Thursday, June 22, 2017

Roberta Gibb by Laurie Calkhoven

This month I'm celebrating my sixth book in Simon Spotlight's YOU SHOULD MEET series. These biographies, written at the second-grade level--celebrate Americans who aren't necessarily well known to today's kids.

Roberta Gibb was the first woman to run in the Boston Marathon. When she applied to take part in the 1966 race, she was told that women couldn't run that far. Women, the race organizers told her, couldn't run more than a mile and a half--anything more than that would kill her!

Bobbi knew those men were wrong and set out to prove it to them. She snuck into the race and made headlines around the world when she finished.

The book comes out next March. Here's a look at the cover. Go, Bobbi!

Monday, June 19, 2017


Dear Reader,

You are reading this because you expressed interest in the Get Lost Book Club.

Get ready to take a journey through time to a really smelly place known as Denmark. There, an evil uncle is trying to dethrone a prince who sees ghosts. Moat serpents will try to eat you. There may be a few sword fights, and a haunted graveyard. Your only allies are the world’s most reluctant reader, Kyle Word, his annoying neighbor, Halley, and his baby brother, Gross Gabe. Help them defeat Uncle Claudius and make it to the end of the story, or you’ll be trapped in Hamlet forever!
Intrigued? Worried? Downright terrified? You should be. But if you’re ready for an adventure, step right up and follow me. It’s time to get lost.

The Narrator

Written by M.E. Castle and illustrated by Daniel Jennewein, SOMETHING STINKS IN HAMLET is such a great summer read. The book offers an incredible introduction to Shakespeare--it includes full black and white illustrations, as well as a fast-paced read, complete with action and lots of dialogue. In fact, it reads like a play. Great idea, well-executed. Highly recommended.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Have a Summer Romance - with Your Writing

When I was a child, summer meant popsicles, fireflies, and stacks of library books. But by the time I was an adolescent and teen, summer meant summer romance. Not that I ever had one. Still, I read about summer romances (Seventeenth Summer), watched movies about them (Summer of '42), and listened to songs about them ("See You in September").

This summer I think I might finally have a summer romance - with my writing. In Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert advises us to have an affair with our writing: "Let yourself fall in love with your creativity. . . and see what happens." She provides plenty of juicy details: "Even if you have only fifteen minutes a day in a stairwell alone with your creativity, take it. . . .Lie to everyone about where you're actually going on your lunch break. Pretend you're traveling on a business trip when secretly you're retreating in order to paint, or to write poetry. . . "

I'm planning to take illicit assignations with my writing even further. I'll be teaching for six blissful weeks, starting tomorrow, in the Graduate Program in Children's Literature at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia. It's a magical program in a magical place. The teaching is intense, but there's so much creative energy in the air that there will be plenty of time for writing, too. And - this is the illicit part - I've decided I'm going to cheat on the book I have under contract and instead indulge in a six-week fling, writing just for kicks, just for thrills, just for fun, just for me.

I'm going to crank up John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John singing "Summer Nights" and write my little heart out.

Thursday, June 15, 2017


Featuring a mysterious society, a secretive past, and a pig in a teeny hat, The Explorers: The Door in the Alley is the first book in a new series for fans of The Name of This Book Is a Secret and The Mysterious Benedict Society. Knock once if you can find it—but only members are allowed inside.

   This is one of those stories that start with a pig in a teeny hat. It’s not the one you’re thinking about. (This story is way better than that one.)
   This pig-in-a-teeny-hat story starts when a very uninquisitive boy stumbles upon a very mysterious society. After that, there is danger and adventure; there are missing persons, hired thugs, a hidden box, a lost map, and famous explorers; and there is a girl looking for help that only uninquisitive boys can offer.
   The Explorers: The Door in the Alley is the first book in a series that is sure to hit young readers right in the funny bone.

