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1. Classroom Connections: Fenway and Hattie by Victoria J. Coe

age range: 8-12
genre: contemporary fiction from a dog’s point of view
setting: the suburbs
Victoria J. Coe’s website
classroom guide

Readers will relate to Fenway’s impulsivity and delight in descriptions from his dog’s-eye view. Teachers and adults will appreciate generous sprinklings of rich vocabulary. –School Library Journal

Fenway may not understand Hattie’s behavior, but readers looking through his uncomprehending eyes will follow her ups and downs easily as she adjusts to the move. They’ll also wince in sympathy as she tries, with mixed success, to train, or even restrain, her barky, hyper, emotional pet. Booklist

This perky, pet-centered tale takes readers inside the head of Fenway, an energetic and perpetually hopeful Jack Russell terrier with a deep love for food, intense hatred of squirrels, and undying adoration of his “small human,” Hattie. . . A fun, fresh frolic that animal-loving kids are sure to enjoy.—Publishers Weekly

Please tell us about your book.

 Fenway and Hattie is about a dog named Fenway and his girl Hattie who move from an apartment in the city to a house in the suburbs, where they each struggle with big changes. But you only get Fenway’s side of the story, because the whole book is told from his point of view.

What inspired you to write this story?

I was inspired to write this story when my own family experienced a move and our dog was afraid we’d leave him behind. The move was hard on all of us, but I was especially tuned in to my dog’s fears and insecurities. As we took long walks together, I noticed how he checked everything out and I started to wonder what was going through his mind. That’s how the character of Fenway was born.

Could you share with readers a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching? 

I’ve learned a lot about how dogs experience the world! Here are some interesting tidbits:

Dogs smell! But dogs don’t just smell scents; they use their noses to gather information. By smelling, dogs can tell:

  • What’s new vs. what’s familiar
  • If a person or another dog is a male or female
  • What foods you’ve eaten
  • What places you’ve been
  • If a scent is faint or strong (that’s how dogs tell time)
  • What you’ve touched and what’s touched you
  • Dogs can even smell people’s feelings

Dogs make sounds, but they primarily communicate by body language. How dogs carry their ears or tails, whether they’re panting or baring their teeth, and what posture they assume can tell another dog all kinds of information. And dogs read our body language, too. They know from our bodies how we’re feeling and what our intentions are.

Dogs are always studying people. They know our routines – maybe better than we know ourselves! They also pick up on cues, like grabbing the leash comes before going for a walk. Dogs know all of our habits and when something changes, a dog is usually the first to notice!

What are some special challenges associated with writing from a dog’s point of view?

Ha! How long is this blog, Caroline? I like to say that writing from a dog’s point of view is just like regular writing only with both hands tied behind your back!

Seriously though, since dogs don’t understand most human language, I can only write actions, sounds, or observations that a dog would know – I can’t rely on human dialogue.

There are so many elements of the human world that dogs don’t know. Fenway doesn’t know how old Hattie is or what town they live in. And he certainly doesn’t know what she does when she’s not with him — unless he can see, hear, or smell clues, and he often comes to the wrong conclusion!

For instance, early on in the story, Hattie is packing. Fenway remembers that he’s seen her do this before – right before she disappeared and left him alone. And something really terrible must’ve happened to her because when she came back she smelled like burnt marshmallows and squirrels.

What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?

Fenway and Hattie is a perfect mentor text for both point of view and inference. My classroom guide contains both POV activities and exercises as well as a discussion guide for the book – which as you can see from the packing example I just described is a lot of inference!

The post Classroom Connections: Fenway and Hattie by Victoria J. Coe originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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2. Top Reading Posts of All Time


This was my nightstand a few weeks back. Yes, The Life of Bees is still there. Why do you ask?

I turned in edits on Jasper and the Riddle of Riley’s Mine on Friday. So guess what? I’m going to do a LOT of reading in the next few weeks. As I dig in, I hope readers here might find some good reads of their own through the links below.

Theses posts are a part of a monthly series. You can see the first, Top Posts of All Time, here, and the second, My Favorite Posts of All Time, here, and the third, Top Writing Posts of All Time, here.

Fast Five: Novels About Teachers and Their Students

Reading in the Wild: 5 Things Wild Readers Do

Literary Lessons from Gone Girl

Starting a Book Club for Kids

Beyond Little House: Middle-Grade Frontier Books

Reading is a Generous Act

Reading Aloud to Older Kids

The post Top Reading Posts of All Time originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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3. PEI in July!


I’ve been revisiting book friends lately, books that have been a part of my life since fifth grade. It’s been years since I’ve re-read L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series, but I’ve got a good reason to pick them up again.

I’m preparing for a trip five years in the dreaming with my dear friend Jamie from Wednesday’s post. We’re to Prince Edward Island in July!

The post PEI in July! originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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4. Give Your Child the World: An Interview with Author Jamie C. Martin


An invaluable resource for any and everyone who has children in their lives! Jamie Martin has scoured the best in children’s literature from around the globe and compiled in one volume, book recommendations sure to appeal to the reader in your life.
— LeVar Burton, Reading Rainbow

This is an especially joyous post for me today. My dear friend Jamie C. Martin, who has been steadily working on a book for five years, released it into the world earlier this month, and I want everyone to know about it!

Please tell us about your book.

Give Your Child the World: Raising Globally Minded Kids One Book at a Time is a global reading treasury for those “can’t-get-enough” book lovers, map collectors, adventure seekers, and wanderers-at-heart. It’s a resource for those who want their kids to grow up loving the neighbor next door as well as the one on the other side of the world. It’s for parents and educators who hope to raise world-lovers and world-changers.

