Friday, October 20, 2017

Checkout, Read, Return, and Repeat

For those of you not old enough to remember the old cards used to check out books from the library, here's what they looked like:

Though I enjoy all the newly automated systems we now have for checking books out of the library, there is something I miss about taking the checkout card out of the pocket inside the book, signing my name to it, and turning it into the librarian.  There's part of me that looks back on that old-fashioned checkout routine with a certain sentimental fondness, and it makes me miss the way we used to do things.  But besides just missing that old, familiar routine, I also miss seeing my name signed again and again to the checkout cards of my favorite books.

Thinking back on this library memory has made me ponder the value of repetition as it relates to reading.  Growing up, I read many of my favorite books over and over again.  Then later when I became a teacher, I had the opportunity to read many of those same books, and many new ones, over and over again several more times.  Finally when I began my endeavor to write children's books, I read some of those same books yet again as examples of excellent writing and storytelling.  All of that repetition gave me such a strong foundation of what "story" really is. 

There is always something somewhat magical for me about a book I fall in love with, but when we become so familiar with a story by reading it again and again, I almost feel as if that magic becomes, not just something we experience and enjoy while reading, but it actually becomes part of us.  So, though we don't have the old-fashioned checkout cards as a record of all those magical books that have seeped into our souls, hopefully this blog post will give you a reason to remember all those books that you have enjoyed over and over again throughout your life.  And when you do, maybe you will want to take a few minutes to think about how those stories are now a big part of who you are.  

Happy Reading and Repeating,

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Halloween, Black Cats and About Their Stories

It’s October! Time for Halloween, pumpkins and black cats. I thought I’d take this opportunity to talk about my own black feline, who, contrary to popular belief, isn’t unlucky at all. He’s the inspiration behind my Middle Grade series, Ace the Cat Mysteries.

Boots, who has been my familiar since he was just three weeks old, is a particular type of feline. Curious, sly and always into mischief – despite that he’s now 12 years old. It was Boots who inspired my first literary venture and main character, Ace. Ace is a self-proclaimed “mixed breed Siamese and pure-bred journalist” with a knack for getting into trouble.

It seems like readers tend to solidly fall on one side of the line or the other when it comes to talking animals as part of their book preferences: Either they love them, or they hate them.

As a kid myself, I related to animals better than I related to my human classmates. I loved books with animals that spoke for themselves – Charlotte’s Web, The Little Prince, Bunnicula and most anything by Beatrice Potter. The first stories I wrote often were from the point of view of an animal. Most commonly and perhaps un-cleverly, a cat. I suppose this is why I was driven to write my first middle grade novel to the little girl I knew best: Myself. (By the way, my first attempt at a novel? Disaster. Please don’t ask to read it.)

I also wanted to tie in some of the literary tropes I loved best and aspired to write about. Namely, noir, mystery and detective work. A past journalist myself with a honed ability for using detective skills to get to the bottom of stories, I thought it would be fun if the main character wasn’t actually a detective himself, either. Rather, he was pulled a bit unwillingly into the dark and seedy underbelly of the small town he calls home.

I liked the idea that animals lived an entirely different side of life alongside our own in the world. Living alongside each other as companions as we do, yet also helping each other when we can.

As a child, it meant something to me to see animals and humans leaning on one another. I could see myself in the characters’ place prevailing, and then too, see myself succeeding.

To celebrate Halloween and arriving here just a short while ago on Smack Dab in the Middle (thanks, Holly!), I’m giving away a copy of the first novel in my series, and my author debut: The Great Cat Nap. The Great Cat Nap won the 2017 Council for Wisconsin Writers Tofte/Wright Children’s Literature Award as well as the 2015 Bronze Medal from the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards. Just click on the photo below to enter.

Good luck and happy reading!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

All Libraries Great and Small

LOC Main Reading Room

We at Smack Dab continue to celebrate libraries. My favorite library is the Library of Congress, founded in 1800. Their online collection is extensive, perfect for when I teach my how to research courses. I have used their online library extensively for researching my historical fiction.

 The LOC has a fascinating history. In 1814, British troops burned the Library, then housed at the Capital, building, and destroyed its collection of 3,000 books.  When the Library was rebuilt, Congress purchased Thomas Jefferson's personal library of 6,487 to start its collection.

