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26. Writing Links


A Bowerbird’s Guide to the Writing Life by Ammi-Joan Paquette :: Nerdy Book Club

The Protagonist Must Protag by Sarah Prineas :: Kate Messner’s Teachers Write

Almost :: Jennifer R. Hubbard

Managing Creativity When It’s Your Job :: BookEnds Literary Agency

How To Drive Yourself Crazy as a Writer: Read Reviews :: Fiction University

Four Steps for Organizing Plot Ideas Into a Novel :: Jody Hedlund

The post Writing Links appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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27. Writing Smart and Not Scared: More Words from Isabel Allende


After I heard Isabel Allende talk at the KiMo Theater, Valerie Geary emailed me her favorite Allende quote about the writing life: “Fear is inevitable, I have to accept that, but I cannot allow it to paralyze me.”

I find it interesting that Allende has only recently learned to “go easily with confidence” when it comes to her writing. “If I sit long enough, it will happen,” she says. She’s twenty-one novels in, but only recently has she realized she has a skill. Now she knows “If given enough time, I can write almost anything.”


Knowing even Isabel Allende lives with the discomfort of creativity gives me courage to keep pressing forward with my own work. Fear can come along for the ride, but must stay in the back seat.

It can’t drive. It’s not allowed to paralyze.

The post Writing Smart and Not Scared: More Words from Isabel Allende appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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28. Silence and Solitude

My job has a wonderful privacy. I work in silence and solitude, which is such a joy.
— Isabel Allende

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29. The New Mexico – Arizona Book Award

blue birds nm az
Last Friday, Blue Birds got this fancy sticker.
may bb

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30. Thanksgiving Day Prayer

O God, we thank you for this earth, our home;
For the wide sky and the blessed sun,
For the salt sea and the running water,
For the everlasting hills
And the never-resting winds,
For trees and the common grass underfoot.
We thank you for our senses
By which we hear the songs of birds,
And see the splendor of the summer fields,
And taste of the autumn fruits,
And rejoice in the feel of the snow,
And smell the breath of the spring.
Grant us a heart wide open to all this beauty;
And save our souls from being so blind
That we pass unseeing
When even the common thornbush
Is aflame with your glory,
O God our creator,
Who lives and reigns for ever and ever.
— Walter Rauschenbusch

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31. Why We Read


Thank goodness for books and the words and worlds inside of them.
— Kate DiCamillo

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32. The Adversity of Creation


Rejection educates. Failure teaches. Both hurt. Only distraction comforts. And of these, only distraction can lead to destruction. Rejection and failure can nourish us, but wasted time is a tiny death. What determines whether we will succeed as creators is not how intelligent we are, how talented we are, or how hard we work, but how we respond to the adversity of creation.

How to Fly a Horse: The Secret History of Creation, Invention, and Discovery

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33. Classroom Connections: THE LAURA LINE by Crystal Allen

age range: 8-12
genre: contemporary fiction with historical flashbacks
Crystal Allen’s website

Please tell us about your book. 

THE LAURA LINE is about Laura Dyson, a thirteen year old, overweight girl who has dreams of being a model…or a major league baseball pitcher.  Because of her weight issues, students make fun of her to the point that Laura begins to believe that she is all of the ugly things her classmates say she is.  It’s not until Laura ventures into an old shack on her grandmother’s farm and finds a ledger filled with documents from the female ancestors in her history, (all of them named Laura)  that she begins to stand up for herself.  Now, Laura Dyson not only knows who she is, but has evidence of all the wonderful things she can become.

What inspired you to write this story?

My mother raised my oldest brother and sister in an extremely small, one-room, family-built house on my grandmother’s farm.  I missed my opportunities to tour this family landmark, but I knew it held valuable history, along with proof of the strength and determination of my mother.  I wanted to honor her, and the house, in some way.

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

Talking with family members and memories of growing up on my grandmother’s farm in Indiana were the biggest tools I used when writing THE LAURA LINE.  However, while visiting Boston one summer, a replica of the Amistad was docked in the Naval shipyard, and people were encouraged to tour for free!  Since the Amistad was going to make a “cameo” appearance in THE LAURA LINE, I thought this was an excellent opportunity for some research, and the price was perfect!  With camera in hand and money for snacks, I took off to the shipyard, expecting a fun day in the sun.

But that’s not what happened.

