Wednesday, April 8, 2020

The Easter Bunny Is an Essential Worker -- by Jane Kelley

In these trying times, I have been struggling with not struggling. While medical professionals, delivery people, warehouse workers, and grocery store clerks risk their lives for us, much of my life has not altered. I have always worked from home. It really doesn't feel like a sacrifice for me to stay inside. But I didn't know what else I could do to help people.

Then yesterday I learned that the Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern has declared the Easter Bunny to be an essential worker.

Here are two hard-working rabbits. They've got a lot of eggs to deliver. And a lot of kids to visit. I'm glad to see them in sensible shoes and with backpack baskets. You can carry a lot more that way. But is what they're carrying really essential? I love candy and I eat a lot of eggs, but let's be real. Jelly beans????  (Apologies to those of you who really do like them. I suspect my father only pretended to enjoy the purple ones because someone had to eat them.)

Those rabbits are delivering a lot more than sugar. Rabbits and eggs are symbols. New Zealand is in the southern hemisphere. There, Easter isn't a harbinger of actual spring. But it is a celebration of what spring means. New life. New growth. Something sweet. Something kind of absurd and whimsical. Hidden surprises that can be found. In other words, something fictional. 

Yes, the Easter Bunny and I are essential workers. I'm going to keep bringing together unusual elements (like rabbits bringing eggs) and find a way to make them into a story. Hopefully those stories will make people laugh and take a break from grim realities and encourage people to care about each other and inspire readers to tell stories of their own.

I will never actually save someone's life. But I do have an important contribution to make. We all do. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Smack Dab News - Coronavirus Edition

Authors at Smack Dab in the Middle have a slew of activities and freebies to help you and your young readers during these trying times. We hope this will help fill the hour, provide some fun and laughter, keep minds busy, even help teachers looking for some additional online resources.

Holly Schindler

My Invent Your Own Superhero: A Brainstorming Journal - Deluxe Edition is currently free in e-book form:

Download links:



1) I have a new YouTube channel, where I'm offering read-alouds from my books, as well as a couple of "pause-and-write" video workshops for grades 4-8--one on Good Story Beginnings; and another on Four Elements of Character.  Both workshops incorporate my co-authored series books as examples. (Lousy pic, but you get the idea... :-))

2) I'm also offering free Skype/Zoom visits for any kids who would like to have a chat about my books and/or the writing process. Happy to chat individually or with whole classes.

3) And I'm currently offering a limited number of free mini-mentorships as well, for motivated creative writers (grades 4-12) who would like some extra help with a story, novel, or with their writing in general, between now and the end of the school year.


Best to everyone out there!


Teachers, librarians, classrooms, book clubs -- email Michele to set up a free 20 minute Skype or Zoom session about Michele's new middle grade novel coming in May -- Hello from Renn Lake. Very timely topics of the climate crisis and youth activism, as Annalise Oliver, 12, tries to save the lake in her small Wisconsin town after it's closed due to a harmful algae bloom. Kirkus says the story is "An earnest and disarming tale of human and environmental caring."

In a unique twist, the lake is one of the narrators.


Over the past weeks, as less cars have been on the road and buildings have been shut, scientists are noting that our air and waterways are cleaner. This is a message loud and clear -- we need to take better care of our planet and all of its living things.

Stay healthy!


Free down-loadable Curriculum Guides for her new novel-in-verse WISHES, DARES, AND HOW TO STAND UP TO A BULLY. Guides include study questions, vocabulary lists, Curriculum guide on anti bullying. Lots of kid-friendly activities on her blog.

She also has wordsearch puzzles and will do a Skype visit to any classroom who uses her book. Visit

Alone together...we can do this! xo

And I'll answer with

Hi! It's Jody Feldman. I originally set this offer up with virtual classes in mind, but if you, as a group, a class, a family (in any shape or size), would like to ask me questions about my books, about writing ... hey, I'm happy to answer anything ... this is your chance.
Click here for more info!

