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It’s the end of August, and school is starting (or has already started!) everywhere in the country. Starting school can be busy and chaotic, and not a little bit stressful. What’s the best way to combat that? A light, fun, cheerful book!
10-year-old Gladys Gatsby loves to cook — but her parents don’t care ANYTHING about good food. They prefer badly-microwaved things that are simultaneously overcooked, mushy, raw and rock-hard-crunchy. Gladys has to sneak around and cook delectable dishes (like creme brulee!) behind her parents’ backs, but nothing stays a secret forever. When disaster strikes and her parents forbid her to do any cooking (or reading about cooking or watching T.V. shows about cooking) whatsoever, her life seems ruined (and a lot less tasty).
Little does Gladys know it, but things are about to look up for her. A fabulous new teacher, Ms. Quincy, assigns her class at school to write an essay on their hopes for the future, to be submitted to the New York Standard’s state-wide essay contest. Due to a series of misunderstandings and erroneous assumptions, Gladys’ essay is misplaced and is assumed to be an application for a job — the job of restaurant critic for the New York Standard!
How will Gladys — who lives in a suburb an hour away from New York, has no transportation, and, let’s not forget, is forbidden by her parents to have anything to do with cooking — manage to get her reviews written? Who can she rely on to help her? Gladys discovers that she has more friends — young and old — than she thought she did, and makes other friends where she would never have expected to.
All Four Stars is a rollicking good read, with fun characters, a delightful setting, and just enough zaniness to be appealing while remaining realistic. It’s just the sort of book to leave a smile on your face after a long, hard day. If only every copy came with a serving or two of the delicious desserts that Gladys makes — THAT would be perfect!
This summer, I was asked by a parent whose child had attended our reading tutoring program in the spring, to work one-on-one with her daughter, a rising middle schooler with CHARGE syndrome. CHARGE syndrome involves a number of developmental and medical differences (see www.chargesyndrome.org to learn more), and for this particular child it means profound deafness in addition to other factors. Her signs could at times be challenging to understand, and it was not always clear when you asked her a question whether she understood the answer or whether she was repeating what you last said to her. So what was my approach in teaching reading with this student? Pull out all my favorite picture books, naturally.
When my undergraduate student who had been tutoring her in the previous semester pulled out The Red Book by Barbara Lehmann, she was at first confused and later delighted to find this rich story told entirely through pictures. Over the summer, in addition to many others, we have been reading a great deal of Mo Willems (the Knuffle Bunny books and the Elephant and Piggy books) and Jon Klassen (mostly of the hats-being-stolen-by-fish-and-rabbits genre). Halfway through Knuffle Bunny Too, she had the whole story figured out, excitedly signing to me, “Wrong rabbit, wrong rabbit!” The language and understanding that came through when presented with engaging literature was a delight to see.
We do more than read picture books, of course. We work on building vocabulary, we develop American Sign Language (ASL) skills and compare how concepts are conveyed through both languages, and we even examine word order through mixed-up sentences. But these lessons are always underpinned with marvelous books that are clever and engaging. It is through these books that her abilities come shining through. And although reading tutoring during the summer months would not be the favorite activity of most middle school students, her mother told me that she actually begins laughing and smiling as they approach my building. The joy of reading!
Has anyone out there worked with children with CHARGE syndrome or those with multiple disabilities? I would love to learn about strategies you have used to support their reading!
About the Book: (From Goodreads) Sometimes one night can change everything. On this particular night, Wren and her three best friends are attending a black-tie party at the Metropolitan Museum of Art to celebrate the opening of a major exhibit curated by her father. An enormous wind blasts through the city, making everyone feel that something unexpected and perhaps wonderful will happen. And for Wren, that something wondering is Nolan. With his root-beer-brown Michelangelo eyes, Nolan changes the way Wren's heart beats. In Isabel Gillie's Starry Night, suddenly everything is different. Nothing makes sense except for this boy. What happens to your life when everything changes, even your heart? How much do you give up? How much do you keep?
What inspired you to write for teens?
I ADORE teenagers! No joke. First of all, I loved being a teenager. It's so big. The highs and lows are clearly defined, but at the same time life is bewildering. All the unbelievable growing invigorated me. I fell in love for the first time, followed the grateful dead, did badly in school and then got my act together and did well, I got myself in to messes and got out of them (thankfully), made big decisions, went on adventures (in my mind sometimes), etc. It's an explosive time and I remember liking it even when it was happening to me. Second of all, I have three tweens in my house and I really love it. So far it's the best time I have ever had as a parent. They are interesting and funny and infuriating all in good ways. So I wanted to write about it.
-You've previously written a memoir. Was it different to write a novel? Was it harder or easier?
HARDER! I wanted to try it, and I want to try it again, but man was it hard. It took me three 400+ page drafts and the first two stank pretty badly. I learned a ton. Everyday there was a new challenge that I had never met before. And the thing is, I am not a trained writer! I mean, my teachers in high school did the best they could, but I was a trained actress and never took a writing class. So I was in the dark for a lot of this process. But sometimes while I was writing, I felt swept away by the story and the emotions in the book. And the characters, I sort of fell in love with them. That stuff is magical. I adore writing memoir because it's all about getting what is inside out so someone else can feel it and hopefully identify, and there is a natural structure. You have to make your own structure in a novel and that is HARD. But it's fun.