Touring that schooner caused such an emotional stir in me, I was completely caught off guard by its affect from the moment I stepped onboard.  I had no personal ties to anyone aboard the Amistad, yet I wept right there at the shipyard as if I did.  To see pencil-drawn portraits of the captives, some as young as seven-years-old, took all of the fun out of my day. I knew the story of the Amistad, but standing downstairs, in the belly of that schooner, put the whole story in my face.  This was no longer a research project.  It was now personal.

Even though the THE LAURA LINE is based on fictional characters, I felt as if I met the first Laura that day. She was real, and she needed me to feel her pain, her fear, her frustration, her hunger, her tears, her anger. I rushed back to the place I was staying and began to empty out everything I had felt that day, whether it was in complete sentences or not.  I will never forget that experience.

What are some special challenges associated with writing historical fiction?

Making sure each Laura was given a talent that existed in her era, and the materials, left by each Laura, were believable.

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

THE LAURA LINE teaches its readers:

Love yourself.  Love your “Line.”  Live your dreams.

The post Classroom Connections: THE LAURA LINE by Crystal Allen appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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34. Postcard Marketing in the Age of the Internet


Part of my month-long writing-free vacation was spent with these lovelies.* Like I did with May B., I collected addresses in dribs and drabs over the last year, waiting until I had a stretch of time to devote to stamping, labeling, and writing.

On 699 postcards. For real.


While it isn’t the 1,662 I sent out for May B., it was still a pretty big commitment, one that I found surprisingly satisfying.


You’ve probably heard the rate of return on direct mailings falls somewhere between 1/2 and 2 percent. Pretty dismal and probably not worth the effort, right? For me, the process has become a ritual where I can exert the tiniest bit of control over the unwieldy and unpredictable experience of releasing a book into the world.


Because the books I write are largely sold to the school and library market, that’s where I focus. I had graphic designer Sierra Fong create two postcards for my mailings this time around, one meant to introduce Over in the Wetlands to the schools and libraries of the Gulf Coast, and another to share both Wetlands and Blue Birds with New Mexico schools and libraries.


Here’s what’s happened since the postcards went out: I have had a handful of teachers email me after receiving the card. My sales for both of these books have increased slightly in the last few weeks.** I’ve gotten more website hits from the areas I’ve targeted. And I’ve been invited to speak at Mosquero Elementary School, a K-6 school of 22 students in Mosquero, NM (population 93). Seeing young readers in corners of my state I’ve never visited is pretty much the best thing out there.

While I’ll never know the actual results of the mailing, every postcard was a chance to directly tell a teacher or librarian about something I believe in, and in this age of quick and impersonal blasts of information, it felt significant, important even. However small the return, my efforts to match books with readers has left a mark, perhaps in ways I’ll never know.

Which is exactly how this publication thing works, anyway.


*Points to the person who catches the typo. My son spotted it immediately!

**Penguin Random House has a website called Author Portal where sales can be tracked, using numbers from Nieslen BookScan. Many, many bookstores don’t report sales, and few, if any, schools or libraries do. Until statements come in months from now, it’s really impossible to know true numbers, but the BookScan stats are a start.

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35. Fast Five (Plus Two): New Middle-Grade Set During WW II


Kids are endlessly fascinated with books about World War II. Here are some recent releases to keep them reading. All descriptions come from Amazon.

Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust by Loïc Dauvillier, Illustrated by Marc Lizano

In this gentle, poetic young graphic novel, Dounia, a grandmother, tells her granddaughter the story even her son has never heard: how, as a young Jewish girl in Paris, she was hidden away from the Nazis by a series of neighbors and friends who risked their lives to keep her alive when her parents had been taken to concentration camps.

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan

Lost and alone in a forbidden forest, Otto meets three mysterious sisters and suddenly finds himself entwined in a puzzling quest involving a prophecy, a promise, and a harmonica.

Decades later, Friedrich in Germany, Mike in Pennsylvania, and Ivy in California each, in turn, become interwoven when the very same harmonica lands in their lives. All the children face daunting challenges: rescuing a father, protecting a brother, holding a family together. And ultimately, pulled by the invisible thread of destiny, their suspenseful solo stories converge in an orchestral crescendo.

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Nine-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him.

So begins a new adventure of Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan—and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother?