The book includes more than 600 of the best children’s book recommendations from around the world, organized by region, country, and age range (ages 4-12). It also shares the story of how my own family became a multicultural one, with four nationalities represented under our roof.

Could you tell us about yourself?

My British husband Steve and I have been married for almost 18 years. We have three children. Jonathan, our biological son, joined our family first. Next came our son Elijah, who we adopted when he was still an infant from Liberia, West Africa. Both boys are now 11 years old. And our daughter Trishna joined our family from India at the age of 4—she just recently turned 13 (our first teenager, wow!).

Martin Family

I’ve been blogging for over seven years now, and my main online home is currently SimpleHomeschool.net, where I write alongside a fabulous group of contributors about intentional education, mindful parenting, and the joy found in a pile of books.

Where did the idea for Give Your Child the World first come from?

Back when I was a new mom, there was a book I adored. Actually I think you might have been the first to tell me about it, Caroline?!* Honey for a Child’s Heart by Gladys Hunt is all about using books in family life. In it the author has categorized the best classic children’s literature into a variety of lists that parents can easily use. I loved that she had done all the work so that I didn’t have to! I spent hours poring over that book as a young mom and starting our own home library.

But as our unique, multi-cultural family grew, I realized I needed a way to connect us more deeply to other cultures. We weren’t able to do much traveling at that time, but I found I could use books to add that new dimension to our family.

When I started looking for the best global books out there, I was more or less on my own to research and separate the good from the bad. That got me thinking about a reading treasury, like the one I had loved so much, but with an around-the-world focus. I thought about how much time it would have saved me save me, and eventually I thought I might as well create that resource for others!

How has children’s literature shaped your family’s everyday conversations?

Now that my kids are a little older, I can see many of the benefits that weren’t as obvious when they were still young. We have this rich book heritage, made up of all those pages we’ve read together, and I love that. So when things come up in the news, or even a personal challenge arises, often there will be a connection to a story that we can turn to for help and encouragement.

I like to think that in twenty years when the kids are grown, married, and have kids of their own, they might look back on their childhood through the lens of all the books we read. I hope these titles have taken root deep in their souls, building their characters page by page, strengthening them for when hard times inevitably come, and leading them to look not just for a career but a calling. A way to make a difference, big or small, in this world.

How has children’s literature played into your children’s understanding of the world around them?

You shared a quote with me years ago from Newbery medal-winning author Katherine Paterson that I have gone back to again and again. She said that “the books we read in childhood are a rehearsal for experiences later in life.”** And I couldn’t agree more.

Creating a family culture of books means our kids have the chance to live a thousand lives before leaving home. They can travel the world (and beyond!) all while safe within our four walls. They can feel the pain of a character’s flaws and learn from their mistakes, without having to experience the actual consequences. I don’t see reading as a way to escape reality, but as a way to prepare our kids for real life in a unique and beautiful way.

In recent years, organizations like We Need Diverse Books, Multicultural Children’s Book Day, and Lee and Low Books have brought a spotlight to diversity in children’s literature (and the lack thereof). What does Give Your Child the World add to the conversation?

It makes me so happy to see organizations highlighting this issue, and I’m thrilled to add my work to all that others have contributed. Give Your Child the World makes the process of finding multicultural books so much simpler for parents, families, and educators. Taking the time to research titles is something that busy mamas and papas often don’t have, and knowing that a trusted voice has done all that for them means they can get busy with the fun part: reading their way around the world with their kids!

Read the World Book Club Logo

And speaking of reading around the world, Jamie and Sarah Mackenzie of the Read Aloud Revival are pairing up to run an eight-week online book club which does just that. Click through to learn more. The adventure begins 27 June.



* It’s very possible! I have a memory of the two of us reading Gladys Hunt’s Honey for a Woman’s Heart: Growing Your World through Reading Great Books.

** I have to confess I’ve attributed this quote to both Katherine Paterson and Lois Lowry at various times and places! While I don’t know who originally said it, I do know I heard Katherine Paterson share these very words at an event in Washington DC in 2000 when talking about her Bridge to Terabithia.

The post Give Your Child the World: An Interview with Author Jamie C. Martin originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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5. Why We Read


Show me a family of readers, and I will show you the people who move the world.
  —Napoleon Bonaparte

The post Why We Read originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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6. When Art is Seconds Away From Total Collapse

As I’m in the midst of edits again, I’ve thought often of this post. Happy writing, friends.

The truth is that the piece of art which seems so profoundly right in its finished state may earlier have been only inches or seconds away from total collapse.

This quote has been running through my mind since July.

There are so many ways for a work of art to fail. But thankfully there are even more opportunities to try and get it right. During the editing process, BLUE BIRDS has balanced on the edge of disaster again and again, but it has come back, stronger, clearer, more fully itself.

And one day, I will set it free. It will be a separate thing from me. I’ll no longer need to stand by, ready to interpret or hold it steady.

It will fly.

The post When Art is Seconds Away From Total Collapse originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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7. An Interview with Tricia Springstubb, Author of Every Single Second

Twelve-year-old Nella Sabatini’s life is changing too soon, too fast. Her best friend, Clem, doesn’t seem concerned; she’s busy figuring out the best way to spend the “leap second”—an extra second about to be added to the world’s official clock. The only person who might understand how Nella feels is Angela, but the two of them have gone from being “secret sisters” to not talking at all.

