Monday, June 28, 2021

The Perfect Summer

 by Charlotte Bennardo

I don't know if there's a perfect summer, but there are great summers. 

This summer is one of them. 

I'm not going anywhere I've dreamed of, there are no momentous family milestones, I didn't win the lottery, and I don't have a new book deal (yet).

The reason this summer is so great is that we are being liberated from the pandemic- which allows us to go places, celebrate milestones with family and friends, and be with people again. Like almost everyone, I enjoy some alone time: to read, take care of myself, have peace and quiet, do things I want to do. But there's been too much of that with lockdowns and closed venues and general avoidance of people because of the pandemic. Nothing made me happier than getting the vaccine and counting the days until I could stop worrying so much. Now I can 'people.' My sons put it into perspective: "I love you Mom, but I'm sick of seeing you. I need to be with my friends." I wholeheartedly understand his sentiment- I love him, but I need to see & be with others too.

It feels like being with family and friends, going places, doing simple things like grocery shopping without masking and distancing is more exciting than it's ever been. Simple things now have the greatest pleasure.

So go out there, enjoy the things we never knew we'd miss so much. Relish every moment. It's going to be a great summer. 

Charlotte is the author of the middle grade trilogy, Evolution Revolution: Simple Machines, Simple Plans, Simple Lessons, and co-author of young adult books Blonde OPS, Sirenz, Sirenz Back in Fashion, and the Beware the Little White Rabbit and Scare Me to Sleep anthologies.

Mississippi, in the Middle of a Heat Wave...

There's an old 80s song that begins with the lyrics, "Mississippi, in the middle of a heat wave...." If you've ever lived in the Deep South, you know that Mississippi and her neighbors tend to be in the middle of a heat wave most of the year. In the summertime, it's not only hot, but also so humid you can barely catch your breath. I once heard it described as trying to breathe through a warm, wet washcloth. Accurate!

In spite of this, my favorite summer memories of my teen years are of being in Columbus, Mississippi, with my cousin. There was nothing to do, we complained, but that wasn't really true. 

Over a beautiful old bridge was a little establishment called Bob's Place. It was what one might call a "hole in the wall," and it was glorious. Bob's sold beer, Cokes, and hamburgers. I don't think I ever bought any of them; I went inside only once or twice. Most of the fun happened in the parking lot, if you count gravel and dirt as a parking lot. 

By the time I was a teen, Bob's had been around for decades; my mom had also hung out there in her youth. The legal drinking age in Mississippi, up until September 1986, was 18, so a lot of people from Tuscaloosa crossed the state line to buy a legal beer, making Bob's a true hot spot for the younger crowd. We didn't need texting or Instagram to know where to find everyone we wanted to see. They'd more than likely be at Bob's. I lived in Birmingham at the time, which had so many entertainment options that the teenagers were scattered all over. When I visited my cousin, which was as often as possible, I loved the feel of a true "teen hangout."

We had a rule that we didn't arrive at Bob's until after 9 pm. Any earlier and you risked being thought uncool. "You don't want to look like you can't wait to get to Bob's," my cousin told me. She was older by two and a half years and therefore, in my eyes, an expert on all things. But the truth was, I couldn't wait to get to Bob's. 

Even before I went to Bob's for the first time, I knew many names and faces from looking at my cousin's yearbook. I'd often ask about people and learn their stories. This made me a bit like "The Stranger" on The Andy Griffith Show, except that I knew better than to let on what I knew. Getting to see these real-life "characters" at Bob's was pure gold for a future writer.

I'm actually writing a book right now set in the 80s and based on my experiences visiting Columbus, and specifically, Bob's. Mining these memories feels a bit like inventing my own time machine. I made some wonderful friends there, and my cousin is still my bestie, so it feels as though I'm returning for a nice, long visit. I'd gladly go back and stand around in the parking lot of Bob's, even if it did mean enduring the oppressive humidity of a Mississippi summer night.