The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club by Phillip Hoose

At the outset of World War II, Denmark did not resist German occupation. Deeply ashamed of his nation’s leaders, fifteen-year-old Knud Pedersen resolved with his brother and a handful of schoolmates to take action against the Nazis if the adults would not. Naming their secret club after the fiery British leader, the young patriots in the Churchill Club committed countless acts of sabotage, infuriating the Germans, who eventually had the boys tracked down and arrested. But their efforts were not in vain: the boys’ exploits and eventual imprisonment helped spark a full-blown Danish resistance. Interweaving his own narrative with the recollections of Knud himself, here is Phillip Hoose’s inspiring story of these young war heroes.

Somewhere There Is Still a Sun: A Memoir of the Holocaust by Michael Gruenbaum

Michael “Misha” Gruenbaum enjoyed a carefree childhood playing games and taking walks through Prague with his beloved father. All of that changed forever when the Nazis invaded Prague. The Gruenbaum family was forced to move into the Jewish Ghetto in Prague. Then, after a devastating loss, Michael, his mother and sister were deported to the Terezin concentration camp.

At Terezin, Misha roomed with forty other boys who became like brothers to him. Life in Terezin was a bizarre, surreal balance—some days were filled with friendship and soccer matches, while others brought mortal terror as the boys waited to hear the names on each new list of who was being sent “to the East.”

Those trains were going to Auschwitz. When the day came that his family’s name appeared on a transport list, their survival called for a miracle—one that tied Michael’s fate to a carefully sewn teddy bear, and to his mother’s unshakeable determination to keep her children safe.

Lizzie and the Lost Baby by Cheryl Blackford (coming January 2016)

Cheryl Blackford’s debut novel is set in England during World War II and told from the dual perspectives of ten-year-old Lizzie, a homesick girl evacuated from bomb-blitzed Hull to the remote Yorkshire valley, and Elijah, a local gypsy boy. When Lizzie discovers an abandoned baby, her dangerous friendship with Elijah is put to the test. Will Lizzie be able to find the baby’s parents? And if she does, can she and Elijah remain friends in a world clouded by prejudice and fear?

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox (coming March 2016)

“Keep calm and carry on.”

That’s what Katherine Bateson’s father told her, and that’s what she’s trying to do: when her father goes off to the war, when her mother sends Kat and her brother and sister away from London to escape the incessant bombing, even when the children arrive at Rookskill Castle, an ancient, crumbling manor on the misty Scottish highlands.

But it’s hard to keep calm in the strange castle that seems haunted by ghosts or worse. What’s making those terrifying screeches and groans at night? Why do the castle’s walls seem to have a mind of their own? And why do people seem to mysteriously appear and disappear?

Kat believes she knows the answer: Lady Eleanor, who rules Rookskill Castle, is harboring a Nazi spy. But when her classmates begin to vanish, one by one, Kat must uncover the truth about what the castle actually harbors—and who Lady Eleanor really is—before it’s too late.



The post Fast Five (Plus Two): New Middle-Grade Set During WW II appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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36. On Writing


Name the book that made the biggest impression on you. I bet you read it before you hit puberty. In the time I’ve got left, I intend to write artistic books – for kids – because they’re still open to new ideas.
–Gary Paulsen

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37. Write. Make. Create.


My mind is alight with a new idea that isn’t even a true thing yet, more a sensation looking to find its form wrapped up in a handful of questions.

This book is going to be a joy to write. This book is going to be fun. Not that my others haven’t had both, but regular readers here know I find the creative process daunting, especially when it comes to a book’s beginnings.

One way I’m choosing to free up the overwhelming creating-something-from-nothing phase is to do a little mental word play. Much like I trick myself into steady work by focusing on the story’s present moment (rather than reminding myself I’m writing a whole darn book), I’m going to claim two words from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic:

I’m not going to write right now. I’m going to make. I’m going to create.


The post Write. Make. Create. appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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38. Writing and Reading Links


Five Writing Tips: Ann Packer :: Publisher’s Weekly

What the Novel Needs :: Avi

Ten Ways Writer-Moms Can Gain More Writing Time :: Jody Hedlund

On Poetry and Shyness and the Way I Wish I Were by Kat Yeh :: Nerdy Book Club

Use these 10 writing productivity hacks: Finish your novel this year :: Now Novel

The Art of Persistence by Martha Brockenbrough :: That Wee Bit Heap

The post Writing and Reading Links appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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39. BEEN THERE, DONE THAT Release Day!