Then Angela’s idolized big brother makes a terrible, fatal mistake, one that tears apart their tight-knit community and plunges his family into a whirlwind of harsh publicity and judgment. In the midst of this controversy, Nella is faced with a series of startling revelations about her parents, friends, and neighborhood. As Angela’s situation becomes dangerous, Nella must choose whether to stand by or stand up. Her heart tries to tell her what to do, but can you always trust your heart? The clock ticks down, and in that extra second, past and present merge—the future will be up to her. 

With an engaging protagonist, a fast-moving story, important themes subtly conveyed, and touches of humor, this is a richly layered story that will have wide appeal. — Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Nella’s growing awareness of endings and beginnings, the meaning of friendship, and the power of choices combine to create an unsettling, compelling, and heartwarming tale. — Publishers Weekly, starred review

What drew you to this story?

Every Single Second didn’t draw me in—it yanked me! To be honest, I was afraid of this story. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to write it. But it got hold of me and refused to let go.

I first began thinking about it when a local young woman (whose family I slightly knew) threatened to commit a crime. Even though she had problems that left her too frail and confused to hurt anyone, she was arrested and jailed. On-line, she became the object of scorn and mockery from people who, of course, knew nothing about her. Her family was already reeling from what had happened, and this casual cruelty devastated them all the more. I couldn’t stop thinking about how easily we can judge others, without any real understanding of them.

The other event was a shooting much like the central event of Every Single Second, which I read about in the news. An African-American man who’d been in a car accident knocked on a door late at night and the woman inside called 9-1-1. Police officers showed up, and within seconds the injured, unarmed man was dead. Photos of him and the white officer who shot him were printed side by side. The victim looked heart-breakingly young and earnest. The officer was also young, and his expression was a blur of confusion and fear. Their faces riveted me. Two unconnected lives had crossed; one moment had changed everything. I kept thinking about who the officer was, wondering how he became the person who pulled that trigger. Again, I wanted to know more, to look deeper and try, if I could, to understand. 

As I worked, national events, including the unthinkable death of Tamir Rice here in Cleveland, made the writing harder but also more urgent.

During my middle and high school years, three different accidental shootings affected my classmates, one resulting in death. Unfortunately, other young people have had similar experiences. Even so, I can’t think of one book I’ve ever encountered on the subject. What are some of the challenges you faced in writing about such a difficult topic?    

Writing for young readers is always an enormous privilege, but I especially felt that with this book. I so badly wanted to get this complicated story right! Stories, like our lives, don’t march in straight lines. They rush forward, slip backward, skitter sideways. We think in terms of beginnings and endings, but I wanted to show that every story starts long before “chapter one” and continues way beyond “the end”. I wrote from the point of view of Nella, a white girl who’s close to the shooter. She’s been shaped by her community, as we all are. For me, the book’s biggest challenge was to be true to who Nella is, while showing her begin to question what she’s been taught. It’s scary to reject things we’ve always believed. It’s risky to trust our own hearts, and form a new, untried view of the world. Every Single Second deals with class and racial divides, and questions of what it means to be “good” or “bad”. These are the kinds of issues middle graders get really passionate about, and my deepest, fondest hope is that the book will inspire lots of questions and discussions. (I’m very glad that HarperCollins will publish a reading and discussion guide teachers and book groups can use!)

When writing about difficult things, do you intentionally bring in moments to ease the tension of the storyline? If yes, how so? 

I was brought up to believe we need humor in bad times even more than in good. I’m a natural optimist, and love to laugh (one more reason I adore being around kids). While I was working on this book, the venerable Jeptha A. Stone miraculously appeared. He’s a monument who lives (in a manner of speaking) in the cemetery where Nella’s father is the groundskeeper, and he serves as a sort of Greek chorus. Jeptha is a pompous old guy with a heart of (what else?) stone, and he gets his own story arc. One of the book’s themes is that we all have powerful voices, if only we have the courage to use them, and one of my very favorite moments is when Jeptha speaks. Or does he?


the monument that gave me the idea for Jeptha Stone

Maybe the biggest challenge of writing middle grade is respecting the huge issues kids face without going too far into the darkness. Let there always be light and laughter!

How is Every Single Second different from your other books? How is it similar?

I’ve never dealt so directly with violence. Some people might also say I’ve never written about anything so topical, though really, unfortunately, the book’s issues have been with us for a very, very long time. Something I was aware of the whole time I was writing was that I didn’t want to hold back. With this book, I pinned my meaty heart to my sleeve. 

But Every Single Second does share things with my earlier books. Nella’s neighborhood is crucial to the story. A sense of place is always deeply important to me (What Happened on Fox Street and Moonpenny Island are titled for their settings!).  My characters often come from working class families, and economic class is always an issue, even when it just hovers in the background. Also, I can’t seem to stop writing about sisters or father-daughter relationships!

What are you working on now?

I just finished writing the fourth book in my series for younger middle grade readers. Cody and the Fountain of Happiness came out last spring, and Cody and the Mysteries of the Universe published this April. These are such fun books to write, and Eliza Wheeler’s illustrations are genius!

Now I’m tiptoeing around a middle grade novel set in a fictional country more than a hundred years ago. I’d really love to write fantasy, but I’m just too literal a person. I’m hoping that escaping the present and wandering the past will be the next best thing.

Tricia is offering one reader here the opportunity to win signed a copy of Every Single Second. Simply leave a comment below by Friday, June 17. A winner will be randomly selected. US residents only, please.

