Monday, August 28, 2017

Teacher Says...

New school members! I'm delighted to join the wonderful authors here on Smack Dab in the Middle.

As a writer of middle grade and young adult fiction, it’s not simply about writing the story for me; it’s about making the story so appealing that kids (and teachers, librarians, and parents) will want to read it too. So as we get ready for a new school year, I asked Elena Migliaccio, a teacher, educational consultant, literacy coach and staff developer with over 40 years of experience in NYC, the following questions:

Q: When you were teaching, what was the biggest obstacle to getting kids, especially boys, to read?

I think that the biggest obstacle was finding books at a student's reading level that they could relate to and would find interesting, especially for boys who may not be reading on grade level.

It’s helpful to know what level your manuscript is on before you start promotions. My series, Evolution Revolution is based on the third-grade science curriculum featuring simple machines. If the level is lower or higher than you want, you can adjust it. Here are several websites (there are more so look around) which can help you determine the reading level of your manuscript: *(this website was flagged as not secure, so use at your own risk!)

Q: Have you seen any changes/trends in literature that are encouraging kids to read more?

Many children are into alternate universes, fantasy and super heroes and many of the new books are using these themes in their novels.

Q: As an educational consultant, tutor, and former teacher, what's the one thing that you'd like to tell authors of middle grade fiction?

If these different fantasy books are getting students to read then it is a good thing but I always worry about students not separating fantasy from reality. This is why the teachers need to have discussions with the students to discuss the books’ characters, plots etc. Unfortunately, many teachers are not comfortable with or are unsure how to start these discussions. Perhaps authors can include some ideas at the back of the book. Make sure that the students can relate with the characters and make parallels to their own lives.

However, very often these books may not be read by the class but by individual students so perhaps these questions or discussion topics should be geared for both the classroom and the individual student so that they may offer insights for everyone. I know that sometimes there are special guides for some books in a series but the teacher/student may not have these. I also think that teachers should have the students grouped in book clubs so that they can lead their own discussions with an assist from the teacher. I found book clubs to be very successful in the classroom especially with students who have difficulty with comprehension because they were able to share ideas with a small group (less intimidating than the whole class) and help each other.

One thing that many authors do, myself included, is include Educator’s Resources with discussion questions, vocabulary, class and home activities. You can either pay a professional to draw them up, or create your own. On both the Kidlit Authors Club and my website are guides and resources tailored to my books that teachers can use for free. If they can’t be included within the book, make sure you promote them with the book.

Q: Is there a trend that either excites you or concerns you with education and reading/writing?

I am a little concerned with all of the books that create alternate universes because some children have difficulty separating reality and fiction. But reading is such an individual thing and for some students these fantasies may give them a respite from the difficulties they are experiencing every day.

Q: What was your favorite book to use in the classroom?

As an avid reader myself I have always enjoyed historical fiction as a child and as an adult. I always liked to use a few different books from this genre based on the students in my class that year. (i.e. The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Number the Stars, Summer of My German Soldier, Tom Sawyer, etc). It gives the students an opportunity to discover that their problems are not unique to the current generation but rather quite similar to children of previous generations and they can learn how to handle or think about their own lives through these novels. They also learn some history without realizing that they are learning something.

I also liked to use books that were more current at the time I was teaching (i.e. Because of Winn Dixie, Maniac Magee, Holes) to help students understand their own feelings about their lives.

If you know any middle grade teachers, have kids in middle school, or follow publishing news, you'll be able to see trends. Currently, I've seen a lot of excitement for historical fiction and non-fiction, as well as books dealing with timely issues like gender identification, bullying, and diversity, among others. Knowing what's important to educators can help you put together your marketing program and maybe even plan your next book.

Charlotte Bennardo


I (Holly Schindler, blog administrator) am so excited to host Dusti Bowling. I've heard such great things about INSIGNIFICANT EVENTS IN THE LIFE OF A CACTUS, and I was so interested to read how the author, Dusti Bowling, found her inspiration.

