Thursday, April 28, 2022

Stepping Up!

 By Charlotte Bennardo

What puts a spring in my step? SPRING! I am a summer loving gal, so once the dreariness of winter's end is past, I'm am giddy when I see daffodils. 

Then the trees bud and even though my allergies make me a little wacky, I'm happy. More sunlit hours, warmer temps, and the prospect of working in my meditation garden and OPEN MY POOL make me feel punch drunk. I can write sitting on my patio, or poolside. The hubs grills all summer so cooking isn't such a chore, I suck down cool drinks all day. Go biking, hiking, swimming. I couldn't get any happier. And being that happy, I'm more productive in everything. 

Happy Spring, and come on Summer! 

Charlotte writes MG, YA, NA, and adult novels in sci fi, fantasy, contemporary, and paranormal genres. She is the author of the middle grade Evolution Revolution trilogy, Simple Machines, Simple Plans, and Simple Lessons. She co-authored the YA novels Blonde OPS, Sirenz, and Sirenz Back in Fashion. She has two short stories in the Beware the Little White Rabbit (Alice through the Wormhole) and Scare Me to Sleep (Faces in the Wood) anthologies. Currently she is working on several novels for both children and adults. She lives in NJ with her family, two demanding cats, and a crazy squirrel couple who just moved into her backyard oak tree.

Research Can Be Fun: Misheard Song Lyrics

Remember that 80s song, "La Isla Bonita" by Madonna? I used to bug my older brother whenever it came on the radio by intentionally changing the words from "young girl with eyes like the desert" to "young girl with eyes like potato" because "desert" doesn't rhyme with "San Pedro." 

I told my daughter about this and she looked it up on her phone and discovered I wasn't the only one. A lot of people changed "desert" to "potato" and did a lot worse (or funnier, depending on your perspective). I decided to have a character in my WIP misinterpret some song lyrics, so I dove into an internet rabbit hole one day and had a grand old time.

A few choice examples:

"Hit Me with Your Best Shot" = "Hit me with your pet shark"

"Voices Carry" = "Boys are scary"

"Our Lips Are Sealed" = "Honest, I see you"

"Every time you go away, you take a piece of me with you" = "Every time you go away, you take a piece of meat with you"

"I can see clearly now; the rain is gone" = "I can see clearly now; Lorraine is gone"

"It doesn't make a difference if we make it or not" ("Livin' on a Prayer") = "It doesn't make a difference if we're naked or not"

"Here we are now; entertain us" ("Smells Like Teen Spirit") = "Here we are now, in containers"

"You've been out riding fences for so long now" ("Desperado") = "You've been outright offensive for so long now"

"I want to rock and roll all night and party every day" = "I want to rock and roll all night and part of every day"

"The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind" = "The ants are my friends. They're blowing in the wind"

Research doesn't have to be boring! But if you're not careful, it can take up too much of your writing time!

Ginger Rue's current 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.

Monday, April 25, 2022

Things That Put a Spring in My Step (Holly Schindler)

The sight of my dog running to meet one of his dog friends.

Watching a garden grow and being able to literally devour the fruits of my labors. 

Getting up early enough to watch the sunrise.

Hot fudge sundaes.

New sandals. 

Nail polish.

Neighbors who stop to say hello.


Laughter of the neighbors' kids.

Giant Ozarks clouds. 


Antique treasures.

The smell of fresh paint. 

The sounds of vintage pianos.

Getting my skin pummeled by the wind through the rolled-down windows in the car.

Sun on my face.

Stars to wish on. 


Holly Schindler is an author of books for readers of all ages. Her MG, The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky, is available now--with a corresponding activity book.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Double Axel or Nothing - Guest Post from Anita Saxena


I’ve been a competitive figure skater for over three decades and a figure skating instructor for twenty-five years. I’ve had the privilege of watching young skaters grow up in the sport and see them become adults. I admit, it does make me sometimes feel old. And yet it’s always touching to receive a graduation invitation or holiday card from a current or former student. I love seeing our skaters thrive and flourish.


Over the years I’ve witnessed many competitive female figure skaters struggle at a pivotal phase in their career—learning the double axel jump. This is the hardest double jump. A skater takes off forward, rocks off their toe pick, and lands backwards after completing almost two and a half revolutions in the air.


When Katarina Witt won Olympic Gold medals in 1984 and 1988, she did so by doing a double axel along with other triple and double jumps in her program. Our sport has evolved so much over the decades with better training techniques, injury prevention and rehabilitation, and improved technology in equipment. This has also caused the sport’s expectations of our athletes to also increase at earlier and earlier ages. These days young ladies at what we call the senior level (Olympic level) are doing triple axels and quadruple jumps. Most of them aren’t even 18.


