Wednesday, April 28, 2021

To Read... Or Maybe Not.

By Charlotte Bennardo

So where do you D.E.A.R.? It's Drop Everything And Read month here at Smack Dab. I thought about this and read my colleague's posts. They have excellent stories and suggestions where to DEAR. Looking at my own life, I've read in airplanes, on the beach, in a park, in the car, on the lawn, in a garden, when I'm supposed to be sleeping, and other suitable places. 

Photo courtesy of Yaroslav Shuraev of Pexels

But... there really are places you shouldn't drop everything and read. Here's my list of 10 random places you should never Drop Everything And Read:

    1. While you're skydiving. (Keep both hands ready to open that chute!)

    2. While you're scuba diving. (Book gets too wet anyway.)

    3. While you're downhill skiing. (Hitting a tree really hurts.)

    4. While you're driving. (Keep your eyes on the road!)

    5. While you're cycling. (Broken bones hurt- trust me, I know.)

    6. While you're at the dinner table. (Nothing makes moms madder.)

    7. While you're working at a job. (Bosses frown on that.)

    8. While you're taking a math test. (You have to pass this test!)

    9. While you're in a wedding party. (You have things to do, and on time.)

    10. While you're mountain climbing. (It's dangerous enough, don't add to it!)

Some places though, are a matter of personal opinion...

    1. When in the bathroom. (No sense wasting time!)

    2. When family visits. (They're just going to talk for hours.)

    3. When you're sitting on the bench during a game. (You haven't played the last three games anyway.)

    4. When your parents take you to an expensive professional sports game. (But the teams are the worst.)

    5. During a boring movie in a theater. (You didn't want to see it anyway.)

    6.  During your sister's bridal fitting. (She's only tried on 50 dresses...)

    7. When your grandad repeats his favorite fish story for the gazillionth time. (Yep, the fish was this big!)

    8. When you're supposed to be watching the grill or the oven. (Just one more chapter...)

    9. During your little brother's music recital. (How long is this going to last?)

    10. While everyone's cowering in the basement because of a tornado warning. (What else can you do?)

There are many great places to Drop Everything And Read- so take advantage of them. There are just too many great books that you need. 

Drop Everything and Read

 I learned about DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) when I was teaching middle school. I loved it then and still think it's a great idea. Now that I'm writing for a living, I rarely find time to do any reading just for pleasure. Usually, I'm reading something for an article or trying to study another style or see what is happening in publishing. But every once in a while, I run across something that causes me to throw that out the window and read just because I really, really want to dive into a particular book. 

That happened earlier this week when I heard about this new title:

"You can retake your photos...but what if could redo moments in your life too? With one magical app, Zoe is able to do just that! A smart and funny twist on time travel from New York Times bestselling author Jen Calonita, for fans for Disney's Zapped and The Swap."

 I mean, hello! You had me at time travel! I ordered it as soon as I heard about it. Sometimes you just can't wait for the paperback release!

Last night I read only the first chapter, but I really had to fight the urge to stay up all night and devour the entire book. I immediately connected with the protagonist, even though it's been...well, a while...since I was a tween. Already I can't wait to see what happens!

Also, what a great cover, don't you think?

Ginger Rue's latest book, Wonder Women of Science, is co-authored with rocket scientist Tiera Fletcher, who is currently working with NASA on the Mars mission. The book profiles a dozen amazing women (besides Tiera!) who are blazing new trails in their respective STEM fields.  



Sunday, April 25, 2021

Barefoot Dreams - Seriously, Get This Book (Holly Schindler)

We're going to feature author Alda Dobbs in a few months, but I had to give an early shout-out to this one. 

I recently received an ARC of Barefoot Dreams, and dug in as an author. I can't help it; it's how I start reading every book. My mind is usually going on warp speed as I try to take in all the choices each writers makes. About character. And setting. And the ways they draw readers in. But it didn't take many pages before I was reading for pure pleasure. 

I love this book. I love it because it is important and timely and smart. I love it because it is based on family history. I love it because it is so well written. 

Do yourselves a favor. Snag a copy. I think you'll find yourselves reading for pleasure too. 

Friday, April 23, 2021

When Your Story is Kidnapped: Smack Dab in the Imagination by Dia Calhoun

Writer's block is a form of kidnapping. Your story, memoir, novel--any kind of creative work--is stolen from you. You don't know where it has gone. You are desperate, searching everywhere. You try hot baths. Long walks. Beating your head against the wall. Nothing works. Your story has been missing for more than three days and there are no creativity police to call.