 Some amazing facts about the LOC:

The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world. It has about 838 miles of bookcases, filled with more than 36 million books and other print materials, 3.5 million recordings, 13.7 million photographs, 5.5 million maps, 6.7 million pieces of sheet music and 69 million manuscripts.
The smallest book in the Library of Congress is Old King Cole. It measures at 1/25” x 1/25”, which is about the size of a period. To turn its pages, one has to use a needle.

The largest book is the 5-by-7 foot picture book filled with color images of South Asia. The book was composed by a team of MIT students, recording the ancient life and culture of Bhutan, making over 40,000 digital images made for the Bhutan National Archives. A copy of the picture book was donated to the LOC.

The oldest example of print are passages from a Buddhist sutra printed in 770 AD. The Library’s oldest example of writing is a cuneiform tablet dating from 2040 BC. The LOC also has an original copy of the Gutenberg Bible, printed in the 15th century.

Speaking of libraries great and small and their librarians, some famous librarians include Jacob Grimm, Mao Zedong, Golda Meir, Laura Bush, Marcel Proust, Melvil Dewey, and Lewis Carroll.

America’s first lending library was established in 1731, Philadelphia, by Benjamin Franklin. It was a paid subscription-based service, but paved the way for the library systems we use in North America today.

The world’s oldest known library was founded sometime in the 7th century B.C. for the “royal contemplation” of the Assyrian ruler Ashurbanipal. Located in Nineveh in modern day Iraq, the library included around 30,000 cuneiform, including the 4,000-year-old “Epic of Gilgamesh.”

Alexander the Great’s death in 323 B.C.,  his former general Ptolemy I Soter took control of Egypt. Soter established the Library of Alexandria, which became the intellectual jewel of the ancient world. At its peak, the library may have included over 500,000 papyrus scrolls containing works of literature and texts on history, law, mathematics and science.
The al-Qarawiyyin library, located in Morocco, is part of the world's oldest continually operating university, al-Qarawiyyin University, which opened in 859.

There are more than 50,000 registered Little Free Libraries around the world.You can build your own library!

Author Cynthia Cotten's Little Free Library. It's bigger on the inside.

 The second largest library in the U.S., and the fourth largest in the world,  is the beautiful New York Public Library, founded in 1908. The iconic lions that lounge outside the New York Public Library’s main building at Fifth Ave. and 42nd Street are named Patience and Fortitude.

Patience, waiting patiently to see you soon!

What's your favorite library?

Thank you for stopping by!
Bobbi Miller

Saturday, October 14, 2017

My Top Ten Favorite Library Moments

Just thinking of the word "library" brings up an emotional array of memories for me, from childhood to motherhood to author-hood. I wouldn't be surprised if many of us feel similarly; there's something unforgettable about visiting a place filled with books that can't help but anchor itself deep in our minds. As I pondered a specific library-oriented subject to write about, I realized I couldn't choose just one. So here are my Top Ten Favorite Library Moments!

10. The building. As a kid, my local public library seemed enormous. Thousands of books, arranged in some sort of mysterious order, on every subject imaginable. It was like an actual, real life Internet. (Years before the real Internet, of course. Psst. It was better.) There were nooks and crannies, comfy armchairs, stools to reach the highest shelves, and the delicious smell of paper permeating the air.

9. Free books. When I turned ten, I was allowed to ride my bike to the library. The basket on the front of my bike had a real purpose at last. I could fill it with FREE BOOKS and ride home, keeping them in my room for three whole weeks. And then I could come back again for MORE FREE BOOKS. I couldn't get over that there wasn't a limit on the free part. It didn't expire!

8. A fine. Although many libraries have done away with this practice, back in the day, fines were a thing. Once, a book got misplaced in my house and I returned it late, shamefully forking over my ten cents. I'll tell you this: I never returned a book late again.

7. The card. Getting my first library card in second grade made me feel like I'd gotten my own credit card or a driver's license. It might have been one of the first times I signed my full name. I carried it proudly in my Barbie wallet. It had power (see #9).

6. The bookmobile. Equally as good as the library building itself but in a different way, I loved climbing the steps of this giant bus that drove around with books inside. There was a bookmobile stop a few blocks from my house and it came on Friday afternoons. If I was amazed at how many books could fit into the library, I was stunned at how many books could fit into a bus, too.