Tricia is the author of many books for children, including the award winning middle grade novels What Happened on Fox Street, its well-loved sequel, Mo Wren Lost and Found, and Moonpenny Island. Tricia has worked as a Head Start teacher and a children’s librarian. Besides writing and, of course, reading, she loves doing school and library visits. Mother of three grown daughters (and a brand new Nana!), she lives in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. You can contact her at www.triciaspringstubb.com.



The post An Interview with Tricia Springstubb, Author of Every Single Second originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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8. Writing Links


How to Make a Storyboard :: Uri Shulevitz

Don’t Worry, It Only Gets Harder :: Writer Unboxed

What Nobody Tells You About Being a Best-Selling Author :: Goins, Writer

Five Things I Wish I’d Known Five Months Before I Published My First Novel :: Medium

Books About Girls Who Rescue Themselves :: Powell’s City of Books
**Honored to find May B. on the top of the list!

Common Rejections and What They Mean :: Tara Lazar

The post Writing Links originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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9. Are you seldom disappointed or do you hold to wild hope?


Last year I recorded a podcast with author Tsh Oxenreider. As we talked about submissions and rejection, Tsh mentioned the idea of “it’s just business, it’s not personal” not being an entirely helpful or true way to look at the writing life, at least in her experience. “It’s business and it’s personal” is more accurate, she said. It’s personal because not only has she invested in what she’s created, a piece of writing grows out of who she is.

This is absolutely spot on in my experience, too. An author has hope for her work, wild hope that it will connect with an agent or an editor who believes in it as she does. That wild hope must also run through the writing itself. The creative act cannot hold back. It cannot be guarded or careful or tame. For me, both writing and the writing life must be all in.

Being all in has its risks. There is the possibility of rejection. (Not just the possibility. In this line of work the reality of rejection is always present.) There is the possibility that even books that sell won’t go the way you hoped or planned. Elizabeth Gilbert says “creativity asks you to enter into realms of uncertain outcome.”

Your job is to create. You don’t get to decide the rest.

Uncertain outcomes mean sometimes you’ll be hugely disappointed. It’s important to let yourself acknowledge this, to let yourself grieve the work that didn’t have the future you’d hoped. This is hard and painful and so disappointing. But I rather do this than not hope at all.

Recently a friend told me she’d read Tony Hillerman’s memoir, Seldom Disappointed. The quote comes from something his mother told him: Blessed are those who expect little; they are seldom disappointed. He carried this idea into his writing life, a place he had huge success.

It’s interesting that just days after this conversation I started re-reading Anne of Green Gables and in it found Mrs. Hillerman’s advice, almost word for word, this time in the voice of Mrs. Rachel Lynde.

It’s Anne’s response to Rachel’s words that I prefer:

“You set your heart too much on things, Anne,” said Marilla with a sigh. “I’m afraid there’ll be a great many disappointments in store for you through life.”

“Oh, Marilla, looking forward to things is half the pleasure of them,” exclaimed Anne. “You mayn’t get the things themselves; but nothing can prevent you from having the fun of looking forward to them. Mrs. Lynde says, ‘Blessed are they who expect nothing for they shall not be disappointed.’ But I think it would be worse to expect nothing than to be disappointed.”

If I hold back hope I hold back heart, the very thing my writing needs.

The post Are you seldom disappointed or do you hold to wild hope? originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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10. Five Bits of Encouragement from My Inbox


I ain’t going to lie. This round of edits has been really tough. So I was encouraged to find these good words waiting for me on Monday.

As soon as we realize that there is a difference between right now and what might happen next, we can move ourselves to the posture of possibility, to the self-fulfilling engine of optimism.
— Seth Godin

I’m an optimist. I don’t know why. But it has made things easier.
— Geoff Herbach (…wise words from his grandmother)

Place your attention on what is occurring now, not anticipating the future.
— Ennea Thought for the Day

In life, it’s impossible to always feel like everything is going well and that you’re exactly where you want to be in terms of success. It’s like the tide – it ebbs and flows. Sometimes you’ll feel successful, like the high tide, and other times, the tide will go out and you’ll feel dissatisfied with the way things are going. You just have to ride it out. Eventually, the tides will turn again.
— Lisa Schroeder (…from the podcast Millennial)

And this one came through on Tuesday —

Optimism is true moral courage.
– Ernest Shackleton

The post Five Bits of Encouragement from My Inbox originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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11. On Writing

A friend of mine who writes history books said to me that he thought that the two creatures most to be pitied were the spider and the novelist — their lives hanging by a tread spun out of their own guts. But in some ways I think writers of fiction are the creatures most to be envied, because who else besides the spider is allowed to take that fragile thread and weave it into a pattern? What a gift of grace to be a ble to take the chaos from within and from it to create some semblance of order.


The post On Writing originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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12. More Wisdom from Simply Tuesday


“May fear, discouragement, doubt, comparison, envy, and failure not have the final say in our homes, our work, our relationships, our souls, or our plans for the future. Instead, may we live into our truest calling as people who give and receive grace, forgiveness, and love in the small moments of our lives.”

The post More Wisdom from Simply Tuesday originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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13. That Jasper Johnson


Jefferson “Soapy” Smith was an unsavory sort who worked Skagway, Alaska when Jasper passed through.

I can’t wait to introduce  you to Jasper next spring. For now, I’ll give you a peek into the way he thinks. (Coming across this section during edits has encouraged me. It might feel like I don’t know how to write a whole darn book, but this reminds me I don’t have to have it all figured out straight away. I’m responsible for showing up and doing my daily work to the best of my ability.)