The next time this happens, shift your point of view away from your author self. (You are a writer--you know how to do that!) Imagine you are the kidnapper. Sit down and write a list of ransom demands.

What  does the kidnapper want in exchange for returning your story? List every demand and image that pops into your mind. Ice cream bars? A red dress for the hero? An extra hour of sleep per night? Three days off? A river running through chapter three? Another 1/2 hour a day to write? A trip to the scene of chapter seven?

Brainstorm. Do not edit. Sometimes to get the unconscious flowing, to get out of your author-ego point of view, write with your non-dominant hand. When you finish the list, review it. Take a walk with it. What do you, as the kidnapper really want? Then revise the list into a ransom note.

When the note feels right, still looking through your kidnapper point of view, write it out on a piece of paper. Put it in an envelope addressed to your author-ego point of view. Mail it to yourself. After it arrives in a day or two, well back in your author-ego point of view, open the letter. You can then pay the ransom.

My guess is your writer's block, having been heard and honored through this act of imagination, will  already have left for distant lands.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Travelling: A Great Place to Read For Fun

Two things I love, especially when I have them at the same time, is a big junk of uninterrupted time and a really good book.  The place where this happens for me in a most wonderous way is on an airplane.  No matter if I'm headed on vacation, to visit relatives, to do an author visit, or to go to a conference, reading on an airplane is, hands-down, one of my favorite things to do.  

I love this reading experience for so many reasons.  I know that for the duration of the flight, there won't be any other distractions.  No emails.  No phone calls.  No dog barking.  No overflowing basket of dirty laundry beckoning me to get something done around the house.  Just me, buckled into my seat, reading glasses on, and my book in hand.  After everyone settles into their seats, luggage stowed, safety instructions explained, I take a deep breath, let out a huge satisfied sigh, and crack the cover.

As perfect as this may sound, there is one thing that may thwart this wonderful time and place to read - a chatty passenger in the seat next to you.  My remedy for this is to exchange pleasantries, in a friendly and brief way, and then, if I sense the person may be eager to spend the flight exchanging life stories, before I crack open my book, I simply put in a pair of earbuds. (No music necessary since their purpose is to signal that if I were travelling on an airplane with a section deemed a silent zone, where passengers are not allowed to talk, I would pay extra money to sit there.)  With my book open and my silent earbuds on, I step into the story that's waiting for me.

Within several minutes and a page or two, I'm literally and figuratively whisked away.  The plane has taken off and I'm headed to wherever it is I'm going, and the book I'm engrossed in pulls me further and further into the story I'm experiencing as I sit reading in my personal "travel bubble" completely detached from the life on the ground that I left behind and the passengers around me, who don't even seem to exist anymore.  Just writing about this makes me find some cheap airfare, grab a good book I've been dying to read, and head to the airport.  It wouldn't even matter where I was going because the trip I would enjoy as I travelled there might be better than the one I was really taking.

Happy Travelling & Reading,


Monday, April 19, 2021

Drop (literally) Everything and (try to) Read

I was the kid who always had a book in her backpack or jacket pocket. The high school teenager who brought at least one paperback to all my classes lest I have five minutes to spare between bells. The woman never caught unawares at a doctor or car appointment. 

2020 caught me unaware, however. It did a lot of us. With pandemic fatigue and unprecedented lifestyle change across the globe - we all feel a bit out of our comfort routines. 

I myself was in three separate, no-fault, traumatic car accidents. I moved long-distance twice, lost a childhood home to change. My cat passed away. My health declined. 

I dropped everything, it seemed. Even my reading. Reading, which has always been an escape hatch for me. A comfort. An alternate reality. My writing suffered. I wasn’t reading a pages day, more less writing them. 

As the world and my own world stabilized - or at least I adjusted to - I started picking up books again. Typing away even a sentence a day of my own writing. I wasn’t proud at first, but I am now. I try to read daily. 

I’ve come through, not the same as before. But I’m finding my familiar comforts. In words, a new home, a new family, a beloved furry pet. 

The words have returned. 

Happy Reading!

Friday, April 16, 2021

My Childhood Reading Memories - A List

       We didn't own a lot of books when I was a kid in the 70s and 80s. We were solidly middle class, but my parents were practical and frugal. If you can borrow books for free at the library, why would you buy them? So as a small child, I had a handful of well-loved books. As I grew older, there got to be a few more as grandparents and friends bought them as gifts. But still, compared to the home library my own children have access to, it wasn't much. 

