Friday, December 14, 2018

The Generosity of MG Authors, by Michele Weber Hurwitz

I'm so glad I belong to this group, us middle grade authors. Because we are a generous, giving bunch. I don't know about other author worlds (I suspect picture book peeps fall into the same category) but in this world, we have each other's backs.

As we're reflecting this month on the blog about gifts and wishes, the first topic that came to mind was the generosity I see every day, without fail, in the middle grade author community.

Confession: my fourth title was released in November, and I admit, I sort of dropped the ball on promotion. Like many authors, that's not my favorite thing to do anyway, but I've been hibernating these last few months -- hard at work on a revision for book #5, to be released in 2020 -- and I kept putting off my promotion duties.

But never fear, the community had my back. Bloggers reached out, some who'd not known my work previously, like Deborah Kalb, who regularly spotlights best-selling and little-known authors on her fabulous blog. She's an author herself, but posts Q&As with authors in every genre, both for adults and kids. This year, she had close to 800 posts, helping authors get the word out about their books.

Kate Messner is another author who always goes out of her way to help fellow writers. On her website, she maintains a list of authors who are available for school Skypes on World Read Aloud Day (February 1, 2019) so if you aren't included, send Kate an email.

And on MG Book Village, a hub to share and connect on all things middle grade, the organizers keep a list of MG book release dates and regularly Tweet the authors on their book birthdays.

My Indie bookstore, The Book Stall in Winnetka, IL, reached out too, and asked me to come in and sign stock. I've been thrilled to hear that Indies are making a comeback, and people have been returning to their neighborhood bookstores.

Think about how many authors Tweet and post pics on Instagram of books they're reading and recommend. All this is how to get the word out about books -- by championing each other.

I vow to do more of that in 2019. That's both my wish and my gift -- that we continue to support and cheer for each other in little ways, big ways, and always.

Happy holidays to our Smack Dab readers!

Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of Ethan Marcus Makes His Mark, Ethan Marcus Stands Up, The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days, and Calli Be Gold. Find her at

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Our Favorite Father Christmas

The 1932 Christmas Letter (J.R.R. Tolkien) told how goblins had attempted to steal presents stored ready for Christmas. Photograph: The Tolkien Estate Ltd 1976

This month, we at Smack Dab in the Middle present our wish for writers, a wish for creative inspiration. A wish for a grand story that takes you out of the ordinary, that presents you with the unexpected, gives you a call to adventure that you cannot help but answer?

Well. We’re working on it.

It so happens, in 1920, J.R.R. Tolkien’s three-year old son, John Francis, asked his famous father , “Who is Father Christmas?” Talk about the unexpected! And Tolkien decided to answer that call. On Christmas Eve, late at night, Tolkien sat down in his study and wrote a letter. In spidery handwriting, in red ink, Tolkien replied as Father Christmas, addressing it from “Christmas House, North Pole.”

For the next 23 years, every Christmas Eve, Tolkien wrote a letter to his four children, telling stories about the misadventures of Father Christmas and his helpers, including the North Polar Bear and his two sidekick cubs, Paksu and Valkotukka. About all the things he broke, firework explosions, the discovery of ancient caves full of old cave drawings, and battles with the goblins The stories oozed with similar motifs as his famous Middle Earth writings. When Father Christmas couldn't write, his Elvish secretary filled in. The letters come alive with Tolkien’s detailed, colorful, fantastical, intricate pictures.

“Dear Children,” begins one letter. “There is a lot to tell you. First of all a Merry Christmas! But there have been lots of adventures you will want to hear about. It all began with the funny noises underground … ”


The letters were released posthumously by the Tolkien estate on 2 September 1976, the 3rd anniversary of Tolkien’s death. Come see for yourself, the wonderful adventures of Father Christmas and the great North Polar Bear at The Tolkien Library.

I wish you a happy, inspirational, creative Holiday!


Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Gift of Reading: A New MG Book For the Holidays by Darlene Beck Jacobson.

Today, for your reading pleasure, I offer a gift that would be perfect for a middle-school-er on your holiday list. Take a look at BEAUTY AND BERNICE by Nancy Viau.