From Dusti:
When I first set out to write INSIGNIFICANT EVENTS IN THE LIFE OF A CACTUS, I started with a single scene in my mind: it was of a young girl playing a keyboard with her feet while her friend sat next to her with tears running down his face. And her thinking that she couldn’t reach over and wipe them away because she didn’t have arms. I didn’t know who these kids were. I didn’t know why the boy was crying. But I knew then that I had to write this story. And I ended up writing an entire story around that one scene, which is still there exactly as I had envisioned it, except with the girl playing a guitar instead of keyboard.
                I gave the boy with tears in his eyes Tourette Syndrome because my eleven-year-old daughter had just started her own battle with tics, which would progressively worsen until recently when we were told she likely has Tourette’s. My six year old has now developed a few loud phonic tics of her own.
                I found out while writing my story that there are very few children’s books featuring characters with tic disorders. Considering that around twenty percent of children experience one or more tics during their development, this lack of representation is problematic. I can barely convey my frustration every time someone tells me my children can’t possibly have anything like Tourette’s because they’re not shouting cuss words. Or they tell me my six year old must simply have sinus drainage causing her to hack very loudly to clear her throat. Fifty times a day. For over a year now.
                Living with my daughters’ tic disorders has given me tremendous insight into the character of Connor and what it is like for a child to not be able to control what is going on in his or her body. I took my daughters’ embarrassments, insecurities, sore aching muscles, and tears, and I poured them into Connor. The result is a character who is, yes, heartbreaking at times. But also hopeful, largely due to the support of his understanding and empathetic friend, Aven.
                Whenever anyone asks me what put the idea in my head to write a story about a girl with no arms, and I’m definitely asked that a lot, I always tell them about this video I saw of Barbie Thomas taking care of her baby, driving, folding laundry, and doing all kinds of things. She didn’t have arms. She did everything with her feet. I’d never seen anyone like her before.  I think Barbie and Aven have a lot in common: they’re both bold and fierce and determined. They have great attitudes and they don’t let anything hold them back.
                So, while it’s true that the video of Barbie Thomas led to the inception of Aven herself, really the idea that someone should write a story about a child with a limb difference was planted in my mind back in May of 2008. That was when I received a phone call about my cousin, Kyle, who was on his first tour in Iraq. His vehicle had been hit by an RPG, and was severely injured. He had lost his eye. He was going to lose his arm.
            Over the next couple of weeks after I received that phone call—while we waited every day to hear for news about his condition—all I could think about, of course, was Kyle. Kyle, who I knew would come out of this because he was the strongest, bravest person I knew. Kyle, who would now have a missing eye and a missing arm.
                I fixated on this—that my beloved cousin who had grown up next-door to me was going to be an amputee. I wondered what kind of impact this would have on his life.  Would his girlfriend still want to be with him? What kinds of jobs would he be able to get? Would he be able to care for himself? How would he open a jar? I tried to find as much information as I could during that time, and in my research, I found there were very few books featuring characters with limb differences. When it came to children’s literature, I couldn’t find any at all. But Kyle never did become an amputee because he died two weeks after he was injured.
                After Kyle died, there wasn’t room left in my head for anything but my grief. I forgot about the lack of characters with limb differences until several years later when I saw that video of Barbie Thomas. But this time, I wasn’t struck with overwhelming sadness about what it must be like to live without limbs. I was struck by how capable and strong a person can be, no matter what challenges they may face. I was struck by the resilience of people and their ability to adapt.
                I spent a lot of time reading about life without limbs and watching videos about people who don’t have arms after seeing that. Their abilities amazed me—they were pilots, and artists, and archers, and engineers, and moms, and dads. It seemed nothing was impossible for them. And eventually a character formed in my mind—a character with missing arms. A completely kick-butt, can-do character with a huge heart and funny spirit. A character who is not so much disabled, but so totally abled. A character who doesn’t need to be fixed or cured because she is strong and beautiful and capable just the way she is.
                I’m so excited to introduce everyone to Aven, a character who is utterly unique in children’s literature. I hope that I have given the children out there with limb differences a character with whom they can connect. I hope they see themselves reflected in Aven and that she makes them laugh and makes them cry and makes them love and accept her and themselves. And I hope that any child who reads this story, whether it be a child with a limb difference, a child with Tourette’s, or a child facing any kind of challenge, would finish this book with feelings of empathy and empowerment. Like they can go out and make a real difference in this world. Like they can do anything.
Dusti is generously giving one signed ARC (US only). Enter using the form below. If you have trouble with the form, please enter by leaving a comment on this post.
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Smack Dab in the Imagination: Intimations of Imagination by Dia Calhoun

I’m so pleased to begin this new series of blog posts called Smack Dab in the Imagination. Over the next year, I will explore imagination from different angles with different tools. I hope this will not only help writers and artists, but also anyone interested in imagination.