Since leaving home I’ve stowed away and tracked down Mel and climbed a mountain and traveled the Yukon on a flimsy raft, and tackled a whole pile of other things I ain’t never done before. Now ain’t the time to start believing I got to have things figured out before I try.

Now, back to work on the editing…

The post That Jasper Johnson originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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14. Top Writing Posts of All Time


After six and half years of blogging, I thought it would be fun to revive some oldies but goodies. The plan is to do this once a month. You can see the first, Top Posts of All Time, here, and the second, My Favorite Posts of all Time, here.

The posts below are consistently clicked most when people come to the blog for writing advice. I hope you enjoy!

(BLUE) BIRD BY (BLUE) BIRD: On Small Writing Goals and Big Change
Writing Contests and Grants: Why You Should Enter
Will Verse Work for Your Story?
There is No Schedule
5 Things I Learned from NaNoWriMo
What’s the Purpose of Your Writing?
Book Mapping My Way Through Blue Birds
Novel Revision Class: Quotes and Links on Revision
Writing Advice for the Long Haul
Running as a Metaphor for Writing

The post Top Writing Posts of All Time originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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15. The Work Behind the Work: Second-Round Edits


Looks like no one ever taught me you’re just supposed to highlight the important parts. Oh, wait. It’s all important.

One letter, five highlighters, one notebook full of scribbling, one marked up manuscript, one calendar, one phone call with my editor. This is how second-round edits begin.

And this is the shrunk down version of the letter, a little cheat sheet that will guide me when I need direction…


… and here’s an expanded version to take me chapter through chapter.


I’ve never done edits precisely this way before and probably won’t do them just like this again. Each book is a journey, and I do my best to follow along.

Writers out there, do you always edit in the same way or does your approach change?




The post The Work Behind the Work: Second-Round Edits originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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16. Classroom Connections: Counting Thyme by Melanie Conklin

age range: 10 and up
genre: contemporary fiction
setting: New York City
Melanie Conklin’s website
Preview the first three chapters

Please tell us about your book.

Counting Thyme is the story of Thyme Owens, an eleven-year-old girl whose family moves across the country for her little brother’s cancer treatment. It’s a story about family, friendship, and finding your place in the world when life throws you a curveball.

What inspired you to write this story?

The idea for this story came to me after I read a bunch of middle grade books with protagonists who were facing serious illnesses. I wondered what it would be like to be the sibling of a gravely ill child. I wondered how the conflicts at home would influence the conflicts at school. I thought it would be especially tough if you were just starting middle school, with all of the social pressures involved at that time in life. Thyme’s story grew from there!

Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching?

In my past life as a product designer, I did a ton of research at the outset of every new project. It’s no different for me with books. Once I have an idea, I conduct an audit—which is a fancy way of saying that I cast a wide net and gather research from all of the reputable sources in that subject area. With Counting Thyme, I gathered a tremendous amount of information online, because research hospitals are very interested in sharing knowledge. I also read countless blogs posted by parents of pediatric cancer patients to gain insight into their everyday lives and the ups and downs of treatment. When I had questions, I posted them on discussion forums and parents graciously answered, helping me understand the intricacies of their world.

What are some special challenges associated with writing middle grade?

My favorite thing about MG fiction is the way it explores tough topics in an honest way, while preserving a safe space for young readers. It’s tough to nail that balance. It took many passes of revision to balance the emotion and the information in Counting Thyme, so that readers can understand what’s happening without being bogged down by too much medical information. My favorite books are the ones that manage this balance effortlessly (although I now know that a lot of effort goes into that!).

What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?

Because Counting Thyme is set in New York City, there’s a lot going on in the story. Thyme’s family moves into a multiple story apartment building, so she experiences living with close neighbors for the first time, which is a great touchstone for talking about the different ways that people live. There are also characters of many different backgrounds and ethnicities, which is what makes NYC so wonderful. This theme provides an opportunity to talk about different family traditions and cultures. Other themes touch on sibling relationships, honesty versus secrets, what it means to be a friend, and what it means to be counted (in your family, and in the world at large).

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17. Why We Read


Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.
– Joyce Carol Oates

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18. The Beauty of Imagination: Early Beginnings with a New Idea


In the last year, while not working on other projects, I’ve researched,  tinkered, and thought a lot about a new novel idea. The first whiff of it came to me when I read You Are Not So Smart: Why You Have Too Many Friends on Facebook, Why Your Memory Is Mostly Fiction, and 46 Other Ways You’re Deluding Yourself quickly followed by You Are Now Less Dumb: How to Conquer Mob Mentality, How to Buy Happiness, and All the Other Ways to Outsmart Yourself.

Looking at those titles even now, if feels so obvious what this new idea of mine is about. Human nature. Holding on to things that may not serve us or even be true or right. But it’s more than that. I can’t think of these books and not imagine that everyone reading this post now knows the exact circumstance of my new idea and particularly the type of character these books brought to mind. That’s the beauty of the imagination, though. We can be exposed to the same material and end up in an entirely different place.

Two weeks ago I pulled Writing the Breakout Novel off my shelf, thinking I’d poke around in it a bit. It hasn’t been since the first stirrings of Blue Birds that I’ve read it (I found all sorts of highlights that point toward the book Blue Birds became). What started as a casual skim became a solid re-read. I always need brushing up on that thing called plot and — who am I kidding — all the other stuff that makes a compelling novel. (More than once while reading it I’ve thought “That’s what my editor was trying to tell me in my last editorial letter!”)

This time through Breakout Novel is speaking to me in an entirely different way. Because my ideas are different this time around.

That’s the beauty of the imagination. We can be exposed to the same material and end up in an entirely different place.

