Saturday, May 31, 2014

“Middleview” Interview with Debut Author Adriana Brad Schanen

Posted by Tamera Wissinger

Today, Adriana Brad Schanen is joining Smack Dab In The Middle Blog for a guest “middleview” interview. Adriana’s debut middle grade novel QUINNY & HOPPER, Disney-Hyperion, releases on 06/10/2014! Congratulations, Adriana!

Here is a bit about Adriana:

Adriana Brad Schanen was born in Romania, raised in Chicago, and now lives in the vibrant, diverse town of Montclair, NJ with her husband, two daughters and a shaggy 60-pound lap dog named Oliver. She can often be found in her attic study, writing books for kids and teens or the occasional screenplay. Her first early MG novel, QUINNY & HOPPER, releases June 10, 2014 from Disney-Hyperion.

Here is a description of QUINNY & HOPPER:

Quinny has a lot to say. Hopper gets to the point.
Quinny has one speed: very, very, extra-very fast. Hopper proceeds with caution.

Quinny has big ideas. Hopper has smart solutions.

Quinny and Hopper couldn’t be more different. They’re an unstoppable team. But when summer ends, things suddenly aren’t the same. Can Quinny and Hopper stick together in the face of stylish bullies, a killer chicken, and those new Third Grade Rules – especially the one that says they’re not allowed to be friends anymore?

Combining emotional realism and adventure-driven plotting, this young MG alternates between the comically-different perspectives of a boy and a girl whose close summer friendship runs smack-dab into the uncertainties of a new school year that could change everything...maybe even for the better. 

Online you can find Adriana here: Website, Goodreads, Twitter, Facebook

Now it’s time to hear from our guest.

 Smack Dab Middleview with QUINNY & HOPPER author Adriana Brad Schanen

1. In a nutshell, what do your main characters want?

Naturally, my two polar-opposite main characters start out wanting polar-opposite things.

Quinny wants: adventure, bustle, company and conversation. Above all, she wants to escape her sleepy new town of Whisper Valley and return to her bright, fast life in NYC.

Hopper wants: privacy, personal space, time to himself. He wants to swim laps without his brothers crashing into him. He’d rather skip his aunt’s chaotic barbecue and hang out in his room, juggling or sketching or exploring science books. Above all, he wants to be able to have his regular personality without people thinking that it means he’s sad. (Because he’s not sad. He’s deeply curious about the world – it’s just that he’s not in your face about it, like some people.)

QUINNY & HOPPER centers on the intense, odd-couple friendship that develops between these new neighbors and rising 3rd graders, with chapters that toggle between the first-person voices of exuberant, restless Quinny and the more reserved, pensive Hopper. Ultimately, of course, they discover they both want the same thing: a friend who truly gets them.

2. What is in their way?

Quinny and Hopper stand in each other’s way, mostly. This conveniently gave me something to write about. Also, Hopper’s great at holding a grudge. And Quinny’s melodrama and overreactions sabotage her at every turn.

3. Did you know right away that this was your story, or did you discover it as you wrote? How did the story evolve?

These characters started off younger and in a picture book manuscript, a format that ended up being completely wrong for the story —in large part, because I can’t write a picture book to save my life. Hopper was always Hopper, but Quinny went through a few name changes. Eventually I sorted out who they were, and how old, and that their story started the summer between 2nd and 3rd grade.

The transition from PB to early MG involved a lot of experimenting, second-guessing and flailing about. It was grisly at times – chopped up bits of various versions of the manuscript floated through my dreams -- but I always kept front-of-mind the idea that their friendship was the core of the story, and sought the format that best showcased it. 

4. Since QUINNY & HOPPER wasn't always for middle grade readers, what else had to change for it to be considered an MG novel?
The emotional realism I wanted for this book made me dial it up from PB to early MG, where I felt I could better explore darker stuff like anger, loneliness, jealousy, girly relational aggression, the casual physical violence within male relationships, and the way resentments can bubble up within sibling/family relationships (mixed in with all the love, of course).

Slowly but surely, the story got to stretch its legs and become what it wanted to be. It may sound loony, but I do think of storylines as living, animate objects with a drive of their own.

5. What is the best part of writing for MG readers?

On the younger end, I love how those CB/early MG years are such a tender, in-between time. Picture books start receding – which is sad, but also exciting because it makes room for the ascension of “real books,” as my younger daughter likes to call them. (No offense PBs –you’re as real to me as any other kind of book!)

For my older daughter, age eight through nine was such great phase – like balancing in the center of the see-saw, in a way. She was able to lean in one direction, toward MG, and then back in the other, to PBs. It was a sweet, satisfying moment when there was almost equal interest in both directions. I love writing for this age, trying to keep kids in the game as they transition to longer-form narratives. 

But really, all of MG is compelling to me. My next MG project is actually older, centering on a 12-year-old boy who’s being bullied from inside the popular group at school. Middle school is such dark, funny, fertile ground!

Thanks for joining us at Smack Dab in the Middle Blog, Adriana. Again, congratulations on the release of QUINNY & HOPPER!

Friday, May 30, 2014

My Pelican Point Summer, by Tracy Holczer

When I was a kid (that's me in the red sweater), we spent one blissful summer with our trailer parked at Pelican Point in Half Moon Bay, California. My mother bought a tide chart and we would get up in the skinny hours of morning, the stars still blinking, and take out flashlights so we could make our way down the overgrown trail to the beach to find treasure. When we were done with our treasure hunt, we would pack up for the day, hit the Half Moon Bay Bakery for milk bread and donuts, and drive over to Martin’s Beach where my step-dad would take on the ocean with his smelt net.

Some days were sunny and my mom could barely keep our wiggling bodies still enough to apply the awful zinc oxide to our noses and shoulders before we would run down the beach in search of sand crabs and sea glass. But other days were overcast, thick with mist that speckled our hair and made us shiver in our sweatshirts. On those days my step-dad would rig up a strong canvas between two poles to keep the worst of the sea breeze out, and I would curl up in my beach towels and read. Nancy Drew, Encyclopedia Brown, whatever books I could get my hands on. But that particular summer, my Pelican Point summer, was when I read Nantucket Summer by Phyllis Green.
Long out of print, it’s a story about a young girl who goes to Nantucket Island with a woman and her young son. The husband rarely visits, the woman is slowly going crazy, and it's all wrapped up in a ghost story.

There was something about reading a book about summer, in the summer, that heightened the experience. Perhaps because I had more words at my disposal, Phyllis Green’s words, to describe the feelings of the beach and being ten years old. The sun shone brighter somehow, hotter, and the salt in my hair and on my skin put me right next to the main character. I was IN the story, not just reading it.
But it went deeper than that. I felt Adriana’s feelings about leaving her family to care for a small child on Nantucket because the mother of the child was emotionally unstable. I found myself relating to this girl who wanted to solve everyone’s troubles, but didn’t know how. For the first time, I came face to face with mental illness in a book and realized what might be going on in my own family. Best of all, it was the first time I realized I wasn’t alone. Or crazy for feeling that something might be wrong.

Summer was a magical time for me as a child. Full of freedom and discovery. But I will never forget that one summer where I got a glimpse of the bigger world and my place in it, which somehow made things less scary.
All because of a book.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


Today, we're joined by Bart King:

BART KING writes funny books for younger readers and immature adults. He’s sold over a half-million books, and Bart’s work has been translated into Chinese, Spanish, and Australian. While his title The Big Book of Boy Stuff was once’s #5 overall bestseller, Bart’s greatest achievement to date has been incorporating his name into the actual title of one of his books, namely Bart’s King-Sized Book of Fun (by Bart King).

Bart has been kind enough to share how he got started writing for kids and how he approaches writing for reluctant readers:

Picture a scene that would warm your heart: a class of 7th graders reading a variety of novels, e-books, comic books, and even catalogs. But wait! As charming as this is, you notice there is a handful of kids idly flipping pages or looking out the window. They’re clearly just marking time until the Sustained Silent Reading period ends.

This tableau is a lingering memory from my 15 years of teaching middle school. During that time, I focused my attention on my reluctant readers. Some claimed to find books “too boring,” which usually just meant they needed a good book referral. Others needed to work on their reading skills, and I was happy to help with that as well.

Over time, I found that the best way to appeal to these kids was to give them short snappy pieces. That way, the students didn’t feel they had to start on page one and then plow through hundreds of pages after that . . . which is a daunting task, come to think of it!

And the goofier the material, the better my students responded—and of course, illustrations were always a plus. For example, ones about the pitfalls of various superpowers!

That’s the quick version of how I got into writing for kids. I wanted my books to be so irresistible, even a reluctant reader could open up to any page and be hooked. And while the topics of my books vary wildly (e.g. Cute! A Guide to All Things Adorable and The Big Book of Gross Stuff), they all share the same pacing. Like my best classroom lesson plans, they contain these elements:

—something to do
—something to think about
—something to laugh at

It's a recipe that seems to work. And kids don’t notice (or mind) that they’re learning about history, science, and tractor beams. That’s why there’s even a chapter on ethics in my newest title, The Big Book of Superheroes.

It’s packed with activities—everything from avoiding costume wedgies to self-defense against preschooler super-villains. It’s filled with thought-provoking questions—and a chapter devoted to getting superpowers in the first place.

Of course, there’s LOTS of silly jokes, bad puns, and high-flying hijinks. So when I saw that the School Library Journal review called The Big Book of Superheroes “a highly browsable book [that’s] an excellent addition to library and classroom collections”, I got chills.

I’M NOT KIDDING. Because I felt confident that somewhere out there, a reluctant reader was reading my book—and he or she might actually be disappointed when SSR ends.

And if that’s not a superpower, I don’t know what is!

Bart has also graciously offered two signed copies of SUPERHEROES to US / Canadian Residents.  The giveaway runs through June 11:
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

It has been a long, cold, wet spring here in New Jersey, and this weekend was maybe the second weekend that actually felt summerish to me.  At long last, I can look forward to working on the porch and watching the suburban wildlife go past--which includes dogs, kids, people walking to the train station, people with babies, squirrels, rabbits, and for the first time since we've lived here--a groundhog.  Now, I have no idea what groundhogs are normally supposed to sound like, but this guy is loud.  We usually hear his feet slapping the ground when he by past long before we see him.

But like many of the writers here, summer reading for me as a child meant going to the library--and when I moved to my current house, one of the huge draws for me was that it was a few blocks away from the town's branch library.

So you can imagine my dismay when shortly after I moved in, I discovered that the branch had been closed due to a budget crisis. (Happily, due to the hard work of a lot of dedicated volunteers, it has since been reopened on a limited schedule.)

And it's not that I'm unfamiliar with such things.  The town where my parents lived closed their huge and completely gorgeous library for a year due to a budget shortfall (again, it was reopened by volunteers, one of whom was my mother).  

The first elementary school my son attended had no librarian and no budget for new books.

The second has a wonderful librarian, but her job is split between two libraries at two different schools, and she is frustrated by the fact that she simply doesn't have time to match students with books they'd love, or teach them what they need to know about navigating all of the information that is available to them.

Now I could go on and on about how awful this is.  I could write endlessly about the importance of libraries in a democratic society, and the important role that librarians can play in teaching kids how to sort through all of the information they find on the internet,.  I can talk about the importance of having safe spaces for members of our society to gather, read, and learn.  I can discuss at great length how public libraries are one of the few places that actually help with the digital divide by providing free computer and internet access to those who might not otherwise have it.  And I can talk about how for some reason, our society seems to think that libraries are less and less important in the age of the internet when in fact they are more important than ever.

But if you're reading this blog, I suspect I'm already preaching to the choir.

So this summer, I'm going to rededicate myself to supporting libraries in whatever way I can.  And hey, if you want to join me, I suspect there's a library in your own neighborhood that could use your help as well.

Monday, May 26, 2014

May Theme: Summer Reading Kickoff by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

I dug into my summer reading over the weekend, with books that have been in my home for ages: First up was THE APPRENTICES, Maile Meloy's sequel to THE APOTHECARY.
It's been a while since I was in Janie's world -- it's definitely a more harsh, violent, and acutely painful one this time around.
For some reason, I've torn through every one of Chimamanda Adichie's books but HALF OF A YELLOW SUN, which has been staring accusingly from a living room shelf for YEARS. Romance, Nigerian history, and spectacular writing by one of my favourite authors. The writing! Characters so carefully and lovingly sculpted...I am already wishing I could start all over again. As most of you may know, Adichie's "Danger of a Single Story" TED Talk went viral some time ago; check out this both hilarious and heartbreaking "Danger of a Single Book Cover" post from the wonderful AFRICA IS A COUNTRY blog. Seriously, go look now.
Dani Shapiro's STILL WRITING, which is both fresh and delightfully familiar, is perfect for subway and wait-during-lessons/activity reading, reminding me of those lessons I need to keep learning in my writing process.
Then I'm moving onto THE MAKING OF A POEM: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms, edited by Mark Strand and Eavan Boland, which is not me at all, because I actively avoid the writing of poetry, but I know I can learn a lot and my daughter loves to write poems, so I am (a little grumpily) making this a joint summer study -- we'll read it aloud together, I think.And bell hooks' TEACHING COMMUNITY: A Pedagogy of Hope, because, well, bell hooks.
For the rest of the summer I've got a couple of never-read oldies like THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH and THE WESTING GAME; I've got Varian Johnson's GREAT GREENE HEIST; Claudia Mills' ANNIKA RIZ, MATH WHIZ; STRANGE FRUIT, VOLUME I: Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History, and a glorious boatload of middle grade joys. Middle-grade novels are my summer reading sweet spot. Those fictions packed with truth. The place where I lose myself and find myself and am inspired. I can't wait! (Oh yeah, I didn't.)

Sunday, May 25, 2014


Ahhhh!  What's better than a shade tree and a book?  Like the rest of the Smack Dabbers, I spent my childhood summers devouring one novel after another.  My summers smelled like the library, more than they smelled like playgrounds.

I've been working hard lately at carving out time to enjoy stories in all forms: movies, TV, books, etc.  This summer, I'm also going to be working hard at combining the smell of library books with the smell of the grass beneath my favorite shade tree:

What's life if you can't enjoy it every now and again?  And isn't that what summer reading is all about?  Pure, unadulterated pleasure?

Saturday, May 24, 2014

My Summer Stack

Stephanie J. Blake

Our elementary school had a Buy One, Get One Scholastic Book Fair this week.

Here's my haul!

I'm pretty excited about all of these books. My summer reading usually involves reading outside, whether it's at the lake, or the pool, or even on my back deck.

We've only got two more weeks until summer vacation. I will sign all of us up for the reading program at the local library and my boys will have reading hours during the week. Our first bedtime read aloud this summer is going to be The Mighty Miss Malone!

Friday, May 23, 2014

Smack-Dab-in-the-Classroom: Getting Kids to Write Poetry by Dia Calhoun

Some kids feel intimidated by writing poetry. One way to ease them in is by introducing them to verse novels like Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse, or The Surrender Tree by Margarita Engle or my own After the River the Sun.

Because verse novels are narrative and don’t rhyme, they are closer to prose. So have kids write a short story (one page) in standard prose. Then have them experiment with breaking up the lines. Show them how they can give added meaning to a word or idea by breaking the line in a certain place. Or give emphasis to a word by placing it alone on its on line.

Also fun is to cut the lines/words up and move them around in strips. That tactile exercise also makes poetry writing less intimidating.

One variation on this idea is to take a paragraph of a classic prose book and have each student transform the same paragraph into verse. Because each student creates a different emphasis depending on how they break the lines, comparing the examples shows how poetry is an art form.

This exercise can be done with all ages, from elementary through high school.

Have fun!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Summer Obsessions

Like most of the Smack Dab bloggers who posted this month, I looked forward to summer reading all during the school year.  This was back before schools put out lists of worthy books to read on vacation.  For me summer was a time to read whatever I wanted and especially to indulge in obsessions.

One summer it was the Bobbsey Twins.  A bad sunburn kept me at a shady picnic table while the rest of my family was enjoying Sunny Bridge Lake. My consolation prize was a Bobbsey Twins’ title picked up at a nearby discount store (remember Two Guys?). Once I read one, I had to read them all.  Luckily my library had them on the shelves. I don’t think my mother would have been willing to spring for 50+ books.  When I ran out, I simply re-read my favorites.

By the next summer I was ready for what seemed like more grownup fare—Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, followed by series like the Borrowers by Mary Norton (a series I still happily re-read every couple of years) and the Little House books.

I didn’t confine myself to series – sometimes it was an author who inspired by obsessions (like Marilyn Sachs in sixth grade) and I didn’t stop until I had read every book of his or hers on the library shelf. Some 2-3 times.

Even in high school, I happily left The Grapes of Wrath and The Great Gatsby behind to dig into cheesy romances in the summer months.

Summer reading lists are a great, and it thrills me to no end to find my own titles on them, but summer should also be a time to let kids read whatever they want. Not because it’s good for them, but because it’s fun.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

“Middleview” Interview with Debut Author Kate Hannigan

Posted by Tamera Wissinger

Today, Kate Hannigan is joining Smack Dab In The Middle Blog for a guest “middleview” interview. Kate’s debut middle grade novel CUPCAKE COUSINS, Disney-Hyperion, released on 05/13/2014! Congratulations, Kate!