During author visits, I’m often asked how to increase our imaginative ability. One way is to learn to pay attention to moments when you’re surprised, startled, or captured by something. Perhaps an image, event or idea. A moment of beauty or repulsion. Such moments mean something is resonating in you. These are “intimations of imagination.” Intimation is the act of making something known. These moments are seeds of imaginative potential and carry tremendous energy.

Often we are too busy or distracted to attend them. A creative person needs to tune herself to catch these energies. Hence the pencil stub and bit of paper always in the pocket.

Here’s an example. During an acupuncture session, a vivid image flashed in my mind. A poem wanting to be. But, being a human porcupine, I couldn’t grab a pencil. Afterward, I considered jotting it down, but rush hour traffic was increasing by the minute. So I didn’t. That night, I was distracted by life’s unending necessaries. When I at last opened my notebook the next morning, the poem was gone. Oh, I still had the image, but it was as bland as egg whites. All the energy it carried had fled.

A week later, shortly after I went to bed, an image and a phrase came. So did the energy. But I was already late to bed. However, recalling the lost poem, I thought, this is my job as a creative person. And that job comes with irregular hours and starting bells that ring at odd times. So I stumbled into the kitchen and opened my notebook. A poem flurried onto the page. With work, that poem may be a good one. It contains a possible picture book story, too.

Joseph Campbell wrote, “the goal is to live with godlike composure on the divine rush of energy.” Writing is the same. If you show up for the intimations of your imagination, that rush of energy will do most of the work for you.

Join me here on the 23rd of each month for more explorations of imagination.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Introducing Middle Grade Author Nancy J. Cavanaugh

I've been a published middle grade author since April 2013, but I've wanted to be a published middle grade author since the 90's.  Yes, the 90's.  And yes, the 90's were a LONG time ago.  That's why being asked to join the ranks of the very talented bunch of authors known as Smack Dab in the Middle is a huge thrill for me.

I thought I'd take this opportunity in my first post to introduce myself a bit.  I'm a former elementary and middle school teacher, and I have also spent time as a school librarian.  Not only did my years spent as an educator inspire me to create the characters who fill by books, but those years also prepared me for the work I now do as an author when I visit schools speaking to students, librarians, and teachers.  And even though I've been a published author for almost five years now, I am still so excited that I get to live the life of an author.

So what does my life as an author look like?  A little bit like a rough draft of one of my novels - kind of messy.  I wish I could say that I keep regular "office" hours and write for hours every day and keep myself and my schedule super organized, but the truth is I don't.  I'm actually a super organized and methodical person in my "real" life, but my "author" life is not quite so neat.  I think that's what allows me to be creative because for me, creativity on the way to becoming a finished product often isn't very tidy.

So what else feeds my creative soul besides my messy work-in-progress author life?  Well, Chicago pizza would be one thing - either super thin cheese and sausage or thick pan pizza with lots of cheese.  Gelato and ice cream help the muse as well.  Thankfully I like to walk a lot, either on the treadmill or outside, but lately I'm not sure I'm walking far enough or fast enough to stay ahead of the pizza and gelato calories I enjoy consuming.  I also love to watch old TV reruns with my daughter, and I love to sing in the car.  And of course I love to read, especially middle grade books.

I'll look forward to sharing my post with all of you each month!

Nancy J. Cavanaugh's books:

Friday, August 18, 2017

Total Eclipse of the Sun

It's next week, and it's going to be amazing, and it's going to be ON MY BIRTHDAY!

But. . . what if it's not amazing? What if I'm in the totality zone, but not in the absolute dead center? What if the day is rainy? Or completely overcast? What if there is a total eclipse of the sun, and there is no sun there to be seen?