A fearless skateboarder
A quirky princess
Two very different girls…
And the summer that was almost a fairy tale

 “I loved Beauty and Bernice SOOOO much! The book is about a girl called Bernice who loves skateboarding. Her life is going great until annoying pink 'princess' Odelia moves in across the road. At first, Bernice pays no attention to her - she grew out of princesses years ago. But there's more to Odelia than meets the eye... I loved this book because I, like Bernice, love skateboarding. I found this book hilarious in some parts, but moving and gripping in others. I would recommend this book to anyone who loves skateboarding, princesses and mysteries that leave you on the edge of your seat. I rate this book a definite five stars.”
 ~ 10-Year-Old Goodreads Reviewer

"Readers will enjoy their charming adventure from the skate park to Smile Academy, a summer camp for kids with Down syndrome. A sweet tale with wisdom and heart." ~ Literary SoirĂ©e 

Here's a link to the awesome trailer:

Twelve-year-old skateboarder Bernice Baransky is comfortable with her skater grunge look—a look she’s had since she traded in her childhood princess dress-up outfits for a skateboard. Bernice is the only girl at Porchtown Skate Park who can pop an ollie, ride the rails, and grind the slabs. She’d love to impress Wyatt Anderson, a skater who calls her Dude, but that would require actually talking to him, and Bernice can’t seem to do more than mumble when he’s around.
Bernice wonders if she should accept help from a new neighbor, the proper and stuffy Odelia, who is desperate to befriend her. Odelia acts like a fairy-tale princess, and insists on referring to her fancy notes in ODELIA’S GUIDE TO THE SOCIAL GRACES. Odelia spouts off ridiculous and hilarious lessons on poise, posture, manners, and more—even what to do about embarrassing “oopsies” liked spilled soda, burps, and unexpected gas—and Bernice reluctantly realizes that Odelia knows what she’s talking about. But Bernice can’t be seen hanging out with a princess at the skate park, the summer camp where she volunteers, or anywhere around town because that is just not cool. She’ll accept Odelia’s help, but Odelia better ditch the gowns and tiaras, or people will talk.
Nancy Viau’s exciting middle grade takes readers on a thrill ride from the skate park’s half-pipe to Smile Academy, a summer camp for Down syndrome children. A novel full of adventure and heart, it asks the question: Can two very different people ever be friends? 
The book is not just about skaters and princesses.
The book is not really a fairy tale although there are some sneaky references that savvy readers will pick up on.
The book is jammed packed with skateboarding moves--all thoroughly researched.
The book features Down syndrome children, and so few do. Am I right? I wanted to highlight these very capable, delightful, "Made of Awesome" kids. It's become a favorite part to teachers and educators of special needs children.


Other Middle Grade Titles:
Something is Bugging Samantha Hansen (Schiffer Publishing, 2019)
Samantha Hansen Has Rocks in Her Head (Abrams Books, 2008 & Schiffer Publishing, 2019)
Beauty and Bernice (Schiffer Publishing, 2018)
Just One Thing! (Schiffer Publishing, 2016)


Tuesday, December 11, 2018

(Not So) Simple Wish from Jody Feldman

All right, I’ll say it. Way too often I have these wonderfully grandiose ideas, but when it comes time to put fingers to keyboard, it's easier to follow a less magical path. The end result doesn’t match the vibrancy of my imagination.

I know I’m not alone.

And so my wish for writers is plain and simple: I wish for you the inspiration and dedication to put all the right words in the right order to write that story which matches the vision and voices in your head. Have a magical season!

Saturday, December 8, 2018

A Lump of Coal -- from Jane Kelley

This holiday season, I would like to give you all a lump of coal.

Wait! What? you say. How could anyone who's reading this blog and loves kids books possibly deserve a dirty black lump? Santa only gives coal to those who who have been naughty.

Coal's reputation has gotten even worse since Victorian England. In those days, poor children might actually have preferred to get a piece of fuel to provide a little bit more heat on a cold day. Now we shun it for being the dirtiest of fossil fuels. But I wondered, if I dug deeply enough, would that unwelcome gift have some redeeming qualities?

I searched the internet. I found recipes for lumps of "coal" made out of marshmallows and chocolate cookies. I found many different Santa-esque figures who came down chimneys to put presents in kids' shoes. (Italy had a witch named La Befana!) I found plastic lumps which could be sent as gags. And then I found what I hoped I would.

Send Coal will, for a very modest fee, ship a baseball-sized lump of actual coal to whomever you choose. Anonymously! You can include a message explaining your reasoning for this dubious gift, although they reserve the right to censor some sentiments for legal reasons.