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19. Straight From the Source: Julie Berry on Writing Historical Fiction

Julie Berry is the author of the acclaimed young adult novel The Passion of Dolssa, the award-winning, All the Truth That’s in Me (2013, Viking) and The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place (2014, Roaring Brook), and six other critically acclaimed titles for young readers. She grew up in western New York and holds a BS from Rensselaer in communication and an MFA from Vermont College in writing for children and young adults. Before becoming an author, she worked in software sales and marketing. She now lives in southern California with her husband and four sons. Find her online at www.julieberrybooks.com, or on Twitter.

What typically comes first for you: a character? An era? A story idea? How do you proceed from there?

For The Passion of Dolssa, both character and era came first, or rather, both found me independently. For a long time I’d been fascinated by the brave young women mystics of the Middle Ages. I had wanted to explore them more in some kind of project. Quite separately, I thought it would be fun to write a main character who was a matchmaker. In yet another corner of my brain, an idea rolled around about a group of three sisters, witches in a very small sense of the word, running a tavern (although young). In another disconnected vein of my life, I was taking a history of the Middle Ages course, where I learned for the first time about the violent history of anti-heresy warfare and inquisition in southern France in the 13th Century. Then one day I had a sort of eureka moment where all of these separate strands braided themselves together as one story idea. And I was off and running.

How do you conduct your research?

Muddlingly. I try to immerse myself as much as I can in books about, and written during, that time period. One of the most important things, I find, is determining which are the most credible, current, trusted academians whose books will best help you unravel the complex past. History (the study of the past, as opposed to the past itself) is anything but monolithic and unanimous. Our study and understanding of our past is constantly changing. So I think it’s vital to be a critical consumer of historical sources, and pay close attention to choosing well whom to trust. Once I know what I’m looking for, it’s often a hunt to acquire rare or out-of-print titles that I need. I try to read as much as I can that was written during that time period, also, so I can hear the voices and language of the time (filtered through the lens of who’s doing the writing – too often it’s only the elite and the empowered). I generally need to read my important sources twice.

In addition to lots of reading, I spend a lot of time with maps and museum resources, trying to see as much as possible what the world I envision actually looked like. I look for music historians who can help me hear their nearly lost tunes, and for historically based cookbooks so I know what ingredients they had and how they cooked. I’m chasing down all sorts of things like when would the sun have set at that latitude at this date, and what did they eat/wear/shoot/burn/drive/marry, etc.. Best of all, whenever possible, I try to go to the location where my story takes place. I need to absorb the sense of place as much as my senses allow me to. 

You do have a specific system for collecting data?

I fear I don’t have a specific system for anything in my life. “Dive in and muck around” is pretty much my approach.

At what point do you feel comfortable beginning to draft? How does your research continue once you begin writing?

I usually write in tandem with the research. I’m quite comfortable making changes later as I need to. But I think getting to know a character and getting to know her world can happen in tandem, so long as you’re willing to make painful changes if needed. For example, if you reach a point where you realize that your character has attitudes or opinions she couldn’t possibly have had at that place and time, you have to be willing to perform radical character surgery. But that said, I find that I can hum along on both tracks. Writing a rough first draft as I research helps me focus my inquiries onto things I actually need to know.

What is your favorite thing about research?

Oh, I could just stay right in the research rabbit-hole and never come out. I love, love, love the learning. At first, all the strange names and places are generally bewildering. Most complex historical texts will introduce you to a long list of players in the drama of the past, and it’s a lot to keep track of. In my last book, just about every man, no lie, was named Raimon. “Everyone’s Named Raymond,” basically. So the magic, for me, is when I’ve studied enough and taken enough notes to reach the point where it’s all clicking. I remember who’s who and where’s where and why it all matters. When I can coherently explain it to someone else in detail, then I know I’m ready to make a good story with it. It feels terrific to reach the peak of that mountain.

What are some obstacles writing historical fiction brings?

The pill that was hardest for me to swallow, but most necessary, is accepting that fact that no matter how hard I work to be accurate, I can’t ever be fully accurate in my depiction of the past. This is because, no matter how I try to understand their world, their beliefs, their cultural context, I can’t stop myself from being someone who looks at it from the anachronistic perspective of their future. I am looking back. I know how their story ends. And I’m a child of a different planet, so to speak. The past is a country I’ve never visited, nor can I. Even the most devotedly researched book remains a work of artifice, of pretend, of illusion. So, in a sense, the hardest part of this job is that you know from the get-go that you’ll fail. Art comes into play as you accept those limitations and reach toward the ideal of truth, beautifully if possible, anyway.

What’s one of the most interesting things you’ve learned while researching?

Stuff that’s generally unprintable. 😉

Why is historical fiction important?

I’m not sure how many people would ever decide to study the past, preserve it for future generations, and distill what it has to teach us, if they didn’t learn to care about it, somewhere along the line. I think historical fiction, especially the highest quality historical fiction for young readers, helps link young minds to the past through the caring they come to feel for real and fictitious characters, now dead. The hallmark of good fiction is how it tells the truth and enables empathy. By pointing that understanding and caring toward the past, we help young people – not just the future historians, but future thinkers of every kind – see themselves as heirs of a tremendous legacy and the forebears of a hopeful future. In other words, as a part of, but not the center of, humanity.

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The post Straight From the Source: Julie Berry on Writing Historical Fiction originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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20. Wisdom from Saving Lucas Biggs

“…What you said, you reminded me so much of Grandpa Joshua. The way you keep faith in people, even though so many awful things have happened to you.”