Because a once-in-a-century total eclipse of the sun that falls on MY BIRTHDAY can't be allowed to be a total bust, I've come up with a lovely plan to ensure that it will be fabulous, anyway. We are going to drive on Sunday from my home in Boulder, Colorado, all the way to Red Cloud, Nebraska, which happens to be the home town of Willa Cather. Willa Cather's Second Home is maintained as a bed-and-breakfast by the Willa Cather Foundation, and that's where we're going to stay, and I've made a reservation for Willa Cather's room where I will sleep in Willa Cather's bed.

This made me think of ways I can make my writing life be fabulous even if the final product ends up, in the eyes of the world, being a total bust (e.g., eclipsed in my never-to-be-published drawer). Number one on the list, of course, is having as much sheer fun in the writing itself as possible. For me, this means sometimes giving myself the treat of going somewhere special to write, in the company of other fabulous children's book authors.

So today I'll be driving down to the Denver Botanic Gardens for a write-in (actually, we're calling it a "write-out") of some local children's book authors. I'm hoping that I'll draft a dazzling concluding chapter of my current work-in-progress. But even if the chapter doesn't turn out to be quite as dazzling as hoped, well, there I'll be in one of the loveliest spots I know, together with some of the smartest, kindest, and most supportive people I know. I may not achieve writing totality, but a total bust? Well, that is simply out of the question.
Where I'll be writing today. . . . 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

My Chat with Holly Schindler by Deborah Lytton

DL: Holly, it’s super exciting that we both have new books out this month. You have NOBODY SANG LIKE KATY DID and I have RUBY STARR. I love that you have created a book of poetry for middle grade readers. What do you enjoy most about writing for 7-12 year old readers?
HS: It is exciting! Congrats on RUBY STARR.

I think MG readers are really our “sponge” readers—soaking up and learning all about the world around them. It’s fantastic how interested they are in everything; I can feel it leak through the screen during Skypes. In the upper end of the MG readership, it also seems like they’re really straddling the line, developing more mature, teen-like interests but aren’t ready yet to completely ditch their interests from childhood. NOBODY SANG LIKE KATY DID let me tap into all that: I introduce those sponge-like readers to the villanelle, a type of formal poetry (the book as a whole is a single poem), and I also provide visual art throughout that combines more mature looking photography with younger-reader-style watercolor and colored pencil drawings.

I think my vision of an MG reader has also been shaped greatly by the interactions I’ve had with students as I promoted my first MG, THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY. How have your own interactions with young readers (or your own kids) changed or influenced your idea of what an MG reader is?

DL: I love your description of MG readers. I think they are the very best of readers because they become invested in the stories they read. The thing I have learned from my interactions with them and also from my daughters and their friends is that they pay very close attention to detail. I have been asked some very deep questions by MG readers and in most cases, they are about things other readers have failed to pinpoint.  This always impresses me and makes me strive harder to write stories that will give them lots to think about and discover within the pages. My main character Ruby is one of these readers. She loves books. I have lots of things I love about her, but my favorite thing has to be Ruby’s sense of humor. She makes me laugh while I am writing the words down. What is your favorite thing about NOBODY SANG LIKE KATY DID?

HS: I agree—humor is so important, especially for this age group. (And the writing of anything humorous is just so much fun. We always say if we’re not crying, our readers won’t be crying or emotionally involved, either—but it’s so important to remember the same can be said for laughing!) My favorite parts of NOBODY SANG LIKE KATY DID are the pages in the back that guide young readers through writing their own first villanelle. It’s not a form of poetry usually discussed in the elementary levels—it’s often not discussed until high school, when students read Dylan Thomas’s “Do not go gentle into that good night,” arguably the most recognizable villanelle ever written. I love the idea of kids taking the plunge, writing formal poetry, accomplishing something they may not have thought was even possible.

I think, though, that most writers of juvenile lit hope their work leaves a thumbprint of some kind on their readers—what do you hope readers take away from RUBY STARR?