The coal comes from Centralia, Pennsylvania. That town mined coal for over a century. But they had to stop when a vein of coal that ran beneath the town caught fire. It could not be extinguished. The underground heat, the toxic fumes, the sinkholes threatened the citizens who were moved to safety. The fire still burns, as evidenced by plumes of smoke which escape from the vents. Now Centralia is a ghost town, visited by tourists and the people who once lived there.
Discover Magazine's photo of smoke wafting past abandoned buildings
So, dear readers and writers, you are probably still wondering why I would give you each a lump of coal.

Because I hope that you will grasp whatever lump of life you have discovered. Examine it carefully. Don't take it at its most obvious value. I guarantee you will find a story in it.

Remember that it is the humble, lowly, despised lump of coal that can be turned into diamonds.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Gift I Would Give to Fellow Writers by Deborah Lytton

When I think about a gift I would give to fellow writers, many things come to mind: persistence, commitment, confidence, time, and of course, a red Moleskine notebook and Palomino Blackwing pencils. And yet there is one thing that surpasses all of this: inspiration. When a writer is inspired, the story flows smoothly and we are committed to the work so completely that finding the time becomes as simple as breathing. Being confident about the manuscript and persistent in submitting it to agents or editors happens without procrastination. It doesn't matter if our only writing supplies are a broken teal crayon and a wrinkled grocery store receipt because the words must be written. Most importantly, when we are inspired, we are confident about the work we have created. So this year, I hope you will be inspired to write the story in your heart, the one that only you can tell. Happy writing!

Monday, December 3, 2018

Dear Santa, All This Author Wants for Christmas Is...

... to give my readers HAPPY books.


Let me explain.

In September I visited a school in north rural Alabama. The 6th graders were wonderful, and a few of them wrote me letters, which I responded to. Then a few of those kids wrote me again via email. One message in particular really struck a chord:

Dear Irene Latham,

Thank you for writing me back! My name is [name removed] from Cotaco School. I am very excited about you putting my name in your idea file! If you do put my name in a book, could I be a zookeeper, please? I am a fan of your books, creations, and adventures. I am not online very much but if you do ever make a book with me in it please make it happy and not sad. I have issues with my parents they fight a lot and I am constantly moving houses it gets tiring and I just need some happiness in my life. Thank You


"I just need some happiness in my life."

YES. I want to write "happy" books for this kid, and all the kids like him. 

Working on it...
Winner of the 2016 ILA Lee Bennett Hopkins Promising Poet Award, Irene Latham is an Alabama author of many poetry, fiction and picture books, including Can I Touch Your Hair? Poems of Race, Mistakes and Friendship (with Charles Waters), which was named a Charlotte Huck Honor book and a Kirkus Best Book of 2018. 

Saturday, December 1, 2018


Congrats to Michele Weber Hurwitz, who celebrated a book birthday this week for Ethan Marcus Makes His Mark (S&S/Aladdin), her fourth middle grade novel. It's the sequel to last year's Ethan Marcus Stands Up.

Siblings Ethan and Erin Marcus are invited to attend a prestigious invention camp during winter break of seventh grade. The camp is run by the enigmatic, mysterious tech sensation Zak Canzeri, known to the world as "Z." Fidgety Ethan wants to finally create a working desk-evator (a device to allow kids to stand at their classroom desks) which he flubbed at the school Invention Day. Perfectionist Erin desperately wants to beat her archenemy Marlon Romanov, who thinks that girls aren't as good as boys at science. But at the camp, both Ethan and Erin question their abilities against a roomful of geniuses. On the last day, they team up with two new friends and think of a spectacular invention -- if there's enough time to create it and present to the judges! Narrated by five kids, the story allows readers to experience the same events from different perspectives.

CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR? POEMS OF RACE MISTAKES AND FRIENDSHIP by Irene Latham and Charles Waters has been recognized as:

an NCTE Charlotte Huck Honor Book,

a 2018 Kirkus Reviews' Best Middle-Grade Book

and a 2019 NCTE Notable Poetry Book

Hopefully this recognition will get the book into more readers' hands and help #startaconversation.

Also, if you haven't heard the good news, Indie bookstores are thriving! The American Booksellers Association says that small, independent bookstores fell by about 40 percent during the mid-90s to 2009. Some have since recovered, and this year, sales are up more than 5 percent compared to a year ago! The "buy local" movement has been a driving force, says the ABA, and customers are increasingly spending in their neighborhood stores. So please continue to support your local bookstore this holiday season, and always.