Bob's, unfortunately, is long gone, and you can no longer drive across the bridge that took us there. But when I see pictures of that bridge, I'd swear that, if only I could once more drive across, it would take me back to Bob's and the 1980s. Everyone would be there, untouched by time, waiting for me. 

That's why, in my fourth Aleca Zamm book, the bridge that takes them back in time looks an awful lot like the bridge to Bob's.

Maybe there are time machines after all. We just call them books. 

*(Artwork by Bunky)

 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.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Oh, the Places We Went (Holly Schindler)

 If it was summer, it involved some sort of road trip. 

And if it was a road trip, we were staying someplace...

Well. Let's just say "sketchy" is probably too kind.

We had a little dog we traveled with--a maltese named Winnie. She was maybe six pounds at her heaviest. But my dad was never one to argue--or negotiate. So when he was told, "No Pets," he just turned around and left. We left all sorts of really nice chain hotels, six-pound dog in hand. Nothing would convince Dad otherwise. Not even an eleven-year-old me trying to tell him flat-out "No Pets" was for snarling, slobbering, non-housebroken attack dogs who liked to eat twin beds for midnight snacks, and that simply seeing Winnie (and, Mom would add, putting down a deposit) would change the clerk's mind.

Nope. No pets. The sign said. 

So we'd pull out of the parking lot, into the dark of night.

The places who would take Winnie, sight unseen?

Oh, boy.

Carpets you would never walk on barefoot. Headboards that wouldn't stay attached. I swear, one place had what I thought was a chalk outline between the beds, and another had a sign taped to the bathroom mirror: "THIS PLACE SUCKS!!! --Housekeeping."

Pools so dirty you could walk on them. Neighbors who glared us down. A few visits from police. 

I repeat: Oh, boy.

Poor Winnie had no idea she was keeping us from the finer (or at least, less smelly) overnight stays. Really, she was just happy to be along with us. Even when our stay in Texas got so hot, the fan in our family car came on. (!) 

But I don't know who has perfect family vacations. The kind with delightful weather and fun activities and no sunburns and never a fight between the kids. Maybe those imperfect family vacations of our youth teach us a little about finding the humor in situations, going with the flow. Being, like Winnie, glad to be along for the ride, no matter where that ride was taking us. 


Holly Schindler is the author of critically acclaimed and award-winning books for readers of all ages. Her MG The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky has recently re-released, and now has a corresponding activity book. 

Thursday, June 24, 2021

Time Villains: A Perfect Summer Read

I'm a child of the '80s, and I still have a special place in my heart for those adventure-driven movies of my youth: Stand By Me, Back to the Future, The Goonies. 

And trust me--if you're an old Goonies nut, took you'll love this one:

The woods, the castle for a school, a purring table (yes! A purring table!), and a ho-hum school assignment that sends the past and present crashing into each other in the most surprising ways...

Your young readers will love it, too. (But don't feel guilty about reading it under the covers at night yourself first.)

Time Villains is also and #ownvoices read and received a star from Kirkus. 

 Snag a copy here

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Inviting the Trickster to Shake up Your Imagination: Smack Dab in the Imagination by Dia Calhoun

Imagination is such a mystery. Ever wonder if it is chugging along in the same old patterns? Does it have its own method? If so, what are the signs it needs shaking up?

One sign might be that you use recurrent images. I always write about trees, bells, fountains. These are my foundational images. That's fine, we all have images and themes that are our central concerns. Then how do we know if these are foundational or simply fall backs to what is easy? 

How do I break my imagination out of its training, assuming it has been trained? I've been thinking a lot about trickster energy. Trickster energy is what slides in from the corner of your eye and whacks down the analysis, thoughtfulness, research, pondering, etc. 