There’s this book I wrote a while back, something I started in 2001 and officially set aside three years ago. It’s called CAN’T BREAK US and is loosely based on my mother’s girlhood club. The manuscript is something I love to pieces, but after years and years of work just wasn’t coming together. It was my second attempt at a novel, the one that served its purpose in teaching me to write (of course, I still have a lot to learn). I figured we’d reached our end together (the manuscript and I. Book are friends, you know).

Little Nippers

In the summer of 2013, author/editor/teacher Mike Winchell asked if I might be interested in contributing two pieces of writing — one non-fiction, one fiction — for an anthology proposal. The idea was to show students how authors can take ideas from real life and turn them into a story. My mind went immediately to CAN’T BREAK US, which initially grew from the stories my mother told me in my childhood. Using my author’s note as a starting place, I created my non-fiction piece. Then I pulled out a pivotal chapter, re-wrote it as verse, and sent it in.

The anthology sold to Penguin in a two-book deal:

“BEEN THERE, DONE THAT [is] a thematic anthology series with a kid-friendly Common Core tie in, in which a who’s who of award-winning and bestselling MG/YA authors will share a nonfiction narrative, and then write a related short story in order to show the “from-life-to-page” process of taking real-life experiences and transforming them into works of fiction.”

Been There, Done That cover (1)

I’m honored a portion of this manuscript will live again in an entirely different form. I’m thrilled to be included alongside so many talented people. And I love that my mother’s club, The Little Nippers, will finally, finally be introduced to the world at large.

Because what young person hasn’t dreamed of a little pocket of the world where the kids are in charge?

Here’s a video about the background of my story “Lemon Squeeze.” You can click through to the Been There, Done That website and find similar items from the other authors in the “teaching materials” section.

Today across Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, the Been There, Done That authors will use the hashtag #BeenThere to share one-line glimpses into the real-life event that inspired their work. We’d love if others might respond with their own #BeenThere moments!

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40. This Day: Wisdom from Simply Tuesday


“…part of living well in ordinary time is letting this day be good. Letting this day be a gift. Letting this day be filled with plenty. And if it all goes wrong and my work turns to dust? This is my kind reminder that outcomes are beyond the scope of my job description.”

The post This Day: Wisdom from Simply Tuesday appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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41. Considering National Novel Writing Month?


Research books from my 2013 “Fake-o NaNo” novel.

Here are a few posts to get you thinking:

Your NaNoWriMo Tuneup :: Nathan Bransford

Janice Hardy presents: The Big Push to 50 (Thousand Words, That Is) :: Romance University

On Timed Writes, Word Counts, and NaNoWriMo :: Project Mayhem

Evaluating NaNoWriMo: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly :: Jody Hedlund

NaNoWriMo Resources :: Write Smarter (Not Harder)

The Serious Novelist’s Guide to NaNoWriMo :: Huffington Post

How to Win NaNo Using Totally Doable Daily and Weekly Writing Goals :: K. M. Weiland

What Darcy Says About Starting Novels :: Caroline Starr Rose

Five Things I Learned from NaNoWriMo :: Caroline Starr Rose

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42. New Use for Old Manuscripts, Take 2


Fire starter!

This felt extra fitting as May herself does something similar with a part of her school book.

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43. Off-the-Cuff Conversations with Kids


One of the best parts about speaking to young readers is the totally goofy, fun, original things they say. This is one of the many things I miss about teaching. Good thing every author visit offers a couple gems.

Last week while I was in Chicago, a boy told me he’s building a sod house in his backyard (!). I’m not so sure his parents are aware of this fact. I got him to agree to send me a picture.

A brother and sister team decided they wanted me to write my favorite line from May B. in their copy of the book. My line is pretty weird and kinda foolish on May’s part, but oh so very brave. They still wanted it when I told them, right above my signature. Those two went home with a book that says “Wolf, show your face.”

(This isn’t the oddest thing a child has asked me to write. Last year a boy here in Albuquerque wanted me to sign the front of his notebook not as Caroline but as…King Kong. You better believe I did it.)

Another Illinois kid asked if I could sign my name and also leave her a message in secret code. She didn’t seem concerned that I don’t know any sort of codes, let alone secret ones. In the end, I used my typical May B. tagline with an special twist — Courage and hope and “secret code”.