“That’s because Grandpa  Joshua and I bother to do the math.”

“What math?”

“For every big, bad, attention-getting thing that happens, there are thousands of small good ones, acts that might even seem ordinary but really aren’t, so many that we can forget to notice them or to count them up. But it’s what has always amazed me: not how terrible people can be to each other, but how good, in spite of everything.”


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21. On Writing

red skies

We want to be great — immediately great — but that’s not how creativity works. It is an awkward, tentative, even embarrassing process. There will be many times when we won’t look good — to ourselves or anyone else. We need to stop demanding that we do. It is impossible to get better and look good at the same time.
— Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way


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22. Tinker, Breathe, Create, Play


I’ve written often about Valerie Geary around here, my critique partner I met when we both started blogging in 2009. We’ve seen each other through a number of manuscripts, a million emails about the writing life, and one glorious writing retreat that included mid-morning runs, lots of good conversation, and a bottle of wine I received when May B. sold (thanks, Helen Theriot!).

I don’t know how I’d keep chugging away without friends who understand this weird and wonderful process, who encourage me when I need it and let me do the same.

Here’s a recent exchange:

me: I’m tinkering with the new book. Very slowly. Long hand and then some typing. Two and a half hours gave me something like 200 words.

Val: Keep tinkering, friend. No rush, no urgency. Breathe, find small moments to create. These first few steps are so small and feel like they take us nowhere, but they are important to building a book. We’ll take bigger steps later on down the road. For now…play.


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23. Leave space for the reader to contribute

airplane view

There is a much overlooked element in picture books – the white space. The designer looks after this. This is the space in which the child readers make their own interpretations. A room crammed with furniture is not inviting. Nor is a book too full of words and pictures. Leave space for the reader to contribute. This will foster literacy of both kinds in the child, the visual and the verbal. It will also actively engage and stimulate the imagination.
-Joyce Dunbar

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24. Writing Links


Advice for Publishing a Children’s Book :: Daily Herald

Ingrid’s Monster List of Craft Books :: Ingrid Sundberg

On Parting Ways with Literary Agents by Joy McCullough-Carranza :: Project Mayhem

Post “Meh” Debut: Your Options :: Between Fact and Fiction

To Blog or Not to Blog, That is the Question :: Rachelle Gardner

Secrets to Long-Haul Creativity :: Medium

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25. An Interview with Rebecca Behrens, Author of The Summer of Lost and Found

While I was reading Summer of Lost and Found I wanted to sit down and have a good talk with Rebecca. I hope this interview will read like the conversation I wish we’d had — because in many ways that’s exactly what it is: two authors talking about our experiences writing about the island of Roanoke.

Have you been to the island of Roanoke? Your descriptions of the island, from the flora to the town of Manteo to the historical sites, were so vivid!

Thanks! I have been to Roanoke, and I hope to visit the island again. I spent a week there when I was working on the third or fourth draft of the book. It was thrilling to visit a place that has captured my imagination since I was a kid. And the island didn’t disappoint me. I love traveling to places with a lot of history and a lot of natural beauty, and Roanoke certainly has both. I am a bit of a plant nerd (Nell’s mom has one of my dream careers), so I was really interested in the vegetation on the island—I took tons of photographs to document it.

I found it interesting that my Alis and your Ambrose both contrast London with Roanoke. Such a different world it must have been for those 1587 colonists. And Nell experiences some of the same, coming to the island from New York City.

I found the similarities in their impressions of Roanoke so interesting, too. I love the passage in Blue Birds in which Alis compares Roanoke with London. I think both Alis and Ambrose remark on how the island’s fresh smells are a delight, coming from the stinky streets of London.

The contrast between those two places was something that I thought about a lot while writing the book—how jarring it must have been to travel from the London crowds to a less developed place. Moving is difficult, at any age and in any time period. But it’s hard to even imagine what an adjustment coming to Roanoke would have been for early colonists. While I was visiting the settlement site at the Roanoke Island Festival Park, one of the guides pointed out how important tradespeople were in the colonist community. They couldn’t buy building supplies for their new homes, so they needed woodworkers and blacksmiths. It made me wonder about things like the state of the colonists’ shoes—they couldn’t simply go purchase more if they wore them out while traipsing around the island. (Hopefully one of the colonists was a cobbler?) The colonists weren’t only leaving most of their worldly possessions behind, but also their ways of daily life.

It’s funny, but I realized while making the trip from NYC to Roanoke that I was imitating/recreating the experience of my main character, Nell. I had already researched the island, but even so I found many things to surprise and delight me when I experienced it firsthand. Some of Nell’s observations are really based on my own—things I noted or was intrigued about, like how green and forested the island is, as opposed to sandy-beachy, or how some of Manteo’s architecture incorporates the look of English building styles.

When I was writing Blue Birds, I sometimes struggled with the hazy aspects of the history. My editor was the one who taught me that history can be hazy but stories can’t. In other words, for the sake of the story, I had to come down on one side or the other when it came to certain events that historians are unsure about. What decisions did you have to make when creating Ambrose’s story about aspects of history that weren’t clear cut?

I love that lesson from your editor—and I will use it in the future! When writing historical fiction, I have a hard time straying from facts. My tendency is to get bogged down in the details I’ve uncovered during research—I want to include every single interesting fact. I have to remind myself that my first priority is to tell the story, and overloading it with historical details, as fascinating as I find them, might not serve the story—or my reader. For example, at first I tried to incorporate real artifacts that have been uncovered in and around the island, but eventually I decided to fictionalize most of the ones in the book.