This is different from the "aha" moment or epiphany (one of my favorite moments in the creative process). The trickster is the waitress on roller skates who shoots into the room and knocks over the well-laid table. Trickster energy shatters. Let the broken plates and glassware fall where they may. With luck, when you are picking up the pieces, you will arrange them in new ways. Fragments of blue water glass and red plates combine in a new mosaic you would never have thought of otherwise. 

I'm working on invoking this trickster energy to shake up my imagination. More on that next month.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Summer Memories: An Ocean of Inspiration

My memories are always a treasure of inspiration for my writing, and summer memories are some of the best. In fact, two of my novels are based on summer memories. My most recent, When I Hit the Road, tells the story of Samantha's summer road trip with her Gram who's dream is to sing karaoke. And my summer camp story, Just Like Me, tells Julia's story of self-discovery when she heads off to sleepaway camp with her two "Chinese Sisters" (girls adopted from the same Hunan orphanage she was). Though neither of these stories are actual true stories about things that happened to me, my personal summer experiences gave me the spark that created the ideas for both of them.

Not sure why summer memories are so special. Maybe it's "carefree" feeling of being out of school for the summer. Or, maybe it's the warm weather and long days that provide the perfect opportunity for fun. Though these are both just the right ingredients for making good memories, I think for me, the most important thing about summer memories is the extended time we get to spend with family and friends. When I think back to my childhood summer memories, they are filled with the people I love and the special times we shared.

So, as a tribute to all of those memories and the friends and family who made them special, here are a few of my favorites:  staying up late with my sister and watching "Johnny Carson," spending time at my grandparents' cottage, roller skating on the driveway with neighbors, fishing and swimming up north with my cousins, going to sleepaway camp with school friends, and trying to stand up on the inner tube at the lake with my brother and sister. In looking at my list, I realize that many of these things seem quite ordinary, but that just shows that summertime with friends and family makes for extraordinary memories no matter what activities you find yourself doing. And those extraordinary memories inspire, not just my work as an author, but also the person I have become.

Enjoy your chance to make extraordinary memories this summer!

Nancy J. Cavanaugh   

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Un-meltable Summer Memories

  It is impossible for me to remember any summer without the image of my beautiful, charismatic older sister. I’ve tried to writer her character a million times, though I’ll never be able to recreate that kind of lovely - I still try. 

My sister and I were both big readers. You never saw my sister without a large hardcover of Stephen King or Agatha Christie. Me, I preferred paperbacks of Christopher Pike, SE Hinton or Raymond Chandler. Call us eclectic. We’d certainly heard it before!
Summer in Wisconsin means about 8 weeks of heat and sunshine and water and melting ice cream. Then it’s back to the deep freeze and snowstorms and isolation on long, dark nights. So my sister and I always stretched summer to its finest! Which isn’t to say we were fancy. 
Afternoons often found us laying outside on towels in front of our kiddie wading pool. We were teenagers, but it was the best we could do without driving somewhere and neither of us had any money. We’d chat and read and eat cheesy chips or ice cream sandwiches. We’d tell stories - old ones, new ones, the ones we were reading or wanted to see. We also liked storytelling on TV. Specifically, a soap opera. Our babysitter raised us on that soap opera, so by the time I was 12 and my sister 16, we were heavily invested in those glamorous characters. 
One especially scorching summer day in our parents absence, my sister and I too hot to even eat or read on our towels - yet determined to stay outside for as long as possible - came up with a plan. 
“I’m moving a fan out here,” my sister said. 
“What?” I half-snorted. “We are outside.”
Sassy, my sister plugged an oscillating fan into an outdoor plug in. Instantly, we were cooler and feeling pretty darn smart. We got more lemonade. We could do this. The sun climbed higher. The air bent a bit more in the heat wave. 
“It’s almost 11,” I mentioned. 
“So?” asked my sister. 
“We’re going to miss our soap opera,” I reminded her. 
I saw it in my sister’s eye before it occurred to me: Bring the TV outside. 
Sure enough, my sister and I were watching our show and enjoying the sun and the fan. When Mom arrived home. She got out of her car and walked over, stopping to examine us for a good two minutes. It was hard to read her face. Was she mad? Or shockingly impressed by our creativity and problem solving?
“All right,” she finally scolded. Mostly. “Get this stuff inside.”
My sister and I hopped up to follow directions and go back to our books - in the shade. 
Happy Reading!

