tiny though.  As an adult looking back, I think what he taught me more than anything was the art of active listening: Scott’s focus on each student, and his genuine interest in what each of us was thinking (and hoping and fearing) made all of us feel…real. I know he made me feel that way—like I was a vital part of a community; like I mattered as a unique individual but had a necessary place, too, in the whole.  Sydney was my junior high and high school chorus teacher. Her energy and passion were enormous too. And as an adult looking back on my time with her, I think what she began to instill in me was a work ethic. In specific, she nurtured a process that asked her students to trust that hard work, constant practice, and always striving for better would result in, not only a stellar product, but a magical one.

It took me a long time to fully take in Scott and Syd’s lessons, but in hindsight I truly think they planted critical seeds in me. They also became dear friends, who helped me through some rough times in my young adult life and who, I am grateful to say, officiated at my wedding. They are a critical part of my life today, and I love them both.  Tam Smith

green-crayon-pencil-clipartIn 3rd grade my teacher Mrs. Weber had us all write poems. She didn’t tell me, but she sent mine into the town newspaper…and they published it. I can still see my mom’s face, and feel the surge of happy surprise. And the pride. And I resolved to become a writer. Thank you, Mrs. Weber!!!      Janet Fox

red-crayon-pencil-clipartI feared math class with all my heart. Teachers tried, but I was frozen. In 6th grade, my classmates and I were tested for an advanced algebra class. I passed. I was tested again. I passed again. Here’s why: There weren’t any numbers on the test. If A equals B and B equals C, then… I had no problem with it.      When algebra started, I could barely keep my head above water. As friends aced tests, I struggled. Finally, my teacher had had enough. The night before a big test, she kept me after school and worked for hours with me until I could solve the equations.

The day after the test, my teacher, as was her custom, made the class guess who got the highest score. Name after name of the best math students went by. Finally, she tossed the test on my desk and said, “It was Hayley.”

We both triumphed that day. It wasn’t the end of my math troubles, but it did crack the ice of my fear a little. I could no longer believe that understanding was impossible. My teacher, Miss Kalogeris, did that.   Hayley Barrett

green-crayon-pencil-clipartWithout a doubt, my favorite and most inspiring teacher was my fifth grade teacher, Miss Mellion! She was an artist, fresh out of college, and full of energy. Every month we’d have an artist of the month featured, like Winslow Homer, or Mary Cassat, or Degas, and we’d learn about their lives and art. Her mother was also a teacher in CT, so we had a penpal program, and we even got to meet our penpals one time on a field trip to a museum. She was also a vegetarian, and taught us all about nutrition, and the food groups, and although I didn’t become a vegetarian until many years later, she definitely influenced me. I recently found her address, and am planning to write to her. I hope she still lives there since I’d love to hear from her! She was very encouraging about my writing, and I think she’d be proud to know that I’m now an author too.  Maria Gianferrari

red-crayon-pencil-clipartMy fondest teacher memories can be traced to two special educators. When I was in fourth grade, Mrs. Gentry took a special interest in me. Or, rather, she made me feel special. While I was an average student in general, I stood out in Language Arts, and I was her star speller. I collected the most gold stars for winning the classroom spelling bees. Despite my shyness, she encouraged me to compete on the school’s UIL spelling and poetry teams, which completely converted me to Language Arts geek.

My sophomore English teacher, Mrs. P., was equally important. She insisted that we write in journals every day, which became therapeutic for me during some tough teen times. Somehow she recognized a spark in my writing, and was always encouraging me to think bigger and to do more. It’s probably too late to track her down, but I would love for her to know that I took her advice. Donna Janell Bowman

Bravo to Mr. Looney, who inspired Atticus! And Bravo to all teachers around the world.

What you do matters!

school-chalkboard

Comment on any post this week for your chance to win a copy of THE LOONEY EXPERIMENT.

Buy a copy of The Looney Experiment from your favorite independent book store, or consider one of these fine merchants:

Amazon, BooksaMillion,Barnes & Noble, Indiebound

 

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Cover Reveal: THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE

I’m thrilled to be able to announce the cover of my March 15, 2016 middle grade debut, THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE (Viking). And happy to add that the book will simultaneously release as an audiobook, by Listening Library!

