Tuesday, June 30, 2015

TIME TO BREATHE by Tracy Holczer

When I was a kid, it felt as though I took a deep breath the day school started and didn't let it out until the final bell on the final day. I was a nervous child, a thinker, an analyzer of problems both real and imagined. So, I never felt I fit in.

I've learned that most kids feel this way. It's a familiar pain that binds us together. Especially those of us who write middle grade, I think. We fritter about, sifting through memories of those years, uncovering the golden nuggets that become touchstones in our stories. And as much as it pains me to have watched, and continue to watch, my girls walk through this time, I know there is little else in the way of character building like farting in the middle of fifth grade reading-time and having the whole class laugh. Including the teacher.

So summer was a time of unwinding. Not only could I fart in peace, but my family also let out their collective breath. We camped. And fished. And spent lots of time outside the house with other people, so I was safe. In every way. I made art and rode my bike. I collected sea glass and watched my sister hunt for sand crabs. Endlessly. I swung from tires and shouted gibberish and ding-dong ditched and played kick-the-can. We fried smelt the same day they were caught and ate until we had to roll around in the beach sand clutching our bellies. I can still smell the campfires and the Coppertone.

I try to be my summertime self all the time now. She's a hoot. Plus, I'm pretty sure she's the writer.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Summer is for IMAGINERS by Jen Cervantes

Growing up in California, I spent time at the beach, riding the waves, making up chants to call bigger waves, basking in the sun, leaping from my roof into the pool and spending glorious, lazy hours reading and imagining! Then came one summer I had to go see my grandmother in New Mexico. Tell a twelve year old girl she has to give up all of the above for the desert. Now mind you, this was back in the day of a much larger world with no Internet or smart phones so trust me when I say NM felt as far away as Siberia.  

I’d like to tell you I have great memories of the trip, that I had been wrong about NM, that my world expanded and I went back to California a changed person.  No, none of that would happen for another twenty plus years when I sat down to pen TORTILLA SUN. During the writing of my first novel, I drew upon those days of summer spent so long ago, reached back for that longing I felt when I had to go to a new place that was different from what I had always known. Ah, but boredom breeds imgination and imagine I did.

Sometimes we can’t see beyond the road we're traveling. We can’t possibly know that some experience today is going to be a turning point in the future. 
But imagine if we could…

Friday, June 26, 2015

What Should I Read? by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

I cannot even explain how excited I am about summer reading! I've gotten over (most of) the lingering guilt that I feel about reading when I "should" be working. Reading is a big part of my work, and also, I'm free to have fun, and by have fun, I mean READ BOOKS.

Last winter, in preparation for a new class that I was teaching, I got some wonderful recommendations, including genres and authors that I don't normally read. So: bring on the summer reading recs, PB-Adult. Fiction, biography, essay collections, craft books, crafty maker books...I'll take 'em all!

You can see some of my recent and upcoming reads on Pinterest. I'll also be working on an MG manuscript, so I'm looking for good "family stories" along the lines of Elizabeth Enright's Melendys. I am also desperate to write a chapter book -- I'm a huge fan of our own Claudia Mills, along with Atinuke, Kate Messner, Karen English, Anna Branford, and Jane Schoenberg, so anything along those lines would be great.

Looking forward to spending the summer outdoors, unabashedly buried in great books. Whatcha got for me?

Thursday, June 25, 2015


Come see me June 30, 3 pm EST via Google+ for an Author Chat with Crossroads Reviews. This will be my second appearance, and I can tell you from experience that Jessica's an incredible host. It's bound to be a fantastic talk, as we discuss all my work, including my MG THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY, the indie release FIFTH AVENUE FIDOS, and the forthcoming PLAY IT AGAIN, the sequel to my YA romance PLAYING HURT. You'll also have a chance to win a copy of FERAL (YA psychological thriller) and PLAYING HURT (to find out for yourself how Clint and Chelsea's love story began).

For more information on the show, visit Crossroad Reviews.

Can't be there but want to ask a question? Shoot me a question at hollyschindlerbooks (at) gmail (dot) com, and I'll be sure it gets on the air.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Smack Dab in the Classroom: From Fiction to Non-fiction, and Back Again, by Dia Calhoun

Books are always points of departure to worlds unknown. Reading fiction opens up not only new understanding of people and new ways of thinking about life, but also a thirst for new facts.