"[A] wildly funny adventure....Animals in teeny hats, Wonderland-style logic, and loads of wordplay and sarcasm will keep readers giggling all the way through."-Kirkus Reviews"Exhilarating....Fans of a Series of Unfortunate Events will be drawn to this."—BooklistA rollicking read, full of derring-do and old-fashioned villainy.”—School Library Journal
"Funny, offbeat, and subversive...occasional footnotes and other humorous asides from the omniscient narrator break the fourth wall and ramp up the playfulness."—The Horn Book
"Narrated with a smart, brisk tone and plenty of snark...The Door in the Alley packs plenty of twists, turns and danger."—Shelf Awareness

"The Explorers: The Door in the Alley is a rollicking and clever adventure! Chock full of brilliant plot twists, pitch-perfect humor, and non-stop action. Kress has kicked off this series with a bang!"—Arthur Slade, author of The Hunchback Assignments
The strength of this book is the voice. Funny, conversational, it draws you in from the very first line. Perfect for summer reading.
Enter to win a copy of THE EXPLORERS below. Giveaway ends 6/22. Good luck!
 a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, June 14, 2017


I'm fascinated by graphic novels. I love that they bring reluctant readers into the book world, and they truly are (as I once heard them described) movies you can hold in your hand.

5 WORLDS: THE SAND WARRIOR is beautiful. Utterly. You really do feel, looking at the pages, that you're deep in a movie (rather than looking at flat, static pictures on the page).

The book also offers a fast-paced sci-fi/fantasy story that I believe would have the opposite impact most graphic novels usually have: I believe this book would bring readers of non-illustrated novels to graphic novels.

What a great discussion that would be--to group some reluctant readers in with young book lovers to talk about this book. The more reluctant readers would pick up some great book appreciation vocabulary from the more voracious readers, and book-loving kids would perhaps even find new, more visual approaches to reading traditional novels as well.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017


Today, we're joined by Ammi-Joan Paquette and Laurie Ann Thompson, the authors of the forthcoming TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE:

Two Truths and a Lie is the first book in a fascinating new series that presents some of the most crazy-but-true stories about the living world as well as a handful of stories that are too crazy to be true—and asks readers to separate facts from the fakes!

Do the two of you plan to continue your writing collaboration?

LAT: Yes! We have two more TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE titles already in the works, and are hoping we get to do many more. It’s been a blast!

2.       The bibliography is quite long and scientific. Who did the research—together? How long did it take?

LAT: We divided up the stories needed for the book and then each researched our own stories. The process was different for every story and the length of time varied. Our amazingly talented copy editors were a huge help along the way, double checking every fact for us and occasionally recommending additional sources. The research is super fun! Formatting bibliographies, however, is less so. 

AJP: Spoiler alert—Laurie is way better at formatting bibliographies than I am! All the good stuff you see there is thanks to her. But yes, the research itself has been incredibly interesting. Sometimes we have to forcibly stop ourselves from tunneling out in all the curious and exciting directions that spark off these topics!

3.       Laurie, you seem to write non-fiction, while Joan writes fiction. Is this where truth and lies found common ground?

LAT: That was the original plan: I would write the true stories and Joan the false ones, since those were our strengths. We both ended up getting excited about stories on the other side of the fence, however, so in the end it ended up being fairly evenly split. 

AJP: It’s been really fun to step outside of our comfort zones a bit and exercise muscles that each of us hadn’t used much before. And I think we have both discovered how much we enjoy doing something that we might not have taken very seriously before. I know I have for sure!

4.       You two are located in Seattle and Boston—so how did you handle the writing process?

LAT: Email and Google Docs and Sheets! Technology really facilitates this kind of collaboration, thank goodness. I don’t think being on different coasts hurt us at all. 

AJP: Agreed. It’s hard to imagine something like this working in the day of paper mail and long-distance telephone calls. These days though, it’s a breeze—that is, the communication side of things, at least ;)

5.       The layout’s fantastic—every page includes something visually intriguing and sure to keep young fingers turning pages. Did you two have any input into the layout / design / illustrations?

LAT: Yes, we had lots of chances to give feedback and input along the way, which was so appreciated. Mostly, though, we just oohed and aahed and applauded the designer’s outstanding efforts! We definitely had a vision of what we wanted it to look like, but she took it to a completely new level. 

AJP: It has been very exciting to see the project take shape visually—it adds so many layers and shades of meaning to the stories. This book absolutely could not be without our terrific illustration and design team (not to mention our fabulous editors!). It truly takes a village.

6.       This book seems absolutely perfect for classroom discussion. Was that part of the original idea?

LAT: I don’t think it was part of the original idea, but it did come up fairly early on. Our number one goal, however, was making the book entertaining for readers. Any thoughts about classroom applications were secondary. Hopefully we’ve managed to satisfy both without compromising either.