I’ve observed many young teenagers mentally and emotionally beat themselves up because they get stuck on the double axel jump. They lose sight of all the other amazing things they can do on the ice, their relationships with family and friends, and sadly their self-worth. My debut, middle grade novel, Double Axel or Nothing, was inspired by those skaters I’ve watched struggle over the years.


I wanted to write a book that athletes in any sport could relate to. The main character of Double Axel or Nothing, Ruby Rani, has a coach who is realistic with her expectations and encouraging. She sees Ruby Rani’s potential, but also sees how her negative self-talk is the real reason she’s unable to successfully land a double axel. All athletes deserve a coach who sees the best in them. Someone who will be supportive of their growth as an athlete and an individual outside their sport, but can also demonstrate tough love and provide structure when the athlete needs it.


Double Axel or Nothing shows how having a different training approach, sports psychology, and the support of family and friends can make the journey of achieving a goal a positive one for an athlete. Does Ruby Rani land a double axel? You’ll have to read to find out.


Double Axel or Nothing is available as paperback or eBook wherever you like to buy books or you can request it at your local library. Consider supporting an independent bookstore as they are important community hubs. Click this link to find Double Axel or Nothing at an independent bookstore near you.

Anita Saxena lives in Alabama with her husband and three cats. When she’s not on the ice, she writes middle grade and young adult fiction, and is also an optometrist. Anita also enjoys playing and teaching piano. She loves hiking when the weather is mild and going to the beach for undisturbed reading time. Anita also happens to be a connoisseur of hot tea and popsicles. After graduating from the University of Alabama at Birmingham with University Honors in Philosophy and a minor in Chemistry, she then went on to receive her Doctorate of Optometry from the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Optometry.

Check out her website:

Find her on:

Instagram: @AnitaSk8

Twitter: @Anita_Writes

Facebook: Author Anita Saxena

Saturday, April 16, 2022

The Last Cuentista

If you're looking for a strong female main character who embodies April's themes, look no further than Petra Peña, from this year's Newbery Medal-winning, The Last Cuentista, by Donna Barbra Higuera. Petra leaves earth on a truly exhilarating and frightening adventure across the universe. When she arrives at her destination and finds herself alone, she doesn't curl up and cry. She doesn't give up. Petra has gumption, and she takes risks. 

I was mildly surprised and fully delighted when The Last Cuentista was announced as the Newbery winner. What tickled me most is that I have actually met Donna, having attended Nerd Camp Bellingham with her twice. We had several workshops together; she was interesting, and knowledgeable, and nice. What follows is my review of The Last Cuentista:

I feel like truly good space-based sci-fi is kind of a rarity in the world of middle-grade books. The Last Cuentista really fits the bill. This story perfectly combines the importance of family with nail-biting adventure, along with a side of traditional storytelling.

When Petra and her family are selected for a mission to save the future of earth, they escape their doomed planet on the last spaceship. They are to be put in stasis for hundreds of years, awakening to a new life on the distant planet of Sagan. However, when Petra does wake up, something has obviously gone wrong. Her parents and brother are nowhere to be found; she is being referred to as Zeta-1, and expected to work for the good of 'The Collective.' Now Petra, guided by her grandmother's stories, must fight not only for her own survival, but for that of all humanity.

The importance of family and individuality are major themes, but above all, this book is an homage to the power of stories and the tradition of story-telling, wrapped in the guise of a thrilling science fiction adventure. 

Friday, April 15, 2022

On the Fearlessness of Her Story


As we continue to explore the adventurous and fearlessness, I’ve long written about the heroine’s journey. In fact, both of my MGs – the historical fantasy Big  River’s Daughter (Holiday House 2013), and the historical fiction, Girls of Gettysburg (Holiday House, 2014)—have explored plot movements of the heroine’s journey.

The protagonist of any story, the hero if you will, acts as a window inviting the reader into the story. The reader is drawn into the narrative because, just as the protagonist searches for their identity, the reader is engaged in their own search. Yet, if the hero is always male, and the journey is always his story, what recourse is left to young adult women and adolescent girls? What is her story? (An obvious question becomes, with the current movement toward LGBTQ representation, what is their hero’s journey? This discussion doesn’t address the specifics in the LGBTQ  journey for identity, but hopefully someone more informed than I am will take up that call of action!)

The profound truth, and primary function, of adolescence is the separation from parent, the search for uniqueness and the triumphant integration into wholeness. It’s the essence of the archetypal hero’s journey. Every child looks for their own hero to identify with. Every reader seeks guides – protagonists – to show them how to begin their journey.