-What were some of your favorite books as a teen?
Well here is the deal with that. I was not a "reader". I was so dyslexic that I was traumatized by books until I was in my early twenties. I was not one of those kids that loved to curl up with a book. Infact that was my idea of cruel toucher. But one book I read in school really stuck with me and is popping into my head now. It's called Go Down Moses by William Faulkner. That book hit me like a ton of bricks. At it's core it's about a family, but it's also about slavery, and getting through hard times. It's not a light read by any means, and maybe it's good to read it in English class like I did -- but it's awesome. I might even read it again.
The following post by bookseller Melissa was cross-posted with permission from her blog, Scuffed Slippers and Wormy Books. Thanks to Melissa for allowing us to share her perspective!
Fall has (almost) arrived. Cool weather, pretty fall color, yummy drinks composed of apple cider or hot cocoa, and I get to wear scarves (I like scarves as an accessory).
And standardized testing, if you are or have a school-age child.
In my area of the country, it seems school districts have chosen testing that calculates a Lexile score for a child’s reading level with an associated score range. Lexile is a company that uses a software program to analyze books for word usage, sentence length, etc. and produce a Lexile Text Measure for each book (I copied the description from the Lexile Analyzer site):
The Lexile ® measure of text is determined using the Lexile Analyzer ®, a software program that evaluates the reading demand—or readability—of books, articles and other materials. The Lexile Analyzer ® measures the complexity of the text by breaking down the entire piece and studying its characteristics, such as sentence length and word frequency, which represent the syntactic and semantic challenges that the text presents to a reader. The outcome is the text complexity, expressed as a Lexile ® measure, along with information on the word count, mean sentence length and mean log frequency.
Generally, longer sentences and words of lower frequency lead to higher Lexile ® measures; shorter sentences and words of higher frequency lead to lower Lexile ® measures. Texts such as lists, recipes, poetry and song lyrics are not analyzed because they lack conventional punctuation.
I’m not a huge fan of putting a “score” on a book based simply on a computer generated metric because the software doesn’t take into account context or content of a book. Or form, cf poetry. But this seems to be accepted by the educational powers-that-be, so it’s here for the time being. However, I don’t know how well or often the scores are explained to parents, because I wind up in a lot of parent-bookseller conversations like this:
Parent: My child has a Lexile score of XXXX. She has to read books in the range of XXXX-XXXX. Will this work? Bookseller [thinks]: Craaaaaaaaap. Bookseller [says]: Well, let’s pull up the Lexile site to see what it suggests for that range and go from there. The major problem here is that the parent hasn’t THE FOGGIEST IDEA what books go with the child’s Lexile score or how score ranges line up
The Sun Also Rises, a title with a confusing Lexile identity
with likely grade-levels. They don’t have/haven’t been provided with a list of suggestions for the range. They haven’t looked up Lexile on the Internet to get a handle on what this thing is (I mean, hello, the Internet is the Information Superhighway, Google it). And their poor child is off in the corner trying desperately to read another Warriors book by Erin Hunter or Wimpy Kid or the new Babymouse before the “grown-ups” force her into reading stuff that she thinks she doesn’t want to read.
As booksellers (and by extension librarians, a population I am not a member of but respect greatly), we are the information gatekeepers the parents turn to in this situation. We are the ones to take an abstract range of numbers and turn it into a physical pile of titles and authors. We have to differentiate between editions because scores can fluctuate wildly and Lexile isn’t very informative (type “The Sun Also Rises” into Lexile – the old Scribner edition has a score of 610L, the ISBN for the reprint isn’t found, and the Modern Critical Interpretations edition is listed with a score of 1420L….confusing, right?). And we are the ones who have to know what stories lay between the covers of those books so we can explain the contents to the parents.
In almost every customer interaction regarding Lexile, I have had to find books for a child who reads significantly above grade level (at grade level is generally pretty easy and parents with children under grade level often have a list of recommended titles as a starting point; for some reason, those children who read above grade level don’t have many recommendations). For reference, Lexile gives a grade approximation for the score ranges:
Even though the approximate ranges are pretty wide, a book or series that is popular among peers isn’t often in the “right” score range for an advanced reader. Some titles are marked “NC” meaning a non-conforming score (higher than intended audience) but it’s hard to tease those out of a range during a search (I’ve tried). It can get pretty emotional when the child cannot find anything he or she wants to read or that parents will allow them to read that “counts” for their Lexile score.
The biggest grade-to-score discrepancy I’ve come across was a seventh grade boy (and a bit young socially for his age) who had a Lexile score greater than 1100. His Lexile range was approximately 1150 – 1210. The boy had to read at least five books that semester in his range to pass English and he was already behind. His father had done some online research and was at a loss – he was having trouble finding content-appropriate books in that score range (there was also a religious consideration, so a lot of recommended fantasy titles were automatically out). The boy was very open to reading Stephen King, who has a lot of high-Lexile score titles, but the idea was vetoed by Dad due to language (and probably the religious consideration as well). Dostoevsky was perfectly acceptable to Dad, but the kiddo really couldn’t get excited about it (he was into Gary Paulsen’s Brian series, but that wasn’t even close). Some Dumas was in the right range but not the more appealing titles (The Three Musketeers and The Man in the Iron Mask are both under 1000). Gary Paulsen’s My Life in