    I love that my kids have so many books at hand, but does it make them cherish them less? Maybe so, or maybe they don't read nearly as much as I'd like because of the technology that is always just a click away. To be an avid reader nowadays must be an active choice. Where you would once see people on an airplane, the subway, or in a waiting room with newspapers, magazines, or books in their hands, now it is almost always a device of some sort. I fight against it! In the evenings, when we climb into bed, my husband usually has his phone in his hand. I usually have a book. I keep one in my bag to read when I'm waiting to pick up a kid from soccer practice or while they are having their teeth cleaned. I don't deny that the immediate access to ebooks and audiobooks through our devices is amazing, but nothing replaces that feel of a book in one's hands. If we hope to see others, especially our children and students, choose books over devices, we must lead by example. Take the pledge! As my water bottle says, turn off your phone and read a book!

    And now, a list of the books of my childhood that remain strong in my memories. Obviously, I read a lot more than this, but these are the ones that stick in my brain.

  • Harry the Dirty Dog - Gene Zion/Margaret Bloy Graham
  • The Diggingest Dog - Al Perkins/Eric Gurney
  • City Cats, Country Cats - Barbara Shook Hazen/Ilse-Margret Vogel
  • How to Live With a Calculating Cat - Eric Gurney
  • The Book of Giant Stories - David Harrison/Phillipe Fix
  • Gus Was a Friendly Ghost - Jane Thayer
  • A Treasury of Little Golden Books 
  • Ramona the Brave - Beverly Cleary/Louis Darling
  • Strawberry Girl - Lois Lenski
  • King of the Wind - Marguerite Henry
  • Black Beauty - Anna Sewell
  • 101 Dalmations - Dodie Smith
  • Lassie Come Home - Eric Knight
  • The Pushcart War - Jean Merrill/Ronni Solbert
  • The White Mountains - William Christopher
  • The Velvet Room - Zilpha Keatley Snider/Alton Raible
  • Magic Elizabeth - Norma Kassirer
  • Jane-Emily - Patricia Clapp
  • The Wicked, Wicked Ladies in the Haunted House - Mary Chase
  • The Witch of Blackbird Pond - Elizabeth George Speare
    There was more. I enjoyed a number of series, like all of Walter Farley's Black Stallion and Island Stallion books, the Little House Books, the Chronicles of Narnia, and Nancy Drew. In my teen years I turned to historical bodice rippers, and ended up finding one of my all-time favorite books - The Fallen Angels by Susannah Kells (which is apparently a pen name of Bernard Cornwell).
    The bottom line is that I was a reader. And I didn't have the distractions of today's children. My reading life has made me wealthy beyond measure and taken me places I never would have gone. We owe it to our readers, our students, and our own children to make reading a visible priority in our lives, and to do everything we can to transfer that love of reading to them. If we want the next generation to drop everything and read, we must do so ourselves. So . . . turn off your phone and read a book!

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Reading can take you anywhere, if you let it -- by Jennifer Mitchell

Growing up in the 80’s I enjoyed reading books by Beverly Cleary and Judy Bloom.  I moved on to The Baby-Sitter’s Club and Sweet Valley High books after that.  In upper elementary my teacher introduced us to The Secret Garden and A Little Princess. I hadn’t read books like that before and it opened up a new genre for me to explore.  That led me to getting the Anne of Green Gables series for my birthday and I fell in love with it. Fast forward to my young adult life, post undergraduate degree, and I came to realize I had fallen out of love with reading.  I had spent so many years devoted to reading college course work that I had forgotten what it was like to read for enjoyment.  A couple years later at a family gathering my sister-in-law suggested I read this new book with a character named Harry Potter.  I decided to give it a try and I couldn’t put the book down. I realized what I had been missing when I stopped reading just for fun.  From that time on, I have continued to read for enjoyment regularly.  I love being able to have conversations with my mom, daughter, sister-in-law and coworkers about the books we have been reading and give suggestions to each other.

As a teacher, I try to share various genres when I do a read-aloud with my students. The book Wish, by Barbara O’Connor was the last story that I read to my students. It probably isn’t a book they would normally read on their own, but it brought up good discussion about real life issues that kids are faced with.  I hope they discover the love of reading through one of the books I share with them.  

Reading is a magical gift, but sometimes you have to reconnect with it.

Monday, April 12, 2021

When All Else Fails...Read by Darlene Beck Jacobson

 Whether it's loss, sorrow, job stress, a broken heart, worry, anxiety, or the rigors of daily life, books have provided a release and relief from trouble.

Books have been a joy and comfort to me since my earliest memories. Getting my first library card and checking out picture books, chapter books, then novels, would brighten my week with the anticipation of what I would find in the pages of a new story.

As a writer and author of books of my own, my reading for pleasure has changed a bit. I read more middle grade books than adult novels because I want to see what other middle grade authors write. And I also love the "coming of age" stories that bring me back to my own pre-adolesence. What better way to channel my inner child than to be swept away in a story where the hero and heroine are kids solving their own problems and learning from their own mistakes.

Thankfully, with all the great books written by Smack-Dab authors and the rest of the middle grade community, I will never run out of things to read, or new adventures to explore.


Sunday, April 11, 2021

Building a Mystery

by Jody Feldman

Not mine!

To my dismay, I got about a dozen-million Barbie dolls for my 7th birthday. To my further dismay, when my friends insisted we play Barbies, they also insisted that the only way to play was to have them go shopping or make dinner or watch the kids. I wanted them to explore caves or hunt for buried treasure or solve unsolvable mysteries.

So, it should be no surprise that my go-to books growing up were in the lane of Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Encyclopedia Brown, and later, Agatha Christie. Given a choice, I still gravitate toward mysteries and thrillers.

Read this!

Now that I'm in the midst of writing one, it's all the more that I appreciate the skill it takes to write something taut and surprising with just the right amount of twists. It might be the hardest thing I’ve ever written.

No wonder my friends found it too complicated to play those Barbie games with me. 

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Drop Everything and Read! (an op-ed)

 April 10, 2021 Debbie Poslosky


When I was a classroom teacher, we implemented this program school wide. Some years we would combine with Buddy Reads and older grades would be matched up with younger grades. I love the idea of a whole school community stopping the day and reading...yet…

As a teacher passionate to support children as they learn the skill of reading, but also the pure joy of reading, it doesn’t just happen because it is D.E.A.R. day. Young children grades 4-8 need to be ready for this activity, in my humble opinion. They need to have built stamina and endurance for reading. Those kids who are strong readers and love to sit and have uninterrupted reading time will try their hardest to do what they love to do. But those around him or her are sometimes distracting because they are not at the same place. It becomes frustrating for the ones who want to read and not be bothered, and it becomes a “putting out the fire” for the teacher for the kids who are not quite understanding the concept yet. I eventually did a read aloud during that time and allowed those who could handle the time, the opportunity to snuggle in somewhere quiet in the library. That worked out pretty well.

As I learned from my students through my many years of teaching, kids do want to be able to read like the one sitting next to them. And if reading is a little challenging, or they haven’t found that one book or author to hook them in, they are very sensitive to the fact  that in their own mind they are not as capable as their peers-especially the tweens who tend to catastrophe everything!  

It is such a great community building focus on reading!  It truly is. But if we stop a minute and think about the group that will benefit the most from a school wide program, it is often not the students! It is great P.R. and parents love knowing their school has this.  However,the program is great for a few, but not so much across the board,   So I would challenge schools and the decision makers to include students in the discussion to hear first hand what it feels like to be told it is time for D.E.A.R day. I asked my class that very question one year, and from that moment on I changed my philosophy. I took a survey and just like I thought several LOVED it, but others felt like while they were good readers with me or their support teacher, they did not feel that way on that day. So I got permission from my principal and on that day my students got to vote on how they wanted to spend their 30 minutes. (I also had veto power!)  It was so interesting to me to learn how honest kids are if given the chance.  Choices would vary, but mostly they were to read the entire time silently, listen to a read aloud with me, read with one partner, or take the time to go to another teacher in the building and read with him or her. When that nuance of D.E.A.R. was instituted, everyone felt heard, the buy-in was complete and it was extremely successful! Because in 5 months, 5 years, 5 decades, we want these children to WANT to drop everything and pick up a good book!

Thursday, April 8, 2021


Drop Everything And Read sounds like a command. Do we really have to be ordered to do something that we enjoy? Unfortunately, yes. 

Many people who love reading treat it as a guilty pleasure. Something to be done after work, only when all emails have been answered, the house has been cleaned, and teeth have been flossed. And even then, one should only read something educational while doing twenty thousand steps on a treadmill. 

But guess what? Reading fiction is actually good for you! Just like eating leafy greens, it's good for your brain. And I don't just mean by exposing you to some facts you didn't know. 

Reading strengthens your brain in ways that can prevent degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's. This is because the act of reading is challenging. Reading started just 5,000 years ago. Our brains weren't really designed for it. 

Image from Horowitz-Kraus, T and Hutton, J.S. From emergent literacy to reading: how learning to read changes a child's brain. 2015

All these regions of the brain are needed for reading. The red areas are used for attention, concentration, memory and thinking. The green areas use vision to actually see the words. The blue areas are needed for language. The dark blue are for sounding out the words. The yellow are involved with creating meaning. Using so many regions of the brain strengthens the brain by improving the quantity and the quality of neurological connections.

That's not the only activity in our brains. Thanks to MRIs, neurologists have been able to observe that whenever we read words that reference a smell or a touch or a taste, those sensory areas of the brain are also activated. For example, if you read: "the singer had a silky voice" -- then the part of your brain that processes actual touch will be activated. This is also true if you read about an action. Whenever you read something like "I jumped up and down" -- that area of your brain will get involved. 

Now that I know this, I'm going to include more sensory and mobility treats for my readers' brains in whatever I write.

But what I love most about reading is how it enables me to empathize with characters. It turns out that walking in a characters' shoes is very good for our brains too. Researchers Dr. Oatley and Dr. Mar reported that those who frequently read fiction are better at understanding other people and seeing the world from their point of view. 

Reading doesn't just make connections inside our brain. It also connects us to each other. Maybe you shared a book with a friend. Maybe you joined a discussion group. Maybe you were inspired to reach out to people whom you might otherwise have overlooked.

For ALL these important reasons then, DROP EVERYTHING AND READ.

Wait, I forget the best reason of all. Reading is fun.


Sunday, April 4, 2021

Reading for Fun!

As a busy college student, it’s hard to find the time to read outside of textbooks, but over the winter break I decided to dive into 28 Summer by Elin Hilderbrand. It had been riding the top of The New York Times bestsellers list for quite some time and I wanted to see what the hype was all about. I read it pretty quickly over the course of a few days and enjoyed being swept away to a beachfront cottage on Nantucket. It was different from the type of books I usually go for - dystopian, action, fantasy - but it was a fun little summer escape romance to read during the winter. It had some great character dynamics and was pretty much a masterclass in setting description, but I felt that the ending was a bit anticlimactic. I’m not sure I would have placed it on the list. Do you think the books on the New York Times Bestseller list are always worthy of the status? If anyone has read 28 Summers, I would love to hear your thoughts!

Happy Easter to everyone as well!

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Drop Everything and Read... THIS POEM

 Hello and Happy National Poetry Month! Truly, is there anything better than April? Here's "April" as it appears in THIS POEM IS A NEST.

...and here's my current favorite poem:

ars pasifika by Craig Santos Perez

Just nine lines, and full of wonder and wordplay, it begins...

when the tide

of silence


say "ocean"

--- read the rest here.

And of course you are always invited to join me at ArtSpeak, where this year I am writing poems inspired by art and the FOUR SEASONS. Here's the latest installment. Thank you so much for reading!

Friday, April 2, 2021

Drop Everything and Read: The Story of My Life!


Drop Everything and Read. I first heard the term years ago when my son was in first grade. But it’s something I’ve done all my life.


Recently I had the pleasure of rereading a story I wrote when I was 9. It had somehow made its way into my aunt and uncle’s basement almost a half-century ago, and was unearthed last month. What was so interesting about the story (called “The Orphans”) is that you can immediately tell what I had been reading as a 9-year-old. The plucky orphans, whose parents had mysteriously disappeared, lived in an old house next to a very rich family with two extremely spoiled children.


Me when I was 9

Immediately, my present-day mind flew back to such classics as The Secret Garden and A Little Princess, and the Fairy Books of different colors, and Little Women (one of the orphans is a tomboy named Louisa who is always called Lou). And there was my 9-year-old self, curled up on a sofa or in bed or on the glider on my grandparents’ screen porch, reading, always reading. Reading in the bathtub. Reading in the shower (which caused some problems when the books got soaked through). Reading as I walked along the sidewalk.


Today I still can’t wait to drop everything and read. It’s partly why I started a book blog back in 2012. The sight of review copies arriving at my doorstep never ceases to thrill me. In fact, one of my favorite places in the various newsrooms where I worked was the free book table, where review copies of all kinds beckoned me closer. Deadlines? Ah, but there’s a new mystery novel by an author I love. And there’s a fascinating political history book.


During the pandemic, reading has become, if possible, even more important to me. I can escape into family dramas, or fraught memoirs, or (a favorite of late) mysteries set in the World War I era. So I am a big fan of dropping everything and reading. For everyone. Whenever possible. Both in and out of the classroom.


--Deborah Kalb

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Smack Dab News


D-39: A Robodog's Journey by Irene Latham got its first review from Kirkus, and it's a good one!

"Latham uses an invented lexicon of delightfully creative and expressive hybrid words—jinglesnap, boomblasts, itchglitchy—to tell this... girl-meets-dog story of hope, perseverance, and survival."

Available for pre-order now, and available everywhere May 18, 2021.🐾