DL: I think it’s a wonderful way to end your book with inspiration for young readers to write their own villanelle! I hope you will post some of their poems on your blog. I can’t wait to read them. In RUBY STARR, Ruby references her favorite books throughout the story and I hope readers will connect with her love of books and be inspired to read more. I am also posting book club questions on my blog for some of Ruby’s favorites and some new books so that MG readers can start their own book clubs just like Ruby. There is a common theme in all my books about being true to yourself and this theme is also present in Ruby’s stories. It’s something I hope all my readers take away from my books. Here’s a super hard question: Name your favorite middle grade book of all time. I would have to say ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS. I just re-read it for the book club I am hosting on my blog and the book still touches me just as much as it did when I first read it. I also love BLACK BEAUTY because it takes us inside the mind of a horse and shows us the way to compassion for animals and others in a poignant way.

HS: That’s not just hard, that’s impossible! I feel like I have a new favorite MG book every time I pick up a new read. Having grown up with Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary, I have to say I have a special place in my heart for contemporary realism. I think a lot of times, authors of juvenile lit start gravitating toward magic or supernatural or fairy tale-type stories because it feels to us like contemporary stories of growing up have all been done before—we feel like we’re traveling the same ground. But it’s not old territory to our readers! They’re all living through being ten, eleven, twelve for the first time. I think it’s still really important to give them contemporary stories showing smart, resourceful, good-hearted peers navigating through sticky situations, becoming the heroes of their own lives in a setting that feels modern and real and of their own world. (The concepts in kid lit from decades past might cover some of the same topics—friendship, divorce, first crush, etc.—but today’s kids won’t relate as well to a book in which characters listen to records, don’t have cell phones, there is no internet, etc.)

I do think, too, that many writers of kid lit were voracious readers themselves when they were young—did you have an “ah-ha!” moment with one of those books—did a specific book make you want to become a writer?

DL: All you had to say was Judy Blume! She definitely influenced my love of books. ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS is the book that always touched my heart and made me want to write for MG readers. A WRINKLE IN TIME is another book that opened my eyes to possibilities and the creativity of writing. I am also a Jane Austen fan. I have always been in awe of what all of these authors could do and the way they could turn words into stories that would take us on journeys into our imaginations. It took me years to be brave enough to try it myself. Did you learn anything about the craft of writing while working on NOBODY SANG LIKE KATY DID? This is the first time I have written a sequel, so I learned a lot about tracking my facts.

HS: I love that I got to delve so deep into poetry here—poetry’s an old love, and I included some poems in my first novel, A BLUE SO DARK (YA), but this is truly my first story in verse. Really, though, the learning curve was with the illustration. I’ve been moving into doing more and more artwork since I started releasing my own independent work a couple of years ago, but for NOBODY SANG LIKE KATY DID, I was responsible for everything you see in the book—the photos, drawings, design for both the interior and the cover. The only things I didn’t create on my own were the fonts! (Those came from Creative Market, a great site for original commercial use fonts.) The drawings for KATY DID were all done in traditional media—watercolor and colored pencils. Then, I scanned the drawings and cut them out digitally using Photoshop, combining them with photographic elements and backgrounds. I couldn’t have done it without my Wacom drawing tablet (I use the Intuous Pro). Even if you’re doing cover art rather than full-blown illustration, the drawing tablet really opens you up to all sorts of new possibilities, allows you to accomplish effects you couldn’t achieve relying solely on your mouse.

I’ve written a sequel myself, and it’s amazing how much you forget between book #1 and book #2. How did you accomplish fact tracking? Any tips?

DL: I am so impressed that you created the artwork as well as the poetry. You are a creative force! Your artwork is stunning and it goes seamlessly with the poetry. I would imagine this was a wonderful process to create the entire project yourself. (My teenage daughter is an artist and has the Wacom Intuous Pro drawing tablet as well. She loves it.) For my work on RUBY, I finished editing Book #1 and then began writing Book #2 so there wasn’t too much of a time lapse between them. That helped a lot in terms of fact tracking. But I did create a document for myself with important facts which was really useful. I also kept the Book #1 manuscript on my desk while working for quick references and to ensure continuity. It’s really wonderful to be able to revisit a character and setting and write a new story with them. I am enjoying the process so much! I am always so impressed that you are brave enough to jump into different genres and you do it so successfully. What’s your secret?