Celebrate National Poetry Month (April) with FREE poems! Poetry can be a balm and a joy during these difficult times... and over the years I've shared hundred of poems on my blog. For 2020 I've been adding to the collection by sharing a poem each Poetry Friday as part of ArtSpeak: RED (in which I write a poem after a piece of art that includes/features the color red). You can find the poems (along with graphics, videos, poetry-writing tips) at the Poem Index tab of my Live Your Poem blog.

Additionally, my latest book with Charles Waters, DICTIONARY FOR A BETTER WORLD: Poems, Quotes and Anecdotes from A to Z, offers all kinds of connections to this current crisis. You can find the Discussion Guide here and videos of Charles performing many of the poems here.

Feel free to contact me via email: irene (at) irenelatham (dot) com. Together we're going to get through this! xo


Ginger Rue / Tig Ripley Series:

Virtual Storytimes & Book Recording Guidelines During COVID-19
By posting any book online, you agree to all terms and conditions outlined below. Sleeping Bear Press may adjust these terms in the future, as necessary.
Please clarify at the beginning of your reading that you are reading with permission from Sleeping Bear Press.
Please delete any publicly posted videos (on Youtube, Instagram. Facebook, etc) by June 30, 2020.
For recordings available on password protected or virtual learning sites, we are allowing the use with no deadline at this time.
Please email to let us know which title you are sharing and on which platform.

Are you a teacher or parent with a request of your own for one of the Smack Dab authors? Please don't hesitate to get in touch at smackdab(dot)middle(at) Stay safe and well! 

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Where Art Thou?

by Charlotte Bennardo

The theme this month is art: cover art, juvenile art, graphic art, etc.

Photo by Marko Blazevic from Pexels

For a short time I read comic books when I was very young. My father was a graphic artist but didn't share that talent with me. My brother has artistic talent, but didn't use it. My mother did some painting, but gave it up. My stick figures are pathetic.

My artistic 'skill' is limited to what I am drawn to and can appreciate. I have favorites- like Van Gogh's Starry Night. Like Monet's Les Jardins de Giverny. Vistas of brilliant sunsets and tropical beaches.

As for cover art, there are a lot of covers that don't thrill me (my books included), and some that do.
With this Covid-19 pandemic, I think art will reflect this dark time: not only in pictures, photography, and graffiti, but also on book covers. Writers all over the globe will write stories, fictional and non-fictional, about this time and there will need to be covers for those books. I wonder how they will look, what art directors and cover artists and illustrators will use to portray how we were feeling and dealing with this pandemic, our lives so overwhelmed with the spread, the fatalities, the upheaval, and the pain of it.

The artist's job is to be a witness to his time in history.

Wishing you all health, safety, and comfort. 

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Cover Hate (or at Least, Dislike)

Since Nancy Cavanaugh blogged about loving her book covers (and I don't blame her one bit--they're awesome!), I thought I'd talk about the flip side.

I was so excited to have my first book published in 2009, but when the publisher showed me the cover design, I was crestfallen. I thought it was...let's just say, unattractive. But don't take my word for it...what do you think?

I didn't want to be a diva because, hey, what do I know about art? But I knew I didn't like it.

The book was reviewed for possible inclusion in Scholastic Book Fairs but didn't make the cut. I didn't know why...until....

The paperback was released. The paperback had a much nicer cover, in my opinion. Do you agree?

Once it was released in paperback, the book was selected for the book fairs, where it did pretty well. I actually somehow wound up with the opportunity to speak to someone at Scholastic about the whole thing, and she confirmed that the sticking point on the first go round was that they didn't think the book would sell with the original cover.

So there you go. Same book, different cover. Art makes all the difference. I still don't know much about art, but I know when I'm thrilled with a cover. I practically did back flips over the Aleca Zamm covers. Here's the first one in the series:

The German version was a totally different artistic concept, but super awesome as well:

I can't draw a stick figure myself, so I'm always impressed by people with this much artistic talent. As an author, I know it makes all the difference between a book kids want to read and a book they pass right by. Like Nancy said, most authors don't have much say in our books' artwork, so when you get lucky like this, it's a wonderful thing. Art matters!