On a more serious note, a lovely young lady told me she could relate to May because she’s been an outsider, too. She’s new to the US, having grown up in Korea, and says like May, she’s struggled with reading because she’s working with a new language. And guess what? Her mom is using May as a way to learn English herself.

What an absolute privilege (and a hoot!) it is to work with kids.

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44. An Update on Writing Smart and Not Scared


You might remember earlier this year I committed to  learning how to write smart and not scared.  At the time I was working on a picture book manuscript as I awaited first-round edits on my next novel.

That picture book is now on submission. The first-round edits are back with my editor. I’d love to say everything has been as easy as pie, but that’s not the way the writing life works — or any part of life, really. Here are the things I continue to learn as I think about writing in light of this mindset:


Discomfort will always be part of my process. I find the writing life wonderful and challenging and joyous and hard, but I often let the more difficult parts that come with writing play a starring role. I’m trying to remember those hard parts don’t get the final word. As Elizabeth Gilbert says, fear can ride in the car, but it has to stay in the back seat.


My deepest satisfaction comes from the work itself. I know this. But somehow along the way, sales and reviews and all the ridiculous externals out of my control can hijack what’s really important. A huge thank you to Marion Dane Bauer for her recent blog post I’ve read a couple dozen times about satisfaction and gratitude and letting go of the rest.


“No” is often a gift. All of September and October, I’ve been running on Wednesday evenings with my seventh grader’s soccer team. One particular Wednesday held the perfect combination of the out-of-my-hands highs and lows that make up the writing life. A novel was nominated for an award. A manuscript, after ten months with a particular editor and extensive re-writes, was rejected.

I left for the run pretty heartbroken and in need of distraction. As I settled into the soothing familiarity of a steady run, the clouds opened in a desert storm above us, and I was able to move beyond the disappointment, I was able to celebrate the beauty of my surroundings, the gift of movement, the privilege to share in this piece of my son’s life. And when our hour in the Sandia foothills drew to a close, I was ready to reflect on that rejection more objectively. The editor who said no to my work really gave me a gift. Her request for a re-write helped me find a stronger book in the process.


Choosing a challenge is ultimately satisfying. Writing the book I don’t know how to master can keep me up at nights, but that’s the direction my heart is often drawn. These words will keep me moving and believing.


Breaks feed my creativity. In the last four months I’ve re-written a novel for the second time, finishing with a mad twenty-five hour weekend dash to the end. Something that kept me focused during that last month of hard work was the promise I’d take a whole month off of writing afterward. Fear would not be allowed to drive me to spin my wheels in meaningless productivity. Outside of blogging, my focus would be reading.

I’m in week three of my writing vacation, and let me tell you, it’s everything I needed and more.

When I first mentioned this concept of writing smart and not scared, a number of you contacted me to say you were all in. I’d love to hear how you’re doing in the comments below.

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45. Two Articles to Sustain Your Writing Life

corrales totem

For years I’ve been linking to posts I hope encourage and inspire you. But I came across two posts in one week that zinged me like nothing else. They were everything I needed to hear at this phase of my writing life. I hope they are also an encouragement to you.

The Deepest Gift :: Marion Dane Bauer

Early in my career I came to understand something important: the number of books published, the number of awards garnered matters very little. What matters is the day-by-day process of sitting down to write, of honing my skill, of mining my truth.

Dear Polly, Should I Just Give Up on My Writing? :: NYMag.com (a heads up: this post contains “language”)

And when your hungry ego grabs the wheel and drives you off a cliff, forgive yourself. But then pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and repeat these words: I AM AN OLD NOBODY AND I LOVE WHAT I DO.



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46. What I’m Reading Now


I’m in the middle of my writing vacation and have plenty of books to keep me busy. Here’s the pile I’m currently reading.


Pioneer Girl — Laura Ingalls Wilder

I’ve been reading Laura’s autobiography in fits and starts over the last few months, mostly because it’s annotated and there’s a lot to take in. It’s been such a satisfying look into the beginnings of the Little House series as well as a refresher on many of the topics covered in the free online classes editor Pamela Smith Hill offered during the 2014-2015 school year.