HS: Just break it apart, whatever the job is. Don’t get overwhelmed. Trying a new writing genre? Start simply—what are the main features you HAVE to hit for a work to be considered reflective of the genre? (For example, a romance has to have a happily ever after or at least a happy for now ending.) Then, what are the traditional beats for that genre? (It’s fine to play with this, but you should know what the rules are before you break them.) From there, you can begin plotting and outlining your book, just as you did with books in the genre you were previously writing in. Or, if you’re moving from traditional publishing to indie pubbing: every single job an indie author takes on can also be broken down into smaller chunks. Need to create your first cover? A cover is, in its simplest form, an image with a title on it. So—to start, don’t worry about anything but finding the right image: Do you know a photographer? Will you use a stock photo? Take a photo yourself? Draw something? Just get the image. THEN: figure out how you want to edit the photo / get the title on it. A ton of free resources are available (GIMP’s great for e-book covers). Same with formatting—it can be broken into smaller jobs, too. (I recommend Scrivener and Ed Ditto’s formatting book to get started.) I mean, in order to write a book in the first place, you have to break it into smaller, manageable daily chunks, right? Same with any new writing or publishing task you’d like to take on. You’re not going to get it all done in a day; it’ll take some herky-jerky, wonky first attempts. But you’ll get there if you just keep at it. (And trust me—YouTube instructional videos are definitely your friend.)

What’s one job you’ve taken on in your own writing career that you never would have thought you’d have to tackle? How’d you work through it?

DL: You have the best attitude. I am sure that is the single ingredient that holds it all together for you. You see possibilities in every genre and you don’t limit yourself. It’s really inspirational. The job that I never really thought about before I had my first book published was the PR aspect of the job. I thought about talking to readers and maybe speaking at a conference, but it was the actual promotion of the book that was more of a surprise and it is the most difficult for me. It takes time away from actually writing and also can be difficult to accomplish, and yet, the success of the book hinges on a writer’s efforts. The publishing house does handle some of the promotion, but only to a certain extent. The rest is left up to the author and with social media, there is a lot of pressure on your presence. I prefer writing to tweeting! You mentioned Scrivener. You’re the one who convinced me to try Scrivener and now I am completely hooked. What’s your best Scrivener tip?

HS: I love Scrivener so much. I can’t imagine writing a book without it. I think the most useful feature is the binder—even more so than the cork board. That binder, running along the left-hand side, tells me where I’m at in the book every single time I sit back down to work—I’m reminded of what chapters came before, what comes next; it really helps with pacing. Also, it lets me easily bounce back up to a previous chapter and plug something in (about character or plot) when I get a new idea. I’ve been relying on split-screen with my current WIP—I have two files open, usually the chapter I’m currently drafting and either a previous version of the chapter or a cut file, where I can easily take out phrases or passages that don’t quite fit (but that I still like) and store them until the exact-right place for the line comes along.

What’s your own best Scrivener tip? What kind of WIP do you have going in your current Scrivener file right now (what can readers expect next)?

DL: I love the binder, too! I have been working on an Austenesque historical and the binder has been so helpful because I have been working a lot on Ruby. When I come back to my historical, sometimes I need to bounce around to check things I have already established. I also love the character sketches. I think they are really helpful in organizing my thoughts about each character and having them available as I write. My best Scrivener tip is to read other blogs about Scrivener. I have learned everything from you and from other writers who have shared their own tips for using the program. It really is an incredible tool for writers. Up next, I will have Book #2 of RUBY STARR followed by Book #3 both of which will be new adventures in reading and in Ruby’s world.
Thanks Holly for chatting with me today! NOBODY SANG LIKE KATY DID is available at Amazon as an e-book or paperback. For more information about RUBY STARR, you can go to

Sunday, August 13, 2017


I am a lifelong music nut. SERIOUS nut. Most of the time, I think I’d rather have music than food.

In fact, this picture offers a bit of proof—that’s me, in about 1992, with a member of Tesla (who’s in the midst of signing his autograph). Because in addition to seeing as many concerts as I possibly could, I also used to do my fair share of autograph hunting—anything to get just a little bit closer to my favorite musicians. As many of you already know, I even taught piano and guitar lessons as I was drafting my earliest manuscripts—and my students actually inspired me to write for younger readers.