Reading Charlotte's Web, for example, can lead kids to wanting to learn more about spiders, or pigs, or rats. (What fun to write a compare and contrast of Templeton in Charlotte's Web and Chiaroscuro in The Tale of Despereaux.)

On the other hand, reading a non-fiction book about spiders can inspire a kid to write a story about spiders.  Or reading a book about mythology can inspire a kid to write her own personal mythology.

The important think is to catch whatever ignites a kid's interest and then pursue it down as many roads as possible. Go there and back again.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Summer Freedom by Laurie Calkhoven

When I think of summer, I mostly remember the one between seventh and eighth grade. My friends and I tooled around town on our bicycles—mine was a Sting Ray with a banana seat—blowing Bazooka bubbles, stopping at the White Castle for cokes or the Dairy Freeze for ice cream, pooling our money and sharing if someone—usually me—didn’t have enough. Without a thought to having to lock up our bikes, we wandered through five and dime stores, or hung out at the bowling alley watching the teenagers and deciphering clues as to how we’d have to behave in a year or two.

There were five of us. We thought of ourselves as a “gang,” and gave ourselves all kinds of names. For a time we were the True Mints, because mints are cooler than cool. Then someone came up with the bright idea for us to wear those heavy chain dog collars as bracelets and call ourselves the Chain Gang. And for a few days—I don’t remember why—we were the Spoons.

It was just one summer. A summer of freedom and joy. We were old enough to get on our bikes and disappear for the afternoon (this was back in the 70’s before kids showed up on milk cartons), but not old enough for summer jobs. My bike was stolen toward the end of that summer, and by the next my family had moved to a new, less bike-friendly town. But it’s still the summer I remember the best.

Friday, June 19, 2015

An Interview with Tammar Stein (by Kristin Levine)

My dear friend, Tammar Stein, and I met at a Children's Book Guild meeting in Washington, DC, last fall.  Her forth book, Spoils, came out in paperback this June.

 First, would you mind giving our readers a quick synopsis of Spoils?

Spoils is about a family in Florida who wins the lottery, an 80 million dollar jackpot. Seven years later, there’s nothing left. When they won they gave each of their kids a million dollars. The youngest daughter, Leni, was eleven when they won so they put her million in a trust fund. That fund matures when she turns eighteen which a week from when the book begins. What Leni does with her money turns into an epic struggle between good and evil, because money can work miracles, but only when it’s spent right.

One of my favorite aspects of Spoils is the quick glimpses of other people’s points of view that Leni interacts with and how they see her or her family. What inspired you to add these into the story?

 I’m always intrigued by what’s the story behind people I meet in passing. What’s the story behind the tired but always smiling cashier at the store? What’s the story with the sad-looking man at the traffic intersection holding a cardboard sign? What’s going on with driver of that sleek car who looks like he hasn’t laughed in a year? In real life I never find out the answers. In Spoils, I loved being able to answer those questions. People are complicated and interesting and no matter what our background is, we all have this feeling that lots of money will make our lives better. But of course, you have the Kohn’s who are living proof that it’s not true.

Did you get to live your childhood millionaire dreams through Leni?

Yes, sort of. I threw in everything I could think of that would be fun to buy. Private helicopter, anyone? William Sonoma store: one of each thing please! But it shocked me how quickly that got old. (Another trip around the world? Again?) I’m not saying having millions wouldn’t be fun. But having a ton of new things is only fun for so long before they start piling up and choking everything.

Which one of the characters in Spoils is your favorite and why?

I really like Natasha. She’s complicated and intense and she threatened to take over every scene she was in. Part of the reason I wrote Debts, an e-novella, was to give Natasha some space to take over. It’s basically a prequel to Spoils and it tells what happened to Natasha right before the book begins.

What's your favorite book and why?

Not fair! What kind of question is that? I love all books, if not equally, then with much passion. I self-medicate with books, so it really depends on what mood I’m in. Do I need a quiet, thoughtful book? Do I need something fast-paced and exciting? Do I crave something challenging and intriguing? Sorry, I can’t pick one. But a few of my favorites are (in no particular order): The Handmaid’s Tale, Ender’s Game, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Lions of Al Rassan, The Little Prince, King Rat.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

First of all, hurray! I’m so glad you’re interested in writing. We cannot have too many good books in this world and the only way to get them is to have people like you write them. So, thank you!