The historical record so far doesn’t offer a definitive conclusion about what really happened to the Lost Colonists, and I found that both frustrating and kind of liberating. I was fortunate in that a Roanoke historian read the manuscript for me and critiqued the historical accuracy. Luckily, the choices I made about the more ambiguous elements were plausible enough that she didn’t object. There have been some great archaeological finds in the past few years (I think you and I had a Twitter conversation last summer about the Site X artifacts that made big news), so even if it makes some of the history in my book inaccurate, I hope at some point the truth is uncovered!

It’s both strange and satisfying to read someone else’s story that deals with the same characters in mine, ones based on real people. I had the same experience when reading Cate of the Lost Colony, another Roanoke story. It’s almost like I’m in a club with a handful of authors. What was that like for you?

I am thrilled to think that I’m now in the club of Roanoke authors! Before the book went off to copy edits, I only read nonfiction about the island and the Lost Colony. I was really concerned that other authors’ unique visions of Roanoke would influence mine. The day I turned in the last revision, I pulled my copy of Blue Birds off the shelf because I had been dying to read it. “Strange and satisfying” is a great way to describe reading other fiction about Roanoke. I felt like I knew your characters before I even met them on the page because the story and setting of Roanoke were so familiar to me. Some of Alis’s beautiful observations almost felt like déjà vu after spending so much time imagining characters that would be her contemporaries. But at the same time, your Roanoke story shed new light on the island and its history and people. I’ve incorporated this idea of how perspective affects historical fiction into a writing workshop—in which several kids choose the same historical setting, event, or character and independently write a short scene about it. When they compare their writing, it’s so interesting to see how much each writer’s perspective shifts the focus.

Was there anyone from the 1587 colony that especially intrigued you? I was fascinated with Thomas Humfrey, the only child to travel to Roanoke without a parent. I originally had Thomas in my story, but later blended him with my George Howe Jr. character.

Wow, I wasn’t aware of that part of Thomas Humfrey’s story—that is fascinating! What a brave kid. I thought a lot about George Howe Jr., actually, because of how his father died on the island. It was so sad to think of a child going through an experience like the long and trying journey to Roanoke, and then losing a parent—I think only six days after they arrived. Early on, I considered making George a central character in my book, but I ended up focusing on another colonist.

Like Ambrose, Nell is missing her father and is lonely for a friend. What else do your two characters have in common? What does this show us about the past and the present?

I think both Ambrose and Nell are very curious and loyal. Their friendship blossoms despite their city-country differences because they are both so passionate about exploring their surroundings and uncovering the history around them. Now that you bring it up, what they have in common might show how being in that middle-grade “age of wonder,” and starting to discover the world around you, is a universal experience. I loved how the friendship between Kimi and Alis developed in Blue Birds, and seeing what those girls shared. It’s interesting that so many Roanoke stories express this theme in unique ways.

I see we both read Lee Miller’s book, Roanoke: Solving the Mystery of the Lost Colony. What did you think of her theory that the pilot Simon Fernandez tried to sabotage the colonists and that abandoning them to Roanoke was part of the plan?

I found that a really intriguing idea (I do like a good conspiracy theory!), and Lee Miller makes a convincing argument. But I’m not convinced there is enough research to back it up at this point. For now I’m more inclined to think that Simon Fernandez was an opportunist—and probably a jerk—but not necessarily a saboteur. I’m curious to hear what you think about this!

I’m with you on this one. In addition to Fernandez’s strong personality, I think John White wasn’t the strongest leader. It feels inevitable that they clashed. Speaking of Governor White, what do you think really happened once he left the island?

Oh, this is so hard to answer. The kid in me, who fell in love with this history mystery, still wants to believe that something creepy or shocking befell the colonists. When I was visiting the Roanoke Island Festival Park museum, I looked at a binder full of theories that kid visitors had written down: alien abductions, massive hurricanes, Spanish spies and pirates all played a part. Because of the famous “CRO” carving, I believe some colonists left the island to join Manteo’s village on Croatoan. But based on some recent archaeological discoveries—and what a guide at Fort Raleigh told me when I was visiting—I think it’s also likely that a group colonists left the area to head “50 miles into the main,” toward the Chesapeake, where they would have an easier time setting up a permanent colony. Over the years, the group(s) probably slowly dissolved as many of the colonists assimilated into Native communities. I loved the way Blue Birds ended and explained what happened, and I was so satisfied by the last scene! (Also, the song that Alis overhears is one that I actually sang in a youth choir, and it has stuck around in my head for the past couple of decades, so I enjoyed that detail very much.)

This is the second book you’ve written that blends the past with the present. I’d love to hear your thoughts behind doing this.

I’ve loved history, and historical fiction, since I was a kid. I think the books I’ve written that blend contemporary with historical are sort of a natural expression of that enthusiasm. I didn’t consciously try to do this, but the way my characters stumble onto history might reflect how my own fascination with it developed as a young reader—I’d come across a factoid or visit a historical site with my family and get completely wrapped up in that story of the past. Nell and Audrey (from my first book, When Audrey Met Alice) both do that. I do kind of hope readers might want to dig deeper into some of the historical content in my books—or that they inspire kids to explore whatever history topics fascinate them.

I did just finish a third book, though, and it is all historical fiction. That was a new (and fun) writing challenge, to focus only on the past!

Thank you so much, Rebecca, for indulging me in this conversation. I hope our paths cross in person someday soon. Readers, learn more about Rebecca and her books, including her newest release, The Summer of Lost and Found, at her website, www.rebeccabehrens.com.

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