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Endless Summer

Of course, summer isn't endless. It can't be. And in fact, here in Alaska, summer is truly quite short compared to summer in other places. To many people, September is still summer, but by then, we Alaskans are in the depths of autumn. Still, there are two reasons why, for me, summer seems like it might just go on forever.

The first reason is quite simply that in Alaska, the summer daylight is endless. I got up at 5am to write this piece. The sun was already up. Last night, I stumbled into bed at 11:00 after a day of soccer camp, the lake, and lawn mowing. The sun was still up. Tourists are always amazed by it. To us, it's just the way things are. Some people buy black-out curtains because otherwise, they couldn't sleep. Not me. I have sheer white curtains. I revel in the light because I know what comes after. The consequence of all that beautiful light in the summer is that, in winter, we have the opposite. But I don't like to think of that now when we are quickly approaching the summer solstice when here in Fairbanks, we will celebrate a ridiculous 21 hours and 49 minutes of daylight. And I grew up in this area, so this feast or famine cycle of light and darkness is really all I've ever known.

That's one reason. The other is that, as a school librarian, I still get summer vacations. Yes, mine is a bit shorter than the kids' - ten weeks versus twelve - but I get a genuine, no actual work required, summer vacation. Oh, I work, I mean, I'm a mom, right? But it's what I want to do and when I want to do it. 

I have plenty of summer memories. There are the ones from my childhood: riding my banana seat bike all day and everywhere, popsicles and my mom's awful sugarfree Kool-Aid, days spent swimming at the gravel pit, those two blissful summers when we had a cabin on Quartz Lake, trying to make our own slip and slide out of Visqueen, playing badminton and croquet with my merciless older brother, long camping trips, and trips to my grandparents in Washington where it actually got dark at night.

Then I married and had children, and made new memories. My kids always wanted to be outside when they were little, and we spent countless hours in the backyard, often even cooking and eating out there. There were more camping trips - a little less fun when you're the one responsible for all the packing and cleaning - hiking, biking, parks, the zoo. Eventually, summer became consumed by soccer. When my kids are all grown and gone, which is an event now not too far in the future, one of my most enduring memories of their childhoods will be soft summer evening spent at soccer fields. There were undoubtedly rainy ones too, but those aren't the ones that stick in my mind. 

A summer tradition that has developed more recently is trying to get a picture of all five of my kids out on a river somewhere, ordered by height. As they get older, with lives of their own, coordinating this becomes harder and harder. In fact, coordinating anything with my entire family of seven is increasingly difficult. The pictures shown below are from 2014 and 2018, the most recent successful effort. I love how you can track the changes in the kids' growth. Child two is now the tallest, followed by child three, and I think that someday, the youngest may be at the head of the line.

One of my favorite personal summer memories - one that has nothing to do with anyone but me - happened several years ago. It was a particularly hot summer, and one of my favorite ways to escape the heat was in an Adirondack chair next to the ferns on the shady end of the house. That summer I sat there and enjoyed the cooling effects of Katherine Arden's Winternight Trilogy combined with ice-cold wine coolers. Escaping to the cold Russian landscape of those books was so perfect, that I don't think I'll ever replicate that feeling. It's quite possibly my favorite reading memory, and definitely in my top ten favorite summer memories.

No, summer can't go on forever, but here's wishing you all the kind of memories that makes it feel like it does.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Summer Memories-- by Jennifer Mitchell

Growing up, my best summer memories were of church camp and going to visit my grandparents in Shell Knob, Missouri.  Things were simple as I was growing up, but the memories include laughter each step of the way.  Looking for deer, trying to learn to water ski, fishing, boat rides, and listening to the Branson Brothers at Silver Dollar City made for amazing days. The friends that I had at summer camp also were my lake travel buddies so our summers were intertwined with many experiences.  When we get together as adults we still draw on those memories and we are so thankful to have them.