Ginger Rue is the author of the Aleca Zamm series from Aladdin and the Tig Ripley series from Sleeping Bear.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Ode to the Paragraph: A Visual Work of Art (Holly Schindler)

When my first book was going through edits, I was shocked by what happened to my paragraphs.

This happened fairly late in the editing process--when I got first pass pages. This is the stage during which the interior of the book has been designed. The trim size has been set, along with margins, the fonts officially chosen, line spacing determined.

It really doesn't matter what trim size your publisher chooses (in my experience, the 5x8 or 5.5 x 8.5 seems the most common), the pages will be smaller than the pages in your Word doc. Which means your paragraphs are inevitably longer. Sometimes a lot longer. Which means your work can suddenly seem really description heavy.

Even if it's really not.

Nothing can turn a reader off like long winding paragraphs of description. It's true of adults, and it's especially true of kids!

It really is amazing how the mere appearance of a page of text can turn a reader off--even before they dive in to the actual words.

Do yourself a favor: during the drafting process, make it a point to keep your paragraphs short and tight. During your own editing process (as you're revising before submitting to an editor or agent), try adjusting your margins--make them extra wide. Or, if you're able, compile in an ebook format to read on one of your devices (which will have a smaller screen than a destop or laptop).

Eyeball your paragraphs without reading them--do they look inviting? Like something a reader could speed through? Or do they look like quicksand you might never get out of?

So much of a book's appearance is outside the writer's hands. But the shape of paragraphs is something all writers can use to help give their pages a welcoming appearance.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Smack Dab in the Imagination: Masks are Beautiful! by Dia Calhoun

We are at war with COVID19. We need to find ways to help the war effort while maintaining social distancing. I had to DO something. So my neighbor and I began sewing desperately needed masks.

When I started sharing photos, many friends asked for directions. Here is a link. to a video with directions. It's not hard, but like anything new, takes making a few before the process feels easy.

If you and your family are isolated at home, this is a project you can do together. One person can cut fabric pieces, another elastic lengths, another iron in the folds, another sew, another iron the final. These masks have a twist tie inserted in the top seam, so the mask can be molded tight over the nose. You can also used pipe cleaners or floral wire. Kids could decorate the masks with permanent marker with words like hope, love, smile, laughter, or even little phrases. And someone else can deliver/mail the finished masks.

Note: These can be washed and reused. Be sure to use a cotton fabric that is prewashed--so when the mask is washed it won't shrink. This design has an open top so a filter piece of non-woven fabric, like interfacing, (think unscented bounce sheet) can be inserted. Those can be tossed.

My neighbor prepares the pieces and I sew them. I can sew one in 10-15 minutes now. We will be mailing them to homeless shelters, senior centers, fire stations,clinics, anywhere in our community the need is urgent.

This feels wonderful. I am DOING something! If you like the social media connection, there is a FaceBook page called Seamstresses Unite who are sewing masks too. They call themselves Rosie the Riveter, ala WW2.

Stay well. Stay home. Stay engaged!

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Going Off Topic (To Talk About Anxiety and Panic Attacks), by Chris Tebbetts

Like a lot of people, I've been thinking about (and grappling with) anxiety lately, as well as the possibility, for me--already realized by some friends--of panic attacks. For some of us, those feelings can take on a life of their own, and when they do, it's not rational, and it's not always controllable. If you're one of those people, I recommend finding an empathetic ear, where you can talk about it to someone who knows what these feelings are like. (I'm happy to be that person, if I can help.) For what it's worth, I scribbled down these few lines the other day, and it feels like something I want to remember: 

"Look down on your anxiety, not up at it. It is a piece of you. It is maybe even a child. You made it." 

For me, it's been helpful to do anything I can to see anxiety in the larger context of my experience that always exists around it, and to remind myself that the all-encompassing feeling of anxiety (which is not to say the anxiety itself) is an illusion, like a movie close up that keeps me from seeing the larger picture. I can't make the anxiety invisible, but I can pull the camera back and shrink its relative size, if I remember to do that.