7.       In today’s political climate, do you feel that tapping into universal or verifiable truths is more important than ever?

LAT: Yes. We all have to be aware of the difference between fact and opinion. Sometimes our opinions are so strong and heartfelt that they can feel like facts to us. And sometimes we’re not comfortable with the facts as they are, so we chalk them up to opinion or flat out lies. I know I am as guilty of that as the next person, but I try to be aware of and challenge my assumptions in both cases. In this new world of information coming at us from all directions, we all have to learn to ask questions and be careful what we choose to believe and why.

AJP: It really is a whole new world out there, and kids these days are facing questions and dilemmas that we just didn’t have to grapple with as children. It’s our hope that this will be the kind of book that not only entertains but also shows the way to a greater awareness in social consumption, particularly when it comes to all types of media.

8.       What do you feel will be the role of juvenile print non-fiction moving forward (especially in the e-age)?

LAT: I think studies are showing that kids prefer paper (at least for now). Other studies have shown that we retain information better when it’s in print (having a definite frame, page numbers, etc.). So, I don’t think nonfiction for kids will be going out of print anytime soon.
AJP: Agreed! Paper will always be king in my book J

9.       Two truths and a lie:
1.       Ammi-Joan Paquette wrote a picture book entitled THE TIPTOE GUIDE TO TRACKING FAIRIES.

2.       Laurie Ann Thompson has skydived.

3.       Laurie and Joan have both found the path to publication to be a completely and total breeze.

(Okay, I'm kind of setting you up here. Our readers love path to publication stories—feel free to tell us yours. The bumpier, the more inspiring.)

AJP: I began seriously writing with an eye toward publication in 2003, and my first kids’ book was published in 2009. Two of my novels—Rules for Ghosting and ­Princess Juniper of the Hourglass—had 10- and 11-year gaps respectively from the time I began writing them till they were published. Never say never … 

LAT: I started writing for kids in 2005. My first book came out in 2014. I don't think anyone would call 9 years a complete and total breeze. 


Monday, June 12, 2017

The Doll's Eye: MG Horror at it's Best.

An author friend of mine -  Marina Cohen - who writes' MG horror, has recently come out with the perfect summer read for 'tweens: THE DOLL'S EYE.

The Doll’s Eye tells the story of 12 year-old Hadley who, after moving in to a big old house with her new stepfather and stepbrother, finds herself lamenting the loss of her old life. When a lone glass eye rolls out from a dark corner underneath her bed, things begin to change, though not necessarily for the better. A second narrative weaves its way through the novel—that of the first girl who lived in the house and the evil she unwittingly unleashed. It’s a tale of wish fulfillment and consequence, of innocence and happiness.  School library journal called it “a must have for horror fans.”

If your kids like spine-tingling creepy tales, they'll definitely enjoy this one.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

June Special Puzzle Edition

from Jody Feldman

Those who are familiar with my books know that, so far, all the published ones contain puzzles that the main characters must solve in order to achieve some goal. And today, because my mind has drifted back to puzzles as part of my process, I bring you a simple puzzle in honor of Smack Dab’s June and/or Six theme.

Changing one letter at a time (and, of course, dropping one along the way) can you morph JUNE into SIX in 6 moves or less?

For example, if I were to ask you to do the same, changing HOG into PIG, the briefest list would include 3 moves: hog - hug - pug - pig.

That’s it from me this month. I’m working hot & heavy on something.
Ooh! How about morphing HOT into HEAVY? I may need to try that soon.

And yep, this is how my puzzle mind works. Taking two pictures or words or thoughts and trying to connect them some way. Which can sometimes be the way I approach plot as well.

By now, you may have guessed that I’m stalling down here because I need to put some space between my puzzle and the answer. So why don’t I just bury my answer to the puzzle in this paragraph? And in my shortest answer, I used five moves to go from June to six: June, tune, tine, sine, sin, six. Your mileage may vary. And now I will just keep typing to further disguise the puzzle answer much like we writers might drop a red herring or context clue or something else in what might appear to be an utterly mundane paragraph so that we mask our spoilers.

The end :)

P.S. Should we morph THE to END as well?