Daughters of the Samurai: A Journey from East to West and Back — Janice P. Nimura

This was an impulse buy made before I did an Over in the Wetlands event at Bookworks. I’m a sucker for cross cultural stories and ever since reading Silence and Shogun have wanted to read more about Japan and the samurai.

Simply Tuesday: Small-Moment Living in a Fast-Moving World — Emily P. Freeman

I’ve followed Emily’s blog for years and loved A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live. This book fit perfectly into my efforts to write smart and not scared.

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear — Elizabeth Gilbert

I first heard about this one last year, back when I listened to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Ted Talk on failure and creativity and paused every few seconds to take notes along the way. Another great book for this phase of my writing life.


Station Eleven — Emily St. John Mandel

Leigh Kramer recommended this book in one of her monthly What I’m Into posts. It’s about a post-Apocalyptic earth after a flu has killed 99% of the population. I loved the importance the arts played in the story as well as the complex storytelling (multiple points of view with a non-sequential structure).

Vengeance Road — Erin Bowman

Erin and I were both a part of the Apocalypsies, a group of middle-grade and young adult authors whose first books debuted in 2012. Her newest book is a gritty western which centers around a hidden gold mine. I’ve got my own hidden gold mine story in the works (minus the grit but with just as much dialect). I’m so impressed with the characterization, the setting, the language, the action. It’s plain brilliant.

The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing — Mira Jacob

Halfway through The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing, my mom called to tell me I had to pick up this joyful, heartbreaking, funny cross-cultural novel set in Albuquerque. When my parents moved back to town, I discovered Mira was speaking at Albuquerque’s KiMo Theater and promptly bought tickets for Mom and me.

I’ve been reading Sleepwalker’s Guide the last two days and can say Mira is a master at dialogue, relationships, and the complexities of a family with two cultures. Plus, it’s satisfying to get little glimpses of my city here and there.

All the Difference — Leah Ferguson

Julie at the Booking Mama blog described this book as similar to the movie Sliding Doors. That’s all it took for me to check it out of the library and blow through it over the weekend. It starts with a proposal at a New Year’s Eve party and is told over the course of a year in alternating chapters. In half, the newly pregnant protagonist has said yes, in the other half, she’s said no.

Here are a few ARCs my dear editor, Stacey Barney, recently sent me. I’m rather biased, but I love her taste in books!

Counting Thyme — Melanie Conklin

I’ve heard nothing but lovely things about Melanie’s debut, the story of a girl whose family relocates to Manhattan as her brother undergoes a cancer drug trial. Counting Thyme will be featured here next year as a Classroom Connections title.

Free Verse — Sarah Dooley

I was so impressed with Sarah’s first novel, Livvie Owen Lived Here, I blogged about it a few years back. This description of Free Verse is perfect: In this sensitive and poignant portrayal, Sarah Dooley shows us that life, like poetry, doesn’t always take the form you intend.

You Can’t See the Elephants — Susan Kreller

This book, which has been translated from German and is already an international award winner, releases in the US this month. It deals with a difficult subject, child abuse, and I’m curious how the author tackles such a heavy topic for a young audience.

What are you reading right now?

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47. Thinking a Book and the Job of the Reader

cottonwood sunset

It doesn’t take a long time to write a book, but it does take a long time to think a book, and even a longer time to think a series. Reading a book is an act. You simply sit down and read the book.

Writing a book is not an act; it’s a process with thousands of decisions the writer has to make…and on and on and on…until the book is finally published, then it is up to the reader to carry the story on by sharing it with their friends and family, holding the story’s hand, walking it into the future, while the author works on the next book.

— Roland Smith

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48. So Wow. The Simple Show Podcast


I’ve been a fan of Tsh Oxenreider since 2009 (which is pretty much forever on the Internet). Back then, I was just about ready to jump into this thing called blogging, but I wasn’t sure how to begin. My dear friend Jamie Martin sent me a “how to” link that led me to Tsh’s blog, The Art of Simple. I’ve been faithfully reading ever since.

About four years ago, Tsh started a podcast called The Simple Show, which has kept me company through numerous runs and cleaning days and afternoons walking the dog. And perhaps last summer, as I listened while taking the dog on one more lap around the block, I cooked up some things I’d say to Tsh if I were ever on her show. Which was utterly ridiculous. Tsh and I had interacted some in her blog’s comment section and a few times on Twitter, but that was pretty much it.