But that doesn’t mean their journey is the same. Even if the heroine’s journey follows a similar path, toward a similar purpose, there is a difference between his journey and her journey. (And by extension, their journey.)

Megan Leigh (Dispelling the Myth of Strong Female Characters) offers interesting insight into the “myth” of strong female characters. Among many stories (and movies) claiming to have strong female characters, one overriding issue seems to be distinguishing between strong and weak, and passive and active characters. A female who is caring, vulnerable, even emotional tends to be considered a weak character. Yet, a strong female who is aggressive, abrasive, even with difficulty connecting emotionally, is considered negative. Both types are flat, negating their own flawed, complex humanity. As such, both types are reduced to a stereotype. In contrast, male characters are often allowed to play the full emotive spectrum. Says Leigh, in too many stories, the strong female protagonist is considered “special,” the exception or chosen one. If only one woman is ever shown to be capable and complex, and is presented as the exception, the “very framing of the narrative in a way that has men writing off most females as incapable, is an issue unto itself.”

Tasha Robinson (We’re Losing All Our Strong Characters to Trinity Syndrome) considers Valka, the long lost mother of Hiccup in the movie How To Train Your Dragon 2. Valka is complicated, formidable, wise and damaged, and she is fully capable of taking care of herself. For decades she had successfully avoided capture and death at the hands of the bad guys. Yet, within minutes of coming onto the scene, she becomes suddenly inadequate and needs to be rescued – twice. And for the rest of the film, she does nothing except  tell Hiccup that he is the chosen one. She has become superfluous.

Recently Harold Underdown (Executive Editor of Kane Press and owner of the website, Purple Crayon) recommended several books on his Facebook page (which he does every Friday. Check out his Facebook page, for his recommendations are terrific!).

The Dream of Space, by Erin Entrada Kelly (Greenwillow Books, 2020) presents a trio of protagonists, brothers Cash and Fitch, and sister Bird. Bird is my favorite for all the reasons noted above. She dreams of becoming NASA’s first female shuttle commander, but her ordeals include verbally abusive, even negligent parents, her wayward brothers, and a slew of misadventures in school.  Her journey  is set against the backdrop of the Challenger Shuttle disaster. The book is a great study in creating multidimensional characters that engage readers on the deepest, gut-wrenching level. It also illustrates the differences between narration (exposition/telling) and dramatization (showing). 

Another recommendation is Varian Johnson’s The Parker Inheritance (Scholastic, 2018). A puzzle mystery, this is an intriguing study in viewpoint and the power of perception. Following her parent’s divorce, twelve-year old Candice and her mother move into her deceased grandmother’s house in Lambert, South Carolina. Struggling with her parent’s divorce, as well as the threat of poverty, Candice finds a mysterious letter addressed to her grandmother. The letter describes the Washington family, who were run out of Lambert during the turbulent 1950s. It also promises a fortune to anyone who can figure out the clues. The letter is her call to action. As she and her new friend Brandon decipher the clues, they discover not only the terrible secrets of the town haunted by its racially divided past, and  the sad truth behind  her grandmother’s destroyed reputation, they experience several instances of racism. This serves to motivate them all the more to find justice for the Washington family and her grandmother. Many chapters are told from the POV of other characters who lived in Lambert during the 1950s.

Returning to the mother of Hiccup, Valka. As an ancient symbol, the dragon (according to Jung) is “the wildness of spirit,” which escapes and destroys the artificial order of oppression. Valka, however, had her wings metaphorically clipped just as she was becoming interesting. How many characters have we followed that, in the end, have their wings clipped?

Both Bird and Candice remain fearless and engaging in their search for personal truth.  In my own characters, I continue to explore the language, the  ordeals and symbols that are uniquely her own,  focusing on a fearless protagonist with her own identity, agenda and story purpose. 

Who are your favorite strong female protagonists?

--Bobbi Miller


Thursday, April 14, 2022

What puts a spring in your step? by: Jennifer Mitchell

 What puts a Spring in my step?

This time of the year sometimes it is nice to reflect on what puts a spring in your step.  After some reflection these are the things that make me happy.

-- when my students understand a new concept

-- when my students sing along to our class playlist

-- when a new trip to Disney is planned

-- when we have warm spring days in Missouri 

(and I can get outside and enjoy them)

-- when I discover a new author that I love!

-- sharing poetry with kids that they love

-- when my students create their own poetry

-- taking my dogs on a walk

-- seeing flowers bloom

-- connecting with old friends

-- driving around in my Jeep with the top down

Poetry that second grade has been working on

by: Jennifer Mitchell -- teacher in the Kansas City area

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

From Globetrotting Sleuths to Backyard Rangers: My Journey from YA to MG Mystery (Diana Renn)

My first three novels were YA mysteries featuring globetrotting teen sleuths, set in Japan, Ecuador, and Turkey. I also wrote a mystery for adults set in Egypt and Italy. International intrigue was fun to write. The research, though extensive, was fascinating.