The two biggest traits you have to have to make it as a writer are stubbornness and a thick skin.  Frustration with your own work and rejection by agents/publishers are part of the process. It’s just a fact of life. It smarts and it stings and you have to be able to deal with that and keep writing. Writing is three parts craft and one part art. Art is something you may or may not be naturally talented in, but craft is all about hard work. You might not have a brilliant story when you first write it down (no one does) but you will have a story that keeps getting better as you revise it and work on it. You have to be willing to put in the time and the effort with no promise of reward. If you’re willing and able to do that, then I look forward to reading your novel one day!

To find out more, please visit Tammar's website at: http://www.tammarstein.com

Thursday, June 18, 2015

How Did You Play Monopoly? (June theme) by Claudia Mills

We all played a lot of the same childhood board games, but my hunch is that each of us could tell a story about how we found a way to make each game our own.

Here are some of mine.

When we played Clue with the neighborhood kids, none of us could bear to have our character turn out to be the villain. So we decided that whichever suspect card ended up in that little secret envelope, it was REALLY Mr. Green, who had framed one of the rest of us. By the end of several summers of play, the Mr. Green card was crumpled, soiled, spat upon. But I could know in my heart that my favorite characters, Miss Scarlet and Mrs. Peacock, were never really the guilty ones.

Okay, here's one you probably didn't play:

My mother never let us have Barbies - too sexualized! too grownup looking for her little girls! - but our cousins gave us their castoff Barbie board game. The game's objective was to become queen of the prom; in order to do that, along the way you needed to collect a club presidency, a dress, and, of course, a boyfriend. Always the tyrant, I convinced my younger sister that Poindexder loved her so much he would be heartbroken if she ever ran off with Tom, Ken, or Bob. So as she patiently waited for the Poindexder card to come her way, I played the field, snagged the first guy whose card was available, and made my my merrily to the prom.

And here's the one we all played:

But in so many different ways.

In our neighborhood, you got $500 for landing on Free Parking. In a friend's family, you got all the proceeds from all the properties purchased thus far. I was shocked when, as an adult, I discovered that in some families all you got for landing on Free Parking was . . . free parking!

In our family, by common consent, we never paid luxury tax. I mean, who wants to pay luxury tax?

In our family, you couldn't buy a property unless you landed on it by luck of the dice. My now-grown son just told me that we were supposed to be holding an auction for each property when someone landed on it and declined to purchase. Who knew?

And of course, the same older sister who was so horrid about Pointexder was equally horrid here. Convinced that Monopoly victory went to the owner of Boardwalk, I would tell my sister that if she didn't allow me to own Boardwalk, she couldn't be my sister any more. We would still be sisters in name, sure, but the true sisterly bond would be gone.  I never lost a single Monopoly game.

I've put Monopoly scenes in at least two of my books. The first line of The Totally Made-Up Civil War Diary of Amanda MacLeish is "Only in our house, though Amanda MacLeish, could a Friday night family Monopoly game turn into the Civil War." 
 I even titled an early book of mine Boardwalk with Hotel.

So if you have a character playing a board game, pay attention to those family-specific details that in their own odd way give the scene its deepest universality. Did you make up a special taunt for players who had to go directly to jail without passing GO? Did you have a favorite property that you just had to buy each game, however poor the investment? Tell us! We really want to know.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Neighbor Kids (June Theme - Sarah Dooley)

They rode bikes. 

I rode a rented Summer Pony.

They played kickball.

I chased the Ghosts of Stony Clove.

They laid out in the sun to tan.

I pulled Black Beauty from a burning stable.

I didn't always know how to join a conversation with the other kids.

I didn't always know what they were talking about

when they talked about beach balls and bathing suits,

and they didn't always know what I was talking about

when I talked about Ginny and Mokey

or Ginny and Asher

or Ginger and Merrylegs.

Once in a while, I got up off my red blanket

long enough to toss back a stray Frisbee,

shrugging when they asked whether I was bored,

but smiling as they ran back to their game.

I had a secret hidden in the stack of books to my left.