So for instance, if I’m spiraling down, and someone were to say “You’re going to be okay,” or if I try to tell myself, “I've got this…I can handle it,”… the answer from my anxiety-ridden mind is, “YOU CAN’T KNOW THAT. MAYBE I’LL BE OKAY AND MAYBE I WON’T.” And it’s true. Those kinds of reassurances are, ultimately, opinions, not facts. And even if those well-meant expressions of reassurance are likely to come true, they just don’t stand up against the certainty of my anxious state.

So… if the question of whether or not everything will be okay isn’t a useful one at a given moment, because it relies on unknowable things—on opinion—then what kinds of actual, factual things CAN stand up to the anxiety? For me, these days, that answer has centered on gratitude. 

For a lot of people, a focus on gratitude can be (and has been) hugely powerful. For others, the word itself, “gratitude,” is like a new-age dog whistle. People hear “gratitude” in this context and inevitably, some eyes will roll. But hear me out. If I’m experiencing a high level of anxiety, or even worse, edging toward an actual panic attack, one of the things I’ve found useful is to ask myself, or to be asked, “What am I grateful for?” As far as I can tell, answering that question helps me in two ways: 

1) It distracts my brain, requiring me to focus on something other than the anxiety itself. (SIDEBAR: Moreover, any kind of interruption can be useful for me: like picking up a book and forcing myself to read it and, even harder, force myself to process and understand the words as I read them; or as another example, I’ve found tapping to be useful; it’s a prescribed sequence of finger taps against various points on and around the face. It screams “placebo effect,” but to that I say: if it works, who cares?)

And 2) While reassurances like “You’ll be fine” don’t have the power to stand up to my anxiety, the fact of my gratitude (for my husband, family, friends, home, sense of humor, or whatever it is) does stand up. So if someone says “You’ll be fine,” my internal response is essentially, “YOU CAN’T KNOW THAT FOR SURE!”

However, if I say or think “I’m grateful for my husband…my family…my home,” or whatever it might be, my brain (even from inside my anxiety) doesn’t have the ammunition to convince me otherwise. It doesn’t try to say, “No, you’re wrong. You’re not grateful for those things.” Because it can’t. And in that acknowledgment, I’m inevitably widening the lens a bit, or a lot, to make my experience something more than just the anxiety itself. 

And again, the power here for me isn’t about making the anxiety go away. It’s about diluting the anxiety’s dominance of my mental picture. It's "yes, and" as opposed to "don't worry, be happy." 

It also reminds me of Anne Lamott’s prescription in the face of the various creative fears that writers often feel as they set out to write a story. To that anxiety, she says, “Okay, you can come along if you must, but you have to sit in the back seat.” 

Is all of this easier said than done? For sure.  I don’t mean to over-simplify anything here. But for me, there’s something very practical to all of this — like actual tools I can use — and those have been a big help.

All best,

Friday, March 20, 2020

Cover Love

We all know the saying, "You can't judge a book by its cover." But we all know we do. Young or old, we reach for that book with the cover that, for some reason, grabs us and compels us to pick it up. That's why this month my post is all about "Cover Love," specifically the love I have for the covers of all my books. And I have to warn you, I'm going to brag here a little, okay, maybe a lot.

I'll start by saying that all my covers are amazing! And not all authors can say that about their books. I know authors who really aren't all that fond of what their book looks like on the outside, so I'm super thankful that I can truly say I love the way my books look on the shelf. But who can blame me.  Take a look:

Now maybe you think I'm being a little too boastful showing off these beauties, but I didn't have anything to do with how fabulous these covers are. The art and design team at Sourcebooks is amazingly smart, talented, and creative; and as far as I'm concerned, they come up with a winner every time. So my "Cover Love" is all about "hats off" to them. They're the ones who make readers want to pick up my books to find out what's inside. And that, after all, is one of the things authors want more than anything in the world.

Happy Reading,
Nancy J. Cavanaugh