While writing my adult novel, I was immersing myself in reading middle grade with my son, then in fourth grade. We were also fostering a clutch of turtle hatchlings for a local wildlife conservation group. An idea for a mystery of missing turtles hatched. I heard the main character’s voice and knew that this had to be a middle grade story. I wanted to stick with mystery, and wildlife crime fascinated me. But writing a middle grade mystery wasn’t as easy as I thought!



I did not want to sacrifice my character’s complex inner lives, though. Personal growth through the process of investigating a mystery was still important to me. In Trouble at Turtle Pond, I knew my main sleuth would have ADHD, and that he would need to learn about his strengths to heal a wound from his past. I wanted the readers to have plenty of access to his thoughts and feelings as he navigated new friendships in a new town. So I left that interior complexity intact, and found other places to streamline.


One place to simplify was geography. Miles and his fellow “Backyard Rangers” operate in about one square mile of territory: their street and an adjacent wildlife refuge, with occasional forays into the Marsh Hollow town center. They are bound to this small region by their lack of transportation and their parents’ rules. I thought this world might be too confining at first. However, I was pleasantly surprised to discover how big that world feels to them. At eleven, my characters are just starting to venture out of their yards and into areas where they are not entirely supervised. In one scene, Miles climbs an observation tower at the wildlife refuge and notes a warning sign about not leaving children unsupervised. “It feels great to be an unsupervised child!” he rejoices. Their world contains all the drama I need: intriguing suspects, nosy neighbors, odd goings-on at the pond, and turtles – lots of turtles. In addition, the kids operate a ranger station and lemonade stand out of a cardboard box, which draws new people to them, further broadening their world without their ever having to leave it.


Another speed bump I hit was assuming young readers would track the mystery plot as easily as older readers. Some young readers of an early draft alerted me to potential confusion. Since middle grade readers are still relatively new to genre fiction, I therefore provided a bit of “mystery scaffolding” to guide them. This was easy to do since the four sleuths work together to pool information, frequently sharing what they know, don’t know, or still need to know. One character jots observations in a field journal. Another keeps a crime log and loves her lists. Miles, my main sleuth, teaches the others about means, motives, and opportunity, terms he’s gleaned from a cop show his parents watch. Additionally, I simplified the mystery plot by having only four suspects, and fewer plot twists.


I realized pretty quickly that I had to adjust the dials on the nature of the crime and the type of criminals I was dealing with. I didn’t want too much violence, but I did want to keep readers in suspense. I aimed for what adults might call “mild peril.” There are definitely some bad players afoot, and a couple of heart-pounding brushes with them. But unlike my YA or adult novels, no one is cornering people in dark alleys, or brandishing guns, or even laying a hand on a kid. A lot of the suspense comes from the child characters’ lack of full understanding of what they’re seeing. For example, the routine activities of field biologists setting nets in a pond and tracking nesting turtles at night with radio telemetry equipment can look scary, even sinister, in the dark, or from a distance. The imagination is a powerful thing, and I leaned heavily on it. I also leveraged one anxious character’s tendency toward catastrophic thinking. Scenes of physical danger had always drained me when writing my books for older readers, so I found it refreshing to keep the danger more at a distance, more suggestive and imagination-fueled than physically palpable.


My biggest learning curve was with voice. While learning to calibrate mysteries for younger readers, I had to hone the voice that had launched this novel, as the story was told in first person. The voice sputtered like a bad radio signal at first, but the more I connected with Miles’s emotional life, the more clearly I heard him. I did many revisions that were not focused on the mystery plot, but entirely on character and voice. I worked to eliminate observations or phrasing that seemed too teen or even too adult. So I was essentially learning on two levels as I wrote: how to write a middle grade mystery in particular, and how to write middle grade in general.


The speed bumps I hit were all instructive, and ultimately freeing, as I came to see the wonderful possibilities in writing mysteries for this age group. Now I’m hooked, hard at work on my second MG mystery . . . and having a smoother ride this time around because of all I’ve learned.



Diana Renn is the author of three YA mysteries featuring globetrotting teens: TOKYO HEIST, LATITUDE ZERO, and BLUE VOYAGE (all published by Viking / Penguin Random House). Closer to home, her new middle grade novel, TROUBLE AT TURTLE POND (Fitzroy Books / Regal House), was inspired by her volunteer work with Zoo New England’s turtle conservation program. Diana lives outside of Boston, and shares a street with turtles. Visit her online at or on Instagram at