Here’s the synopsis: Something is not right at Rookskill Castle, a rundown Scottish manor shrouded in mystery. The castle is a temporary boarding school for children escaping the Blitz, but soon it’s clear there is something terribly wrong. There are clues hinting that a spy is in the house, and there are undeniable signs of a sinister magic. When the children in the castle’s temporary boarding school begin disappearing one by one, it’s a race against the clock for twelve-year-old Kat Bateson, her two younger siblings, and their new best friend.

CharmedChildrencover (1)

I’m so happy with this beautiful cover, illustrated by Greg Ruth. You can add it to your Goodreads to-read shelf here


IMG_8226bJanet Fox’s published works include the non-fiction middle grade self-help book GET ORGANIZED WITHOUT LOSING IT (Free Spirit Publishing) and three young adult historical novels: FAITHFUL, FORGIVEN, and SIRENS (all Speak/Penguin). Her debut middle grade novel THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE is due out in March 2016 from Viking; it’s a creepy historical fantasy featuring ghosts, enigma machines, disappearing children, castles, and curses. Janet is currently working on a number of projects ranging from picture books to more middle grade to YA science fiction. Janet is a former high school teacher, and a 2010 MFA graduate from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and she’s represented by Erin Murphy. She lives in Bozeman, Montana, where she and her husband are ruled by an energetic Lab, but you can also find her at www.janetsfox.com.

15 Comments

Filed under Book Launch, cover art

The Final Countdown

I have two weeks left until Book Scavenger will be found on shelves at bookstores and libraries. TWO WEEKS!

Last week, I received one of these in the mail:

CEVzPadW0AAvU7X

That’s the real, official hardback you will find on bookshelves on June 2!

 

I’m struggling to think of the words for how I’m feeling right now. There’s gratitude, for sure. Excitement. Some stress and anxiety. But there’s something else too. My launch week is going to bring my writing journey full circle in a lot of different ways. I’ll be doing a presentation for 225 4th-6th graders at my former elementary school, where I first daydreamed about one day being an author myself. I’ll be visiting two Creative Writing classes at my former junior high. My first launch party will be held at the Linden Tree Bookstore, a children’s bookstore right by my hometown. I worked at the Linden Tree over ten years ago when I was in graduate school getting my MFA in Creative Writing. My second launch party will be held at Book Passage in San Francisco. The first children’s writing conference I ever attended (back in 2000, I think?) was put on by Book Passage. (That’s where I learned about, and subsequently joined, SCBWI.) And, of course, San Francisco is the city I lived in when I first began creating Book Scavenger.

Is there a word that means nostalgic satisfaction? I can trace the seeds of Book Scavenger through so many stages of my life, all the way back to when I won the bookworm contest in 1st grade and was awarded a hardback of Little House on the Prairie. The aspiration to be an author has always been there. It sometimes became dormant if I felt like I was kidding myself, but it was still there in its brown and brittle form. It feels good to have finally finished a book, this book in particular, and to be happy with its final form. I’ve never been a runner, but I imagine publishing Book Scavenger is how it might feel to do a marathon. A decade-long marathon. Except with a marathon, you get to the finish and that’s the end of the race. And for me, I’m hoping this is just the beginning . . .

 

(If you will be in the San Francisco Bay Area on June 5 and 6, I’d love to see you at one of the launch parties! Click here for more information about the June 5 event in Los Altos, CA, and here for more information about the June 6 event in San Francisco.)

 

____________________________________

jenn.bertman-2002139Jennifer Chambliss Bertman is the author of the forthcoming middle-grade mystery, Book Scavenger (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt/Macmillan, 2015). Book Scavenger launches a contemporary mystery series that involves cipher-cracking, book-hunting, and a search for treasure through the streets of San Francisco. Learn more about the book at BookScavenger.com. Jennifer earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Saint Mary’s College, Moraga, CA, and is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

You can find Jennifer online at http://writerjenn.blogspot.com where she runs an interview series with children’s book authors and illustrators called “Creative Spaces.”

8 Comments

Filed under Dreams Come True, Happiness, Launch, Satisfaction, Thankfulness, Uncategorized, Writing and Life

When Your Idea Gets Published By Someone Else First

Writers, does this scenario strike fear in your heart? You’re working on a project, you’re invested in it, excited, feeling confident that finally, finally, FINALLY you’ve hit on an idea that’s really clicking for you. And then *screeeeeching brakes*: A book is published with a too-similar premise.