So imagine my surprise when September brought an email with a podcast request. “No worries,” Tsh said, “if you’re not interested.”

I was most definitely very over-the-top interested. I hope you’ll listen in!

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49. Classroom Connections: OPERATION PUCKER UP by Rachele Alpine

age range: 9-13
genre: contemporary fiction
Operation Pucker Up Discussion Guide
Rachele Alpine’s website

Please tell us about your book.

Operation Pucker Up is about a girl named Grace Shaw who is thrilled when she’s cast as Snow White in her middle school play. That is, until she realizes she’ll have to kiss Prince Charming. And not only is Prince Charming—a.k.a James Lowe—the most popular boy in school, but Grace has never, ever been kissed.  To help, Grace’s two best friends create Operation Pucker Up—a plan for Grace to score a kiss before opening night so she doesn’t make a total fool of herself in front of a live audience. If that weren’t enough to think about, Grace’s father, who left six months ago, suddenly walks back into her life. Grace, her mom and sister have bonded as the “Terrific Three” – and while two of the “Three” welcome Dad back with open arms, Grace isn’t sure she can forgive and forget. As Operation Pucker Up begins to spin out of control, and opening night is approaching, the question is whether Grace will manage to get her happily ever after—both on-stage and off.

What inspired you to write this story?

I did theater and dance classes at a place called The Beck Center for the Arts when I was young all the way into high school.  I called it my home away from home, because sometimes I was there more than I was at my real house!  I was in a lot of shows while I was there, including Cinderella, where I had to dance with a boy.  I remember being so nervous about it because I had never held hands with a boy before. I couldn’t imagine ever having to kiss someone on stage!  I began to brainstorm about that idea and what would happen if that kiss was your first kiss.  Operation Pucker Up was born from that!

Could you share with readers some behind-the-scenes glimpses into your book?

When I was writing this book, I wanted it to be a sort of homage to The Beck Center for the Arts.  Almost ever character is named after someone I acted with (either their first or last name). There are many local places mentioned in the story and one of the main character is even named Beck!  I wanted readers from Cleveland who knew the theater to pick up the book and feel connected to the story through the setting.  The coolest part was that they hosted my launch party in their studio theater!  We filled all 98 seats and had almost fifty more people standing and sitting in the aisles.  Some of my old friends came and acted out a scene from the book and a few of my old directors/teachers were there.  It was so amazing to celebrate my book in the location that inspired it.

What are some special challenges associated with writing middle grade?

I wanted to write a book that was both light hearted and serious, because I think that’s what life for a middle-schooler is like. They are trying to find where they fit within the world, their friends, and family, some of which is in their control and some of which they have no say in. I wanted to find a good balance between the two and make it sound authentic. Grace is trying to handle having her first kiss on stage and the return of her father after her parents’ separation.  Both of these events would be a big deal to a middle-schooler, so I wanted to make sure I treated both as such.

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

The book includes a lot of topics for discussion such as being yourself vs. trying to be someone you aren’t, forgiveness, bullying, feeling like you don’t belong, the power of friendship, telling the truth instead of keeping your feelings inside, and what family means.  

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50. The Then and The Now: Reflections Over Chicago


Monday night I sat on a plane, alone with my thoughts, as Chicago ran beneath me. Here I was flying across the country to speak about one of my books.


The gal full of yearning who seventeen years before had started a novel on a summer afternoon, who had no idea it would take twelve years and hundreds of rejections and ten manuscripts to finally break in, the gal who, if she knew, wouldn’t have had the courage to keep trying.

What would my twenty-four year-old self think of this moment?

This certainly wasn’t my first school visit or the only one that’s required a plane, but somehow that didn’t matter. From the quiet of my window seat, the sheer distance of my journey felt overwhelmingly grand.

A memory from L.M. Montgomery‘s journals came to me. In 1927, after publishing over a hundred short stories and thirteen novels, she received a letter from Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, who thanked her for “the pleasure her books had given [him].” And Maud responded in a way that makes me tear up every time I read it:

I took the letter with me to Lover’s Lane and read it — read it not to myself but to the little girl who walked here years ago and dreamed — and wrote her dreams into books that have pleased a statesmen of the Empire. And the little girl was pleased.

Flying over Chicago on Monday night, I held a silent celebration with my former self. And that young woman who dreamed so many years ago was pleased.

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