5. Studying. The library became a different kind of respite for me during college. The quiet, the solitude, a place where I could get away from the noise and chatter of a dorm or sorority house. For freshman year finals, my favorite spot at UW-Madison was in the Memorial Library -- something lovingly called "the cages." These were honestly jail-like cells where you shut out the distractions and studied to your heart's content.

4. Librarian friends. Two of my best friends from college are librarians. One works in a public library, and the other, a school library. Whenever I stop in to visit, I get to live vicariously in their worlds.

3. Story time. Becoming a mom brought a new perspective to going to the library. I could experience everything again through the eyes of my kids. I loved story time -- sitting cross-legged on the floor with one of them in my lap, listening to the soothing, lyrical words of Come Along Daisy, There's an Alligator Under my Bed, or Bunny Cakes.

2. Events. I've held mother-daughter book club meetings at my library, taken my kids to classes and events, and gone to many functions there myself. And they all are -- here's that amazing word again -- FREE.

1. Author visits. Perhaps the ultimate joy after a lifetime of loving libraries is being able to visit them as an author. I've loved every minute of speaking to book clubs, encouraging writers at NaNoWriMo, and participating in panel discussions. Whenever I walk into a library, I still feel that same rush of amazement (see #10).

Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of Ethan Marcus Stands Up (Simon & Schuster/Aladdin 2017), The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days (Penguin Random House 2014), and Calli Be Gold (Penguin Random House 2011). Find her at

Friday, October 13, 2017

James Patterson...and Me

[Posted by Chris Tebbetts]

I didn’t set out to become a professional AND. It just kind of happened that way.

To clarify: of the 28 books I’ve published over the past many years, 24 of them have someone else’s name on the cover, followed by “AND CHRIS TEBBETTS.” I’ve co-authored with James Patterson, Jeff Probst, and Lisa Papademetriou (which also means, coincidentally enough, that all of my co-authored work is shelved under P).

Most of the questions I get on co-authoring are about what the working relationship with James Patterson is like, and how that collaboration came about in the first place. I’m happy to answer additional questions in the comments section, below, but will stick to those two things for this blog entry.

My very first novels (a solo project called THE VIKING) were written for a book packager, Alloy Entertainment. That’s where Jim found me. Jim was already known for co-authoring on many of his adult titles, and as he ventured into middle grade and young adult fiction, he approached Alloy, looking for potential co-authors on those books as well. (Book packagers can also be de facto clearing houses for writers who are open to other work-for-hire opportunities.) The managing editor at Alloy contacted me and asked if I was interested in writing some “audition” chapters based on an idea from Mr. Patterson—and I jumped at the chance. 

I didn’t get the initial job at that time, but it wasn't too much later that I heard from Jim himself, about another project he had in mind--a series of illustrated novels with a comedic take on the horrors of middle school. After submitting another sample, and an interview in NYC, I came on board for our first collaboration, MIDDLE SCHOOL, THE WORST YEARS OF MY LIFE.

In terms of how the process works: 

I start from a detailed chapter-by-chapter outline from Jim, and begin creating a polished first draft of the whole story from there. Most of these middle grade titles involve five to six months of work for me, and once a month, I'll send in a chunk of chapters for his review. Then I'll get back written comments, or we'll get on the phone and talk about how it’s going, any adjustments Jim might want to make, or potential changes to the story moving forward. Once we reach the end of that process, Jim will take the whole manuscript back and rewrite it to completion.

In the case of these middle grade titles, we also have a third collaborator in our illustrators. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing our prose come to life visually through the imaginations of Laura Park (on the first five MIDDLE SCHOOL books); Jomike Tejido (MIDDLE SCHOOL, DOG’S BEST FRIEND); and Cory Thomas (PUBLIC SCHOOL SUPERHERO).

I know, from many conversations I’ve had over the years, that co-authoring isn’t for everyone. But it’s turned out to be a really comfortable place for me to be, perhaps owing to my own background in what I call collaborative storytelling.  I came to writing from theater and film production, where I always enjoyed the creative synthesis of working with a team.

In any case, it’s been a productive several years, and I couldn’t be happier to have settled into this niche, juggled alongside some of the other projects I have in the works, and which I’ll hopefully be able to share with you here on this blog at some other time.

Meanwhile -- any questions or comments? Fire away, below!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Library = Sanctuary

There has been a lot in the news lately about sanctuary cities.  The idea of creating places for people from all walks of life to go to when they need a safe haven.  Some call them a hiding place for those bent on breaking the law.  While the debate for "funding" such cities goes on, a quieter and less controversial option has been in play for sometime.

Since this month's topic is libraries, I though I'd talk a bit about the changes I've noticed in our public libraries.   Public libraries have long been  places of refuge and quiet. As a child, I often spent after school hours sitting in a chair at my local library, reading the latest magazines, and checking out some books to take home. 
Typical, traditional, library activities.

While my own children were young, we'd visit the library for story time, crafts and special programs meant to entertain and educate.  Libraries are still doing these kinds of things.  But, I've also noticed that some libraries have become sanctuaries of their own.  Places for the homeless to spend their afternoons surfing the web or reading newspapers.  A quiet, and safe place with clean restrooms for washing off a days worth of dirt.  A place where seniors or veterans can take a class in word processing, how to use social media, or creative writing.  A place where you can polish up your resume and do job searches, or send out job applications.  Some bigger, quieter libraries even have lounge areas for resting or napping.  My neighborhood library has beautiful works of art on display by local artists.

Sanctuary.  Which begs the question: Are libraries still relevant in today's high-tech world?  Many schools are eliminating libraries in favor of computer rooms.  Kids don't need libraries when they can get all they need on a smartphone.  Right? 

As I see it, libraries are needed now more than ever.  Maybe you won't visit the library to check out books, since it's more convenient to read them on a Kindle.  And maybe you won't take your kiddos to story time.  But in a world that sometimes feels divisive and overwhelming, I know there is one place where ALL ARE WELCOME.  I'm betting the library won't disappear any time soon.  It will continue to adapt and change to meet the needs of its people.  It will continue to be a sanctuary.   What do you think?

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The House of Magic

by Jody Feldman

With these gates now at your back ...

then just left, beyond this building ...

... lived one of the most magical places on earth, so magical that I couldn't easily find a picture of the place online. Imagine that! But if you were lucky, your mom would take you there every week during the summer. And holy cow! You’d actually get to bring books home ... for free! The only conditions were, you could only take five of them, you had to treat them with lovingkindness, and you had to return them. But then you could take the same ones back home again.

Because the collection there stretched back many years, a fair amount of books on the shelves looked like this:

Which is why these were frequent visitors to my house:

I was drawn to color like a cupcake to sprinkles. And yet, it was those drab, leather covers that lent our place a perceptible scent of mystery and adventure and a palpable desire to spend dark, rainy days curled up in chairs where imagination runs free.

Just perhaps, it's lucky I found no pictures of my childhood library. Now, I can continue to preserve my magical memories of that magical place that made me a reader.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

AN AMAZING LIBRARY -- by Jane Kelley

This was a library. It was built to honor the Roman Senator Tiberius Julius Ceisus Polemaenus two thousand years ago. It housed 12,000 scrolls and the body of Polemaenus, who was buried beneath its floor. 

Last May, we visited this library in the ancient city of Ephesus, near Selcuk, Turkey. The building had been destroyed by an earthquake and attacked by Goths -- the actual ones, not the wannabes who dress in black. Archaeologists were able to restore some of the beautiful facade. You can still see four statues of women each representing wisdom, knowledge, intelligence, and virtue. Here's a close up of the marble Sophia with her namesake, our daughter.

As a book lover, I was thrilled that ancient civilizations had created such a spectacular place to honor learning. 

Then I heard a guide say that women would not have been allowed in the library. Neither would most children--just a few of the so-called "important" sons. In those days, very few people could read and write. Education was not a right. It was a rare privilege. 

So I thought of another amazing library. The library at the Brooklyn New School and Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies lacks a fancy facade. It doesn't have statues of wisdom, knowledge, intelligence, and virtue. It has librarians, teachers, and students to embody these attributes. And believe me, they do. 

Whenever I visit (which I do as often as they'll let me) I'm amazed by the questions, the analysis, the creative thinking of the students. I'm even more amazed when I remember that this is a public school.  Its students are chosen by lottery, because many more kids want to go there than could fit in the classrooms. Where does this wonderful wisdom come from? There are many sources, but I believe one of the main ones is this library.