Transitioning to adulthood, and having a family of my own, we have made our best summer memories at Disney World.  My kids were little when we first started our summer adventures in Florida, important things during those visits were seeing Disney characters and getting their autographs.  They were pushed around in strollers and fell asleep midday when the excitement finally wore them out. Now as they are all adults and we are preparing for our next Disney trip in a few weeks it is typically the excitement of how many hours we stay at the park.  So far our record is 8:00am to 1:00am.  Or what new Disney ears can we add to the collection? Over the years we have made so many memories -- not as simple as my church camp and lake experiences -- but just as important and special.  I hope when my kids look back on their summer memories they will remember all of the great things we did together. 

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Lazy, Hazy, Summer Days by Darlene Beck Jacobson

 No matter what era or generation we are from, summer vacation - that time when school is done and the stretch of warm days feels endless - was a time of celebration and outdoor fun. My parents didn't have a car, so we rarely took road trips. But growing up by the Raritan Bay in New Jersey, we spent many a day enjoying sand, sun, and surf. We also had a bus stop across the street that, for thirty-five cents, took us to the end of the line, stopping at Keansburg Amusement Park.

Most Tuesdays, Mom took my sister and me to Keansburg for a day of fun. Ride tickets were five cents each, so for a couple dollars, we could ride all day long. In between, we ate french fries with vinegar (my sister), sweet corn dripping with butter eaten from a paper plate (me), and pink and blue cotton candy, soft serve ice cream swirled atop a cone. We tried our best to win some kind of trinket at a Skeeball game, or on one of the stands. 


Mostly though, we were there for the rides.

Lots of different kiddie rides, because we were in elementary school. The kind of rides that might seem pretty tame to kids of today used to roller coasters and daring speed-infused fare. 

My sister and Mom loved the Whip, and Tilt-a-Whirl. My constitution was better designed for the carousel.  

One summer, thanks to the carousel operator having fun flirting with mom, we got to ride the carousel way longer than the nickle ride would have allowed. 

I can still see, hear, smell, that place from my childhood. And, the park is still creating memories for little ones to this day.

Friday, June 11, 2021

What Can I Do Now?

Or How Being Bored Was a Good Thing
by Jody Feldman

Like nearly every kid on the planet, I couldn’t wait for summer vacation. No homework, no tests, no waking up when my body still needed its sleep. The first week was so great. The second week, too. But as week three crept in, the shininess began to fade.
As I recall, the mornings sped by, but come mid-afternoon... 

Me: Mom, I’m bored. What can I do?
Mom: *offers suggestion*
Me: Nah
Mom: *offers another suggestion*
Me: Nah
Mom: *offers three more suggestions*

I had the best mom ever, but even she couldn’t help me figure out that one perfectly satisfying activity to shorten those long, boring afternoons.

While certain occasions stick out – the family road trips, the once-a-year visit to Holiday Hill amusement park, the times when we got to swim at my aunt and uncle’s pool – it just might be those long, boring afternoons, having nothing to do but to search deep within, that best trained me to be a writer.

Today, when I'm able to take an hour or two with only the sounds of birds chirping outside the window, I come up with some of my bigger ideas and, just as important, the smaller ones to enrich, enlighten, and inspire the stories my characters need to tell. 

And I have my summers to thank for that.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Most Memorable Summer Memory -- by Jane Kelley

When I was young, summer days flowed together. Reading, riding bikes, swimming in Lake Michigan, playing in the woods in the backyard. All days were equally wonderful and so all days were the same. But then something astounding happened in the empty field next to our house.  

A three-masted schooner dropped anchor there. 

A space ship landed there.