I had all the adventures one summer could hold.

I lived ten summers in a single school break,

and those other kids only got one.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Things I loved (and hated) About my Childhood Summers by Danette Vigilante

Loved: Camping! Not so much: the smell of a wet tent, toasting marshmallows (I know!)

Loved: Spending time on my uncle’s boat! Not so much: swimming (I know!)

Loved: The fourth of July! Not so much: fireworks (I know!)

Loved: Coney Island! Not so much: roller coasters (who’s with me?)

Loved: Watching the cute guy mow lawns every weekend! Not so much: Being ignored by cute guy mowing lawns (*sniff*)

Monday, June 15, 2015

Summer Reading by Bob Krech

When you're thirteen you try things. I'm not sure if it's an unwritten rule or something genetic, but it just seems to happen to most of us. Every summer of my life up to the age of thirteen, I spent almost entirely playing baseball, riding bikes, hiking around in the woods, and cutting lawns for money. Thirteen was the summer I switched from being a baseball player to a basketball player. A major, major change for a boy in my neighborhood at that time.  I got a hoop in my driveway that summer and shot around every day on it. We installed a light on the garage so I could play at night too. It was also the summer I switched from reading mostly comic books to paperback books.

There was a used book store in Trenton with the improbable name of "Ianni's." It had the wonderful musty, damp smell a real used bookstore needs and piles of books, magazines, newspapers, and comic books everywhere. I had begun going there for the comic books the year before. My father was good enough to bring me there on Saturday morning when he would go to the bank in town. Ianni's was on the same block. I think the used paperback books were a quarter, which was like half the cover price at the time. I first bought Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles there and read it under a tree in my backyard while my two best friends were away at camp. I soon bought every Bradbury I could get my hands on.

Over that summer of Saturdays at Ianni's I bought realistically about 50 of the Bantam paperback editions of the Doc Savage pulp stories from the 1930's. If I wasn't too busy I could read one in a day. I would eventually buy all of them and I think there were more than 100. I bought most of the Tarzan stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs as well as a good deal of science fiction by Heinlein, Asimov, and Silverberg. My bookshelves were looking pretty cool and I was reading books like I was eating potato chips. Meanwhile my hook shot was becoming decent.

It was quite a summer. I never actually bought another comic book and when fall came, I tried out for basketball, something that would have been unthinkable the year before. Thirteen brought a lot of changes. And I haven't even mentioned girls. ;)

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Better Than the Ice Cream Truck: When the Bookmobile Rolled Into Town – June Theme from Tamera Wissinger

It sounds like the start of a bad joke: The Midwestern town where I grew up was so small…How small was it? You ask. So small there was no library. No joke. The closest town with a library was 8 miles away, so definitely not walking distance. I’d get there with my family occasionally, but it wasn’t on our regular route. But every couple weeks during summer, something magical happened that was better than the ice cream truck arriving: the bookmobile rolled into town.

With my book bag over my shoulder and library card in hand, I would step up onto the bus and into that wonderful mobile world of possibilities. Maybe there was a limit to the number of books each child could take, but in my memory the bookmobile lady encouraged me to check out as many books as I could carry. The only catch was to return the books the next time the bus came through.  
Young reader Tamera,
armed with her book bag.

I would load up, return home, and begin working my way through my pile of books. While the other children played outside, I spent time with Stuart Little, Encyclopedia Brown, Katie John, Ramona the Pest, Pippi Longstocking, the cast of Charlotte's Web, the kids from How To Eat Fried Worms, and more in my effort to read each book before my deadline. And when the day came, I'd load up those completed books and return them to the bookmobile in exchange for a fresh set, and start again.

There were plenty of other excellent outdoorsy things to do during those stretches of summer – and I did my share of them. Yet as a kid, I could not have imagined a single summer without books and reading. Thank goodness I didn't have to.


Tamera Wissinger writes stories and poetry for children including Gone Fishing: A Novel in Verse, This Old Band, and the forthcoming There Was An Old Lady Who Gobbled a Skink and Gone Camping: A Novel in Verse. Tamera owes much of her success as a young reader to the lady who drove the Bookmobile to her town and to her mom who helped her keep track of the Bookmobile schedule. You can connect with Tamera online at her Website, on Twitter, or on Facebook  

Saturday, June 13, 2015


One of the questions I get most often is "What was the hardest part about writing your book?" There are plenty of candidates for that honor, but one of the top contenders was surely the old How to Begin Your Book conundrum.