Here is a bit about Kate:

Kate Hannigan is a former newspaper journalist who now writes for children. Her first book in the CUPCAKE COUSINS series was published May 13th with Disney-Hyperion. Look for Book 2 in Summer 2015, and Book 3 in Fall 2016. Kate's debut historical fiction for middle-grade readers, THE DETECTIVE'S ASSISTANT, comes out Spring 2015 with Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. Kate lives in Chicago with her husband, three kids, two frogs, and one noisy dog. Say hello online at or visit her blog at

Here’s a description of CUPCAKE COUSINS:

Cousins Willow and Delia can't wait to spend a week vacationing together with their families. Their aunt is getting married, and Willow and Delia are hoping their tasty baked goods will be enough to get them out of being flower girls in the wedding.

But with a mischievous little brother, a bacon-loving dog, and a misbehaving blender in the mix, their treats don't exactly turn out as planned. When a real emergency threatens to ruin the wedding, will their baking skills be enough to save the day?

Join Willow and Delia in the kitchen by following their scrumptious recipes for whoopee pies, peach pancakes, and other tasty treats!

And now it’s time to hear from our guest:

Smack Dab Middleview with CUPCAKE COUSINS author Kate Hannigan

1. In a nutshell, what do your main characters, Willow and Delia, want?

Willow and Delia are almost 10 years old. But when they get together each summer with all the aunts and uncles, cousins and grandparents, they're still treated like little kids. They're at that age when they want to break away from being "the little ones" and be recognized for something more.

In this case, they believe they're pretty good with a whisk! So they want spend their time in the kitchen whipping up delicious cupcakes and cookies, the desserts for their aunt's wedding. They DO NOT want to be flower girls. They feel they're much too old for a task like that.

Willow wants to be a chef when she grows up, so she takes their opportunities for cooking very seriously. And Delia just wants to make everything work out for her family.

2. What is in their way?

The obstacles keeping Willow and Delia from their goals are plenty. First up would be the girls themselves. While they THINK they have mad cooking skills, the evidence splattered on the walls and all over the kitchen would say otherwise. There are lots of kitchen disasters in this book, which I hope young readers will find hilarious! 

They are also up against the new caterer on the scene, the formidable Cat Sutherland, who thinks maybe the girls are trying to make her look bad. And there are also big sisters around who make life difficult. Throw in a little brother they're supposed to be keeping an eye on and a bacon-loving Bernese mountain dog, and things get challenging.

3. Did you know right away that this was your story, or did you discover it as you wrote? How did the story evolve?

I had a pretty good sense early on what I wanted to do. Our family heads off to Michigan each summer for a getaway so our kids and their cousins can spend time together. I love the cousin dynamic – closeness without the drama that siblings can develop. So on one of our long drives from Chicago to the beach towns along the western and northern coast, the story sort of came to me.

I wanted to accomplish two particular things with the story. I wanted to write a book that my daughter (then 10 as I drafted an outline) would read. I wanted to write something that captured the carefree joys of summertime. I wanted the parents ALIVE. No dead dogs. I wanted a multicultural family. And I wanted to write something where the stakes were high enough, but not too high. So there is some excitement around the wedding cake, and a question of whether the girls can save the day.

4. Was CUPCAKE COUSINS always for middle grade readers or not? If so, why did you choose middle grade? If not, what had to change for it to be considered a middle grade novel?

Yes, I cherish middle grade. It's where the heart is. Not to take away anything from YA or other genres; I read and enjoy lots of memoir, adult books, picture books, non-fiction. But for me and where I want to write, it is solidly in middle grade. What an honor to be able to reach a reader at such a huge period of development! Books have lasting impact; they'll outlive us. I have always wanted to write to the 8-, 9-, or 10-year-old I remember being.

5. What is the best part of writing for middle grade readers?

For me, I am still trying hard to figure it all out – the big Life questions. I don't feel so far removed from these years. So when I write, I am looking for the same truths and explanations that I was when I was in fifth grade. 

While we can develop so much cynicism as we age and experience the world, for middle-grade readers, there is still room for wide-eyed wonder. And that's what I want to hold onto and cherish. That's the place I want to remember and return to, and what I want to celebrate in my books.

6. Is there one question you wish you could answer about writing, your book, or the author's life, but have never been asked? 

What is the best piece of advice you received about the writer's life?

A wise friend and critique partner wrote about her experiences publishing one of her children's books, and she shared some tremendous advice. She said it's not about the publicity your book gets or award nominations, it's not about the hoopla that surrounds a book's release or a glowing review. It is about the writing and the pleasure of being able to sit down and create a story. And that has stayed with me. The joy for me comes in the quiet moments of writing and researching, and that's what matters. I get up every day and love what I get to do. And I feel so grateful that I can do it.

Thanks for joining us at Smack Dab in the Middle Blog, Kate. Again, congratulations on the release of CUPCAKE COUSINS!