If you relate to this, or worry about it happening, then I have a story you might like to hear:

51ysrNDhV3L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_I started writing Book Scavenger in 2003. The beginning seed of my idea was this image of kids finding a mysterious book in a BART station, but I wasn’t sure where to go from there. I thought maybe the book they found would be special because the characters could come out into the real world. Yes! I got really excited about this idea. It seemed cool and original–and then I read Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. If you’re not familiar with Inkheart, read it, it’s fantastic, but it has a similar premise to my initial idea and I lost all confidence in myself being able to do something similar.

But I was stch_book1till stuck on this image of kids finding a book in a BART station and having an adventure in San Francisco. I switched gears and latched onto a new puzzle mystery direction, and came up with the idea for this website/real world bookhunting game . . . In 2004, there was still a big divide between the internet and publishing. Terms like “multiplatform storytelling” and “transmedia” weren’t being thrown around for books back then. I was sure I had latched onto something original and fresh–and then I heard about a new series Scholastic would be launching the following year called 39 Clues with Rick Riordan heading the first book. There would be ELEVEN books, each written by a big name author, with the characters on a worldwide scavenger hunt for clues, and there was also a website/game tie in.

I was crushed. While it wasn’t my exact idea, it shared enough similarities that I no longer felt confident mine would stand out.

9780316003957_p0_v1_s260x420My grand vision deflated like a balloon, and the only thing that kept me moving forward with this now floppy idea of a book was a one-on-one session I had with an editor at a SCBWI conference. She had read the first ten pages of my draft and her written feedback was a short paragraph that began “This is really cool,” and ended with, “Would you send me the whole manuscript? I’d love to read it!”

Wonderful, right? It was, absolutely, but the problem was that I had less than 40 pages written. Not only that, but the idea I had in mind for this book felt too ambitious for my writing skills at the time. I wasn’t sure I could execute it, and definitely didn’t think I could execute it quickly. What if I invested all this time writing this book only to find out I couldn’t pull it off? Or what if I invested all this time and did pull it off, only to have editors and agents point to 39 Clues and say, “Too late. Been done.”

What it bpuzzlingworldoiled down to was this: If I turned down the dial on all the noise–the industry gossip, what else is being published, what do editors want/not want–if I just thought about my characters and my story, I was still incredibly passionate about my idea. I still wanted to understand the mystery behind the book these kids had found in the BART station. I still wanted to see if I could create a Goonies-esque story set in San Francisco. The personal challenge was worth it to me, even if one of my worst-case scenarios came true.

So I kept going with my book. I’d be lying if I said from that moment on I was a fiery ball of confidence that could not be extinguished. But I kept going. I think I was on my third re-write 9780061214509when The Mysterious Benedict Society was published and became a bestseller. There was also The Gollywhopper Games series and the Winston Breen puzzle mysteries, and too many more similar-sounding middle grade mysteries to keep track of.

The summer I sold Book Scavenger in a three-book deal, ALL eleven of the 39 Clues books had been published as well as the first few books of a second 39 Clues series. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library was published and has gone on to be a long-running NY Times bestseller.

Fast forward to today16054808, my publisher is including Book Scavenger on a read-alike poster for libraries which says “If you liked The Mysterious Benedict Society, try Book Scavenger.” (They were going to use Mr. Lemoncello, but that title was included on their poster the year before.) And Jody Feldman, who writes the Gollywhopper Games series, was kind enough to blurb my book. I’m friendly with Eric Berlin, who writes the Winston Breen series, and we share the same agent.

In short, I think a lot of the early success Book Scavenger is now finding could be partly attributed to the path paved by these similar books that came before. I didn’t have to fear the familiar. Every title I mentioned here would likely appeal to the same reader, but they are each unique stories. There is room on the bookshelf for us all.

It can be hard to find that balance between looking to what others are doing for inspiration, but then not letting what others are doing deter you from something. It’s important to remember that it is your spin that will set something apart. Don’t let news of a comparable book knock the wind out of your sails. Just look at it as a challenge to make sure you’re digging deep and tapping into the YOU essence of the story. And keep going.

____________________________________

jenn.bertman-2002139Jennifer Chambliss Bertman is the author of the forthcoming middle-grade mystery, Book Scavenger (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt/Macmillan, 2015). Book Scavenger launches a contemporary mystery series that involves cipher-cracking, book-hunting, and a search for treasure through the streets of San Francisco. Jennifer earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Saint Mary’s College, Moraga, CA, and is represented by Ammi-Joan Paquette.

You can find Jennifer online at http://writerjenn.blogspot.com where she runs an interview series with children’s book authors and illustrators called “Creative Spaces.”

18 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized