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26. 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).

The post Classroom Connections: Counting Thyme by Melanie Conklin originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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27. Why We Read

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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

The post Why We Read originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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

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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.

The post The Beauty of Imagination: Early Beginnings with a New Idea originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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29. 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.

The post An Interview with Rebecca Behrens, Author of The Summer of Lost and Found originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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30. Writing Links

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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

The post Writing Links originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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31. 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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32. Tinker, Breathe, Create, Play

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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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33. 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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The post On Writing originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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34. 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.”

 

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

The post Wisdom from Saving Lucas Biggs originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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35. 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.

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

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

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36. Happy Author

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37. My Favorite Posts of All Time

Roy truck

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.

The posts I’m sharing today have struck a deep chord in me. Whether they made me feel like I was part of something important (the Donalyn Miller interview), were an out-of-the-blue email from a reader, or were reflections on the writing process (pretty much everything else), these are the words I want to return to, that feel familiar and right and brave. I hope you enjoy them, too.

The Book Whisperer: An Interview with Donalyn Miller
Plowing, Planting, Hoping, Dreaming
Ode to a Research Notebook
Sometimes You Get an Email That Takes Your Breath Away
Step by Step, Word by Word
The Then and the Now: Reflections Over Chicago
5 Ways I’m Learning to Write Smart and Not Scared

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38. Classroom Connections: The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society by Janet Sumner Johnson

age range: 9-12 years
genre: contemporary fiction
PB&J Society Rules
PB&J Society Bonus Chapter
Janet Sumner Johnson’s website

Please tell us about your book.

Some things are better together. Like peanut butter and jelly. Or Annie and Jason. So when her best friend’s house is threatened with foreclosure, Annie Jenkins is bursting with ideas to save Jason’s home. She could sell her appendix on eBay. (Why not?) Win the lottery. (It’s worth a shot!) Face the evil bankers herself. (She’s one tough cookie, after all.) Or hunt down an elusive (and questionably real) pirate treasure. Whatever the plan, it has to work, or this is undoubtedly The Last Great Adventure of the PB & J Society.

What inspired you to write this story?

I originally started writing this book based on memories from my own childhood. However, that version of the book was all over the place and not very good, so I shelved it. When I read through it many years later, Annie and Jason were so much fun, I couldn’t let them go.

Around that same time, the housing crisis was in full swing, and foreclosures were becoming all too common. I had some friends facing this, and I wondered how it affected their children. It was an easy connection to have Annie and Jason face this conflict, and the book grew out of that.

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

My book, while not historical in and of itself, does have bits of history which required research here and there. Most of my research came after the first draft on an as-needed basis. For what I needed, simple internet-based searches worked fine, and I would usually fact check across various sites. However, I did use my Dr. Husband for some medical questions. Very useful to have an expert in the house!

One interesting thing I learned in my research is that Peanut Butter used to be called Peanut Paste. Sounds gross, right? John Harvey Kellogg (Yes, that Kellogg) patented a peanut-butter-making process in 1898. However, even though most information that I found credited Mr. Kellogg as the first patent-holder, a Canadian gentleman named Marcellus Gilmore Edson actually received a U.S. patent for his own peanut-butter making process in 1884. Maybe they ignore him because he’s Canadian? Maybe because his name isn’t as recognizable? I don’t know. But I thought that was interesting.

Another thing I learned is that peanut butter, apparently, wasn’t as tasty back then. It was invented for people with bad teeth who couldn’t chew. Who knew?

What are some special challenges associated with writing contemporary middle-grade fiction? 

I love writing contemporary fiction because it is easy to identify with the characters and their circumstances. They face stuff we deal with in a very recognizable way. But one of the challenges is that time marches on and things change very quickly.

For example, in an earlier draft of my book, I made some references to Twinkies. And then BOOM! Hostess went bankrupt and Twinkies were gone. Just like that. I had to do an emergency edit and cut those references all out.

Of course, we all know that Twinkies are now back, but I decided it was better to keep them out.

Also in an earlier draft, I referenced iPods a lot. My editor rightly suggested that those are now out-dated, and kids have moved on to iPhones. Really, what I should be learning is not to use brand names in my writing!

But even then, you can’t always know what to avoid. In another book, I had one character telling another to “Let it go.” After a certain Disney movie was released, I couldn’t read the passage the same anymore, and had to change it.

In short, it can be tricky to keep a contemporary feel to a contemporary book when it takes years to write and publish it.

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

There are quite a few discussion topics in my book, both serious and fun.

On the serious side:
-foreclosure
-moving
-making/being a friend
-parent’s job loss
-growing up

On the fun side:
-brain freeze
-pirates
-treasure maps
-ways to earn money
-soccer

 

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The post Classroom Connections: The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society by Janet Sumner Johnson originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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39. Why We Read

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When I look back, I am so impressed again with the life-giving power of literature. If I were a young person today, trying to gain a sense of myself in the world, I would do that again by reading, just as I did when I was young.
– Maya Angelou

 

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40. Middle Grade Books Are Not About You and Me (With a Nod to Colby Sharp and Linda Urban)

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I few weeks ago I shared a link to a blog post by teacher Colby Sharp. In it he talked about picking up a middle grade book and feeling like he’d seen it all before. Then he read these words by author Linda Urban:

Colby went on to say “middle grade books are not about you and me” (in other words, the adults out there).

I’ve thought so much about Colby’s and Linda’s words these past few months. They’ve helped me solidify some of my ideas about children’s literature, actually. While I will always, always, always believe a good book is a good book for everyone, regardless of age (though not all books are for every reader, which is another discussion entirely), Linda has reminded me that children’s literature is first and foremost for children.

Of course I know this, but I think sometimes I bring an outside perspective (as both reader and writer) that doesn’t always serve the work best. Rather, this is where I’d like my focus to be:

  • If this book is for a young reader, what is it they’ll discover that will be meaningful and ring true?
  • What am I willing to say as an author that might feel trite or old news to the grow ups but could be new and important to young readers?
  • Am I willing as a reader not to have my needs met first when I am reading middle grade?

I’m curious what readers here think.

 

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The post Middle Grade Books Are Not About You and Me (With a Nod to Colby Sharp and Linda Urban) originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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41. Meet Local Authors, ABQ Readers and Teachers!

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Fri-Sun — April 15th, 16th, 17th
Barnes & Noble, Coronado Mall (6600 Menaul Blvd)

From SCBWI-NM:

Nearly 20 local authors and illustrators will be giving talks, readings, and signings over this three day event. We will also have a table set up with as many local authors’ and illustrators’ books as we can get our hands on! Many autographed copies will be available.

*Bonus, the fair coincides with Barnes & Noble’s Educator Appreciation Week—meaning all educators (K-12) that have signed up for an education membership with Barnes & Noble, will get 25% off their purchases!

This is a huge event for New Mexico’s chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators — the first of its kind. I’ll be there Sunday, April 17 from noon to two and will read Over in the Wetlands and give a presentation about Roanoke’s Lost Colony. (If you’re an elementary teacher, be sure to pick up a copy of Blue Birds. It’s on the New Mexico Battle of the Books list next year).

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Please spread the word. I’d love to see you there!

 

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

The post Meet Local Authors, ABQ Readers and Teachers! originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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42. Reading and Writing Links

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How to Balance Showing Versus Telling :: Jody Hedlund

Book Club Resources :: The Deliberate Reader

21 Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Started Writing :: The Review Review

5 Rituals and Routines that Changed My Writing Life :: Huffington Post

“That was my own little MFA” — novelist Camille Pagán on frustration and success :: Laura Vanderkam

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The post Reading and Writing Links originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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43. Reflections on Morning Pages Three Months In

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Last December a friend whose life circumstances had kept her from writing for quite some time mentioned she’d started Morning Pages. She was almost 100 days in, and for the first time in years had found she was looking forward to returning to the page.

For those of you unfamiliar with the practice, Morning Pages is a discipline developed by Julia Cameron, author of the classic how-to on creative recovery, The Artist’s Way. I’ve had a copy of the book for almost ten years, but have never read past the first few chapters. Listening to my friend talk about moving toward her work with new joy and expectation, I thought about trying The Artist’s Way again. Maybe I could use regular journaling as a discipline in my own writing life.

The book is meant to be read as a self-led course, one chapter a week. Participants commit to two things: the Artist Date, a weekly experience meant to fill the creative well (what Cameron describes as “assigned play”), and the Morning Pages, a three-page handwritten daily exercise meant to reconnect the artist with creativity.

While I haven’t always been consistent with my weekly reading (and even less so with the Artist Date), I have loved my own version of Morning Pages.* Three months in, the practice has become a key part of my day.

There are no rules about the writing. Because of that I’ve been free to use the exercise for anything. Sometimes I simply type out everything I’m thinking. The Morning Pages then become a place for me to process and set aside the thoughts I might not have known were bothering me. I also write about the things I want to accomplish or need to remember, an impromptu daily list of sorts. Other times I use the writing to prime the pump for my work later in the day. I’ve used it to brainstorm the last few lines in a picture book and as a place to figure out a revision plan of attack. This blog post, which has become the most popular ever in six plus years of blogging, started in one of those ten-minute sessions. Some mornings I write as I might in a traditional journal. And when I’m truly stuck, I keep my virtual pencil moving by typing one of Julia’s affirmations: I am competent and confident in my creative work (yes, this is a little corny, but it’s a good thing to “hear” myself say!).

Here I am, close to my own 100 days, so grateful for this new experience.

Do any of you write Morning Pages? I’d love if you’d share your thoughts in the comments below.

 

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* Ten minutes of typing on weekdays.

The post Reflections on Morning Pages Three Months In originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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44. KidLit Auction: Bid on a Verse Novel Critique

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KidLit Auction for John and Betsy MacLeod

Recently one of our own in the KidLit community, Betsy MacLeod, and her husband John, were dealt a cruel blow when John was diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). Beyond the heartbreaking reality of his diagnosis, John and Betsy are faced with enormous and mounting medical expenses, many of which are not covered by insurance. To help them financially and in spirit, we are offering wonderful items through this online Kidlit Auction, which will run from March 17th to March 30th, 2016.

Signed books, artwork, manuscript critiques, vacation homes from Vermont and Cape Cod to Scotland, and more will help raise money to improve the quality of what remains of John’s life.

Join me in supporting John and Betsy MacLeod. I’ve donated a full verse novel critique (which will include manuscript notes and an editorial letter) as well as a signed copy of Blue Birds. If you are an aspiring verse novelist or know someone who is, please spread the word. And please share with others you know who might be interested in supporting the MacLeod family.

 

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

The post KidLit Auction: Bid on a Verse Novel Critique originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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45. Subject to Sorrows and Death

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For whatever reason God chose to make man as he is— limited and suffering and subject to sorrows and death—He had the honesty and the courage to take His own medicine. Whatever game He is playing with His creation, He has kept His own rules and played fair. He can exact nothing from man that He has not exacted from Himself.

He has Himself gone through the whole of human experience, from the trivial irritations of family life and the cramping restrictions of hard work and lack of money to the worst horrors of pain and humiliation, defeat, despair and death. When He was a man, He played the man. He was born in poverty and died in disgrace and thought it well worthwhile.
— Dorothy Sayers

The post Subject to Sorrows and Death originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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46. Wisdom from THE WOLF WILDER

… the beauty of the world is itself a kind of company…

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The post Wisdom from THE WOLF WILDER originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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47. Survey Says

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When you blog, it’s hard to have a sense of who is out there listening. It’s also tricky when it comes to knowing what readers connect with and what they don’t. Conducting occasional surveys helps me to get a feel for regular readers (and helps me define what regular even means).

Results were really interesting. Of those who took the survey, 100% were female. You can see the age break down above. I was surprised and encouraged by the huge age range. Sometimes I wonder if the experiences of a middle-aged children’s author are meaningful to others. I worry I might not be talking broadly enough when I share my own writing “story”. Not only does the variety of readers tell me yes, you are engaged in what’s happening here, a number of you told me you come back to the blog for the following reasons:

I love the way you write about your creative process – it’s informed, purposeful, and yet so human.