Castaways built a fort there.

A dinosaur roamed there.  

All because a huge tree crashed to the ground.

(This is not the tree or the field. This is an inadequate attempt to show how startling the event was.)

We had seen plenty of fallen trees in the woods. This one was different. It was huge. It had leaves. It was so easy to climb. 

We lived in the tree, having endless adventures. Until . . ..

The first red dots appeared on someone's leg. We ignored them. We were used to poison ivy. A little itching was nothing. Then more and more dots. The rashes spread everywhere. Eventually to my face. My eye swelled shut.

Apparently, when the tree landed in the field, it crushed the poison ivy plants. The poison didn't just seep out of the pores. It oozed forth from the broken leaves. 

We spent the rest of the summer inside playing monopoly, away from the sun which made our rashes feel worse. 

The adults cut up the tree and hauled away the logs. The field was just a field again. And yet now we knew that amazing adventures were possible--when a startling event was enhanced by a lot of imagination.


Friday, June 4, 2021

Favorite summer memories

Here is a random selection of some of my favorite summer memories:   

- Having sleepovers with my cousins and making up games to play.

- Playing volleyball in my Grandma’s pool and finally being tall enough to touch the bottom all the way across.

- Going on boat rides with my Grandpa in Florida, seeing dolphins, and collecting sea shells for so long on an island that I thought almost no time had passed when the rest of my family collected me and said we had been there for 2 hours.

- Making the best of a rainy 4th of July in Washington D.C. and watching the Washington Monument fireworks emerge half-heartedly from behind a big cloud.

- Going to Royals games, singing Friends in Low Places during the 6th inning, and watching the Friday night fireworks.

-A long road trip to visit the Grand Canyon, Four Corners, and riding to the top of a butte in a helicopter.

-Visiting the Badlands and Mount Rushmore and getting Junior Ranger pins.

-Hitting my first homerun.
-Biking around Hilton Head Island and trying not to run into trees on rolling sidewalks.

-Watching movies on the top deck of a cruise ship.

-Putting Duck Tape on the driveway and playing 4-square during quarantine.

-Reading the 6th Harry Potter book on the way to Colorado.

-Having an “owl” deliver my invitation to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

-Trips to Adventure Oasis and pretending that the lazy river was filled with danger and hidden gems.

-Rafting down an true dangerous river and swimming/pushing a man with a leg injury upstream to meet EMS.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

My Top 10 Childhood Summer Memories


My Top 10 Childhood Summer Memories


10. Playing kickball in our suburban D.C. yard until past dark, with the fireflies coming out and the crickets chirping and finally everyone’s parents calling them to come home.


9. Lying on the glider on my grandparents’ screen porch in New Jersey reading the Fairy Books of different colors, for endless hours.


8. Acting out various characters’ lines from Louise Fitzhugh’s The Long Secret (yes, we loved Harriet the Spy, but The Long Secret captured our attention that particular summer).


7. Finding out, while at my grandparents' in New Jersey, that Nixon resigned  and (even as a young kid) wishing I was home in D.C., where the action was.


6. Becoming so obsessed with Elizabeth Enright’s series that started with The Saturdays that I asked my grandparents’ across-the-street neighbors if I could have their daughter’s copies of the books. They were kind enough to say yes.


5. Spending many, many afternoons at the neighborhood pool, having backflip contests in the water, drinking orange drink from the vending machine and watching bees buzzing around the trash can, and braving the high dive.


4. Playing endless games of Life and Happiness and Monopoly on the floor of the den. Usually losing.


3. Standing on my head for lengthy periods of time.


2. Sleeping over at my cousins’ house or my friends’ houses and staying up late watching TV.


1. Celebrating my August birthday, often with assorted Baskin-Robbins ice cream flavors and cake.

Hope everyone has a good summer!


--Deborah Kalb

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Smack Dab News

Smack Dab Author AM Bostwick has signed with The Book Shop Literary Agency.