Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Music in my Work

Writers work hard to make their writing authentic.  They work to create characters who connect with each other on the page, and they endeavor to cultivate reader familiarity by tapping into universal experiences and emotions.  There are many ways to do all of that, and music is one of them.  

Music plays an important part in each one of my middle grade novels.

In This Journal Belongs to Ratchet, Oldies play on the radio in the background of the garage where Ratchet fixes cars with her dad, and it's these songs that end up being one of the important ways Ratchet connects with Hunter, the boy who becomes her first friend.  

Abigail in Always, Abigail, connects with her best friends, Ali and Cami, through their dance routine music, as they chase their dream to become middle school pom pom girls.  

In my summer camp story, Just Like Me, I remind readers of their own summer camp experience by describing the songs Julia and her cabinmates sing around the campfire. 

In Elsie Mae Has Something to Say, Elsie and her cousin, Henry James, while chasing the hog bandits they hope to capture in their endeavor to become heroes, listen to the crooks singing "Suwannee River" as they hideout in their shelter.  The song gives an authentic detail about the time and place where the story happens, putting the reader right in the middle of the plot.  

And the music in When I Hit the Road, a story of Samantha traveling on a widow's bucket list karaoke road trip with her Gram, exemplifies how music in life and in books is just plain fun.  

Music, no matter what style or kind, no matter how old or new, no matter how slow or fast can be used by writers to connect characters and readers by adding a layer to writing which, though often unnoticed, can be a powerful thread woven into the fabric of a story.

Happy Reading & Writing,

Nancy J. Cavanaugh  

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Stories are in the Music

Life is full of stories. From our novels to newspapers, to magazine articles and the back of a bottle of wine, and over to music lyrics and poetry - stories are everywhere, in so many forms.

As a middle grade and young adult novel-writer, I didn’t initially expect to apply a playlist to my writing routine. The more I became embroiled in the plots of my books-in-progress, however, the more I saw and heard my story all around me. I learned that music was a great way to bolster my book-writing process and listen for my characters in other ways than I expected. 

I became a person who keeps playlists.

So much like I have playlists for running or sad days or summer vacations, I structured playlists for each book. They usually started with just one or two songs as I worked on building up my idea and starting that first draft. By the time I was editing, I typically had a full list established. I don’t typically listen to music as I’m writing. Which isn’t to say the playlists haven’t been helpful. Because even if I don't listen to the playlist as I am editing, I  listen in the car or out walking and I can feel the story unfolding and hear my characters in the ways that I needed to know them for later. It keeps me in the mood of the book, in that same place I need to be as the writer. 

The playlist is that world in that book, so when I hear it, I’m instantly taken there. If I need to switch gears, I can change the station or the playlist and easily slip from world to world. 

Songs evoke nostalgia, feeling, attachment, emotion. Just like each book or chapter we pen.

Part of the joy of playlists is that when the songs come on randomly, I smile as I’m taken back to some world-building I wrote years ago or maybe just months ago. It’s like hearing from old friends. 

Happy reading!

AM Bostwick

Friday, January 15, 2021

Oliver Twists!

I’ve written about how, a long, long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, before the first Enterprise took flight, before the TARDIS was stolen, there lived a sickly child. And, as it turns out, this sickly child read a lot.

Way back then, I lived in the wild, wild west on the front range of Colorado. Colorado Springs was small then, full of open spaces. The public library was way, way on the other side of town. There were no bookstores. The only library available to me was my school library. I checked out every book I could read. By fourth grade, my favorite authors were Anne McCaffery (dragons are my patronus!) Jack London, and Charles Dickens. 

                         Frontispiece and title page, first edition 1838. Illustration and design by George Cruikshank

One of the first and favorite books was Oliver Twist, by Charles Dickens. You may remember, Charles Dickens wrote the story in part to expose the hypocrisy and cruel treatment of orphans in mid-19th century London. Dickens blended a grim realism with satire to describe the effects of industrialization, creating a story of an innocent child trapped in a life with no hope. What better story to entertain a sickly child!

One of my favorite characters in Oliver Twist was Jack Dawkins, otherwise known as the Artful Dodger. The snub-nosed, flat-browed, common faced pickpocket and leader of the gang of child criminals. He was not without heart, however.

         George Cruikshank original engraving of the Artful Dodger (centre), here introducing Oliver (right) to Fagin (left)

It is the nature of reading that every story we’ve read stays with us, and its characters become a part of our lives. We are the product of all the stories read and lived. Even as we become characters in each other’s story. These stories settle within us, blend with our experiences – for why else could we become so attached to these characters, unless we see them as friends– and work their magic on us. They engage, and encourage, and guide.

And, when we least expect it, especially as one becomes a writer, such persistent characters ooze to the surface in some form found in our own works. Many light years down the road, when I read about the history of San Francisco, about the plight of the poor and that gallery of characters that walked those cobbled streets along the Barbary Coast, it was no accident that I envisioned Oliver Twist meets the wild, wild west.

My character became Jack London, in honor of my old friends, and not by coincidence:

“Jack of all trades, Lady Jane had called her. Pickpocket, escape artist, and a bold little rascal. A kid after her own heart, said Lady Jane. 

“Despite being so common, she carried herself with the dash of one standing six feet tall. She wore a man’s coat over her tattered dress, one that nearly touched her boot heels. She had turned the cuffs back so she could use her hands, and stuff them comfortably into the large pockets.”

 As she skips away, down the road, tipping her bowler, she sings out to me, “ Once a villain, you’re a villain to the end!”

And I call out: “And you, Jack London, you’re my friend! To the end!”

What favorite reads did you have as a child? How did they influence your life?

Thank you for spending time with me!

--Bobbi Miller

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Modern Mixtapes

I have been a teacher for roughly 17 years and a lot has evolved in the profession during that time.  As a student, I was taught to sit in rows silently, and that was still the expectation when I did my student teaching.  That was the approach I used when I first started teaching. It was familiar and I thought it was the correct way to properly educate my students.  Somewhere along the way, the stuffy rows and lack of “fun” was a little too stifling for me.  That is where music comes into play.  I think it became apparent to me that music was something to incorporate into my classroom when I was teaching first grade.  Kids loved adding music to the day and it provided me a source of enjoyment too.  We started with “calendar and days of the week” songs and graduated to a daily song we sang together, will i am’s song “What I Am.”

From that point on, I moved to starting the day with music as the kids enter the room.  I think there is something to be said about walking into a room playing music versus a silent room.  Fridays are typically reserved for Disney playlists, and singing is encouraged.  The school that I work at also has “dance party Friday” pre-COVID we would play music in the halls and students would dance before the day began.  It was such a fun way to start the day with students. Hopefully we will be able to get back to that.

Friday dance party

Another time I play music during the day is when students are writing.  I like to play quiet instrumental music to set the tone for the piece of writing we are currently working on.  It has also been fun when we read/write poetry and set up our “coffee shop” to have music in the background.

(pictures were taken pre-COVID)

        Poetry Reading                                          

For me, music wasn’t something I naturally embraced in the classroom to begin my career because it wasn’t something that was modeled for me.  However, I believe the benefits of music in the classroom are worthwhile. This new way of thinking makes me never want to go back to a completely silent room.  Music can set the tone for a calm work environment or it can make a Friday seem like a magical Disney getaway.  

One of my favorite things to do is have students submit their favorite songs (school appropriate of course) and I create a playlist of their songs.  School should feel like a comfortable place to be, and what is more comforting than familiar fun songs!   

There are always ways to enhance day to day experiences and grow with students on the educational journey. I’m glad to have found music to be one of them!

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

My Ultimate Playlist Might Surprise You

by Debbie Smith

The theme this month is playlists and the fact that they get inside a person’s head. Yep, I’d have to agree with that. Mine is continually in my head. Do people listen to playlists while working, exercising, driving? Yep. 

Since I am retired, my work is the fun job of reading, creating pictures with books (bookstagram),  and reviewing books. Plus the not-so-fun job of exercising, laundry, cooking, cleaning the house,  etc.


Here is where we might come to a Y in the road. You might turn on your music playlist, while I might travel the path less traveled. I work so much better if I turn to my audiobook playlist


Do I love music? Yes! But when push comes to shove the winner will always be a book. When I drive, cook, clean, and work outside . . . my books follow me.




Nothing gets inside a person's head quite like a playlist,

 and this month I've shared my unique playlist.

Do You Have An Unusual Playlist?


Tuesday, January 12, 2021

2020 Book Reviews. My Best of List, by Darlene Beck Jacobson



Welcome to the third annual list of some of the books I've read in 2020. AS AN UNKNOWN AUTHOR, I FEEL IT IS IMPORTANT TO SUPPORT FELLOW AUTHORS AND SPREAD THE WORD ABOUT GOOD BOOKS THAT MAY OFTEN GO UNRECOGNIZED. All 45 of these books were noteworthy and exceptional enough that I posted reviews for them on Goodreads, Amazon, and my blog.

The order of the list is the order in which I read these gems. So, if you are looking for good books to read, to gift, or to add to your own list, take a look at these kidlit wonders. Some of our Smack Dab Authors are on this list!


·  CRUSHING THE RED FLOWERS (MG) - Jennifer Voigt Kaplan

·  MAKING THEIR VOICES HEARD (PB) - Vivian Kirkfield

·  NUMBERS IN MOTION (PB) - Laurie Wallmark


·  WAY PAST MAD (PB) - Hallee Adelman

·  PIRATES STUCK AT "C" (PB) - Brooke Van Sickle

·  THE LAST SENSOR (YA) - Josh Bellin

·  THE BOLD, BRAVE, BUNNY (PB) - Beth Ferry

·  TWO BICYCLES IN BEIJING (PB) - Teresa Robeson

·  DIG (YA) - A. S. King

·  TODAY IS A BEACH DAY (PB) - Nancy Viau

·  WE ARE THE WATER PROTECTORS (PB) - Carole Lindstrom

·  FOR SPACIOUS SKIES (PB) - Nancy Churnin


·  SWASHBY AND THE SEA (PB) - Beth Ferry

·  OUR FRIEND HEDGEHOG (CB) - Lauren Castillo

·  SHIFTER SERIES (all 3 books) (YA) - Louise Cypress

·  THE ONE AND ONLY BOB (MG) - Katherine Applegate

·  HELLO FROM RENN LAKE (MG) - Michele Weber Hurwitz


·  IN A JAR (PB) - Deborah Marcero


·  I AM ENOUGH (PB) - Grace Byers

·  WAITING TOGETHER (PB) - Danielle Dufayet

·  THE SMUGGLER'S DAUGHTER (adult) - Claire Matturo

·  SYCAMORE LANE (YA) - Stacey Horan

·  TWO TOUGH TRUCKS (PB) - Corey Rosen Schwartz

·  MOOTILDA'S BAD MOOD (PB) - Corey Rosen Schwartz & Kirsti Call



·  OPERATION FROG EFFECT (MG) - Sarah Sheerger

·  A PLACE AT THE TABLE (MG) - Saadia Faruqi & Laura Shovan

·  GURPLE AND PREEN (PB) - Debbie Ohi & Linda Sue Park

·  LIBBY LOVES SCIENCE (PB) - Kimberly Derting

·  MY MONSTERPIECE (PB) - Amalia Hoffman

·  THE CANYON'S EDGE (MG) - Dusti Bowling

·  PIPPIN PALS (PB series) - Donna Marie

·  WHOOO KNEW - THE STORY OF OWLS (PB) - Annette Whipple

·  WAY PAST WORRIED (PB) - Hallee Adelman

·  THE ROOSEVELT GHOSTS (MG) - Diane Salerni

·  THE GIFT THAT IS RUBY'S PLACE (adult) - Holly Schindler

·  PLANET EARTH IS BLUE (MG) - Nicole Pantaleakos

·  THE GREAT FOREST (YA) - Josh Bellin




If you want to know more about these books, please check out my reviews. 2020 was a crazy year for all of us, but great books came out and are still being written. Spread the word and give a gift to your favorite authors by posting kind reviews of their books. I guarantee it will make their day!

Monday, January 11, 2021

In the Process, Music! (or not)

by Jody Feldman

As a person who came in 3rd place in an all-campus Name That Tune contest back in my college days, you'd think that I'd be in the forefront of building playlists for all my works-in-progress. It hasn't worked that way for me. Several reasons.

1. Whenever I listen to music while I draft or revise, I get lost in the music and accomplish way too little.

2. If I were to go down the rabbit hole of assembling a playlist to inspire me, I might as well skip ahead and change my occupation to Playlist Creator.

3. The only time I managed to drum up a brief playlist, the book never went anywhere, in that it never made it past my agent. Not that I believe that the playlist tanked it. It was more that, honestly, it didn't do anything to make me a better, more inspired writer. 

That said, I occasionally happen upon a song that becomes the anthem of my main character or the premise of the book itself. 