Your honest voice, your encouragement, your stories…

I love the thoughtful articles on writing, the quotes, and links to good reading. And mostly, you.

I like the writing resources and your experiences with publishing/marketing your own books.

 

And my favorite:

You feel like an old friend.

 

83.3% of regular readers consider themselves an author or aspiring author. 66.7% are readers. As a result, you’re most interested in posts about writing, publication, and reading. Posts on historical fiction and inspirational quotes ranked close behind.

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Most regular readers followed me over from Blogger, but many started reading in the last year or two.image (5)

Most first found my blog through Facebook…
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… and visit a few times a month (You see from the chart above a “regular reader” can mean a lot of different things).
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Almost all regular readers find out about new posts through Facebook, a reader, or through an email subscription (which is available as a sign up in the side bar).

More next time on some specific questions and comments readers shared.

For those of you who are regulars, a huge, huge thank you for letting me into your world and your inbox. There are a number of reasons why I continue to blog, and one of them is the satisfaction that comes from having an immediate audience (There’s no two-year lag time, like is often the case with a book). Thank you for listening and caring and responding. Thank you for loving my books and spreading the word. It means the world to me.

 

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

 

The post Survey Says originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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48. Answering Your Questions

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Today I’m going to answer specific questions and respond to some comments left in the reader survey I mentioned last time.

If you ever host a writing workshop online or in person I’d love a chance to sign up.

If you’re in Albuquerque, you’re in luck! I’ll be offering a three-hour workshop about writing picture books on August 20. It will run from 1:00pm to 4:00pm at Erna Fergusson Library (3700 San Mateo Blvd NE). The event is free if you are a member of SCBWI.

If you’re ever curious about things like this, you can click through to my events page and learn more.

I’m embarrassed because I don’t know if I subscribe to your newsletter.

If you’d like to subscribe but don’t know how or aren’t sure if you’ve already signed up, simply click here and enter your name and email address in the spaces provided. I send out the newsletter roughly four times a year. Sometimes newsletter readers get special privileges blog readers don’t.

A heads up: I’m going to build a launch team for my Klondike novel using newsletter readers only. That means a select number of subscribers interested in participating will get a free, early copy of the book! All I ask in return is you leave an honest review at Amazon and one other online review site. Subscribers, look for a newsletter with more information in a few months.

And finally, here are some blogs that come recommended by regular readers (some reading and writing related, some not). Thank you for sharing some sites that are new to me, too!

 

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49. On Writing

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There is a “rule” that gets passed around a lot as advice for beginning writers. “You must write every day,” They say. Whoever They is. I never liked this rule. Instead, I say, “Write like it matters to you.” So that might mean you write every day or every other day or every weekend or maybe you write every day until you finish a project and then you take some time off. I don’t think you need to write EVERY SINGLE DAY of your WHOLE ENTIRE LIFE to be successful. That is a long held myth, and I think writers do themselves a disservice repeating it and passing it along as advice. It’s okay to let the field lay fallow for a while. It’s okay to sit and think. It’s okay to do nothing.
— Valerie Geary

Valerie is documenting the writing process from sale to publication on her Facebook page. I encourage you to follow along.

 

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The post On Writing originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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50. Listen in on the What Should I Read Next podcast

I recently talked with Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs. Darcy on her new podcast, What Should I Read Next. We discussed verse novels, why I’m uncomfortable talking publicly about books I don’t enjoy, and being a generous reader.

After recording, I realized I misspoke about something and want to set the record straight. I said Mimi from Full Cicada Moon could have been friends with my May Betterly, if the two had been real girls. But I realized it was my Alis and Kimi that I thought would befriend Mimi. You can find literary friends for May here.

Anne and I had an invigorating conversation, one that left me with two new library books on my nightstand. I hope you’ll listen in!

 

Click through to sign up for my quarterly newsletter and you’ll receive a free printable from my novel, Blue Birds. Enjoy!

The post Listen in on the What Should I Read Next podcast originally appeared on Caroline Starr Rose

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