They say, "Start your book where your story begins." Sounds good, right? But what does that mean? In my original draft, I started by introducing Martin and his hometown, his parents, his school, his world. Isn't that where the story begins?

Turns out, not really. It's a book about a boy who finds a frozen egg that hatches and out pops a T. rexbut that wasn't happening until chapter 4! "Hook the readers with the egg right at the start," my critique partners told me.

I grumbled and bellyached and resisted. "I can't do thatit throws the whole timeline out of whack!" But they stuck to their guns, so I finally gave in and put the egg discovery at the beginningas a prologue. I'd hook 'em with that, then do my setup and get back to it in chapter 4.

Uh, nope. It seems there are a lot of agents and editorsand readerswho don't much care for prologues, considering them a cheat. Dang! I realized that's exactly what my prologue was.

So I bound and gagged my inner grouse, rolled up my sleeves, and did the painstaking work of opening with a bang and wrestling the timeline into place. And, after weeks of struggle, I finally had somethingand to my shock and delight, it actually worked. Not only was it a good hook, but it turned out to be a pretty good intro to Martin and his world, too. Thank you, stubborn critique partners!


 So, here's a sneak peek at the end of the new chapter 1. The chapter starts with young explorer Martin Tinker chasing a butterfly into an abandoned quarryand barely escaping with his life when an icy wall of rock collapses all around him. But he miraculously ends up in an air pocket, where he finds a strange, cold, oval-shaped stone. And an instant before the whole thing comes crashing down again, he manages to wriggle out and sprint away. And then . . .

            Having made it a safe distance away, he straightened up and turned to watch the spectacular scene, slack-jawed and wide-eyed. He stood there, his heart thumping like a tommy-gun, hacking and coughing from the tons of dust, until all the rocks had finally settled. So that’s what it’s like to almost die, he thought. Then he thought of what his mom and dad might do if they ever found out how close he had come to an early grave. So of course, they would never hear a thing about it.
            Realizing his fingers and left side were starting to feel numb, Martin looked down at the frozen stone he had forgotten he was holding. He brushed away some frost and dust, held it to his ear, knocked on it lightly, took a sniff—but it was not a thing that would give up its secrets easily.
            He knew what he would do: take it home, set it up in his backyard barn lab, and get going on some serious research.
            What he didn’t know was that this strange, cold stone was going to change his life forever.


You're hooked. Come on. Just admit it. And while you're at it, enter to win a copy below:

David Fulk is an award-winning playwright, screenwriter/director, and novelist. He grew up near Chicago and has lived in Missouri, Louisiana, Michigan, California, Pennsylvania, New York, Texas, Belgium, India, and Wisconsin. He currently lives near Boston with his pet T. rex, Rosie.

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Friday, June 12, 2015

Toys and Games of Childhood by Darlene Beck Jacobson

     While doing some research for my historical novel WHEELS OF CHANGE, I came upon a site that listed the most popular toys and games at the turn of the 20th Century.  Here it is:

          Teddy Bear (1902)- in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt who, on a hunting trip, had an opportunity to kill a bear and didn’t.
2         Erector Set- invented by AC Gilbert, a gold medal Olympian in the 1908 Pole Vault.
3        Lionel Trains (1901)
      Lincoln Logs (1916)
      Raggedy Ann Doll
     Radio Flyer Wagon (1917)
      Tinker Toys (1914)
      Crayola Crayons 8 pack (1903)
      Tin Toys
1      Tiddlywinks
       Baseball Cards  (1900)    Ping Pong  (1901)   Jigsaw Puzzle (1909)
       Other popular toys included:  Snap Card Game, Playing cards, marbles, checkers, chess,    yoyos, wooden tops, dolls.    
       After viewing this, I was struck by how  - even in this technological age - many of the items are still enjoyed. And, many classic books from my own childhood still get read by today's children: Dr. Suess, Nancy Drew, Little Women, Ramona Quimby, Cinderella, Snow White, PeterPan, Robinson Crusoe, Winnie the Pooh.   Isn't it nice to know that some things NEVER change?