As an old literature major, I’m also a poetry nut. I’ve hung out at as many poetry readings as I have concert doors—but for some reason, it never crossed my mind to get a shot taken with, say, Miller Williams (Clinton’s second inaugural poet) when I heard him read his work.

My latest release, a picture book for more advanced readers entitled NOBODY SANG LIKE KATY DID, combines my lifelong loves of music and poetry:

Saturday night just isn’t Saturday night without Katy Did and The Antennas. At least, until a rotten review leaves Katy’s bandmates thinking maybe they could do better with another singer.
What’s a Katy Did to do when she’s been dumped for a Songbird?
Featuring a main character who is both literally a katydid insect and the singer in her own band, NOBODY SANG LIKE KATY DID offers a story of perseverance and finding beauty in unexpected places as well as a fun, attention-grabbing way to introduce young readers to formal poetry. The book itself is a villanelle, a type of poetry that features refrains that repeat throughout—much like the chorus in a rock song. Great for classroom use and for readers in the fourth to sixth grade. Sheets in the back of the book walk budding poets through writing their own first villanelle.

Why a villanelle?
It’s not as frequently studied as some other poetic forms, especially in the elementary levels. I find it’s a form not usually discussed much until high school, actually, when students read Dylan Thomas’s “Do not go gentle into that good night,” arguably the most famous or most recognizable villanelle ever written.

Don’t worry—it’s not too sophisticated.
Kids in this age group (about 9-12) are straddling the line between childhood and slightly more grown-up interests. That’s why this book (which is, from front to back, a single villanelle) is also a picture book, featuring both photographic and illustrative elements—and a katydid lead singer with bright red hair, no less!

The Importance of Poetry
I was so delighted to see Tracy K. Smith (our current poet laureate) on CBS This Morning, discussing the accessibility of poetry. I also believe that poetry is what our youngest readers naturally gravitate toward. And yet, somewhere along the way, readers become intimidated by it. It’s my hope that NOBODY SANG LIKE KATY DID helps to continue to make formal poetry both accessible and fun for your young readers.

Snag a Copy
NOBODY SANG LIKE KATY DID is available on Amazon as both an e-book and paperback. For those who incorporate the book into their own classroom or library activities, I can always be reached at for Skype visits.

Sneak Peek:

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Author Kathleen Burkinshaw and THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM.

 It is a pleasure to feature middle grade author Kathleen Burkinshaw whose book - THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM - takes place in Hiroshima, Japan in the months leading up to the dropping of the atomic bomb in WWII.  August 6 was the 72nd anniversary of that event.  Here's Kathleen:

The writing journey of The Last Cherry Blossom began about 8 years ago with one question.  My daughter was in 7th grade at the time and was upset about something that happened in her history class. She said they would be covering the end of WWII and overheard some kids talking about how they couldn’t wait to see the “cool mushroom cloud picture”. She asked if I would speak to her class about the people under the mushroom cloud that day, people like her grandmother.
I called and asked my mother if it was okay to talk about her experience in Hiroshima that horrific day.  My mom was a very private person, and never spoke about it in public. When I was a young child, she told me she came from Tokyo.  Once she confided in me that she was born in Hiroshima and lost her home, family and friends on August 6th, she asked that I never speak of it either. It was too painful and she didn’t want to draw attention to herself.   

But this day she gave me her blessing to discuss what she experienced on August 6th.  She felt that since the students would be about the same age she was (12-years-old), maybe they would relate to her story. As future voters, she hoped they would remember that nuclear weapons should never be used again.
I spoke to my daughter’s class a week after the phone call. The following year I received requests from other local schools. I had been writing about my mom’s survival of the atomic bomb for my own and my daughter’s benefit.  But soon teachers inquired if I had a book that could complement their curriculum. Then the real work began!
Most amazing moment since writing the book?
It’s hard to choose but I have 3 firsts at different stages after writing the book.  The first most amazing moment was when I showed my mom the publishing contract and to see her face and tell me how proud she was that I would do this for her. Perhaps I do treasure this most of all because she passed away 2 months later.
The second moment was when I held the printed copy in my hands, seeing my name on it, smelling the new pages. I still get that same rush whenever I see it on a book shelf.
The third was when received my first fan mail. One a letter from a student who didn’t like reading, but after reading my book wanted to read more books!