In The Seventh Level, Travis Raines is not only small for his age, but he’s that kid whose antics make it hard for people to take him seriously ... until. I was still in brainstorming mode for 7th when John Mayer's Bigger Than My Body played somewhere. That song – throughout my process from first draft through revisions, copy edits, everything – kept reminding me that even kids like Travis have all the qualities to become a force in life.  

Next was the instance of a yet-to-be-published-because-I-messed-up-but-will-eventually- revisit-it book. The Fool on the Hill by the Beatles became the atmospheric anthem of this story. Whenever I hear it, even now, it reignites my passion and makes me want to drop everything and go through the arduous task of rewriting this story from the POV of the right main character. (Yes, it was that type of mess up.)

As for my current WIP, so young that I haven't yet named my MC, maybe, hopefully, I'll stumble across the right anthem for her or for the story. Or maybe, just maybe, I'll try that playlist thing again. 


Saturday, January 9, 2021

How Playlists Boosted Reading in My Classes

by Debbie Poslosky

The sound of should be a movie!  I cannot imagine a world without music!  Especially not without my own personal playlists.  Before this topic was given to all of us, I did not realize how much certain songs help me navigate everything in my world!  Any emotion, any time of your life can be paired with particular songs.  Although I have always loved listening to music personally, I happened upon the incredible effect music had on children when I first began teaching. 

Early in my career, I was blessed with “that 4th grade class”.  I mean the class that struggled to become a community, were very self-centered, and were also struggling readers.  I had not developed too many tools for my toolbox at that juncture of my teaching, so I relied on talking over and over and over about how I wanted the children to think about each other and themselves differently.  On my way home one day, I heard the theme song from “Cheers” on the radio.  (Yes, that is how old I am!)  As I sang along I remember thinking, wouldn’t it be so nice for my students to feel like they belonged and that I was really happy we were all here together!  For those of you that do not know the song, here are the parts I used with my students:

“Making your way in the world today Takes everything you've got

Taking a break from all your worries

Sure would help a lot

Wouldn't you like to get away?

Sometimes you want to go 

Where everyone knows your name

And they’re always glad you came

You want to be where everyone knows your name.”

Every single morning after that I played the song as the kids entered the classroom.  At first they were uncertain - not knowing whether or not to like it, make fun of it, or ignore it.  As I listened to their reactions, I took a few minutes explaining  why I was beginning this new tradition for our classroom.  Little by little, the kids began to really like hearing it as they walked into the room.  After a week, I put the printed lyrics and on their desks and asked them to read the words and highlight the ones that meant the most to them.  It was the breakthrough I had been looking for! Because it was so successful I added more songs to reflect whatever it was we were experiencing! 

Because they struggled so much, I started playing “Miracles” by Mariah Carey.  I told them so many times that I believed in them and that miracles do happen, but you have to believe they can!  It wasn’t until I started playing the song, printed the words, that true change happened.  I became intentionally aware of the learning needs I was seeing, and used more and more songs to help their brains be receptive to new ways of thinking and expressing their ideas without them feeling they had deficits!  It was amazing!  

Since reading was and still is the pinnacle of learning and of life in general, in my opinion, I really used music as a different way to create an understanding of words, phrases, and new ways to look at things.  The trajectory that took us on was then, when a child was struggling to read or write, we would go back to how that songwriter used language!  I also would challenge them to go to their favorite books, or listen carefully as I read aloud for either the same phrases or words, or similar ones in our books.  They LOVED that!  It became something fun to do with a book, when previously it was only a reminder of what they could not do.  Students started suggesting songs of their own to play because the words spoke to them!  At the end of the year I would create a “playlist” of songs from our year and copy it onto a CD and give one to every child as an end of the year gift.  

Unexpectedly, it really boosted reading for these kids.  They understood the power of words and how they can make you feel, and what has more words than books?  Even if the text was hard to physically read, they WANTED to read it to figure things out, and that internal power is what drove them to want to not only read, but be changed by what they read!  The bridge between songs and reading became very clear to me. After a while I would allow students to "audit" groups of readers who were talking about books where the text was too hard for them. The kids would do anything to be able to audit another book club. BOOKS! And the talented authors who understand the gift they have to change the trajectory of a person’s life is inspiring.  Music, to me, is such a beautiful way to help all of us understand and learn how to say things, and how to live our best lives!  It reinforces we are not alone, and there are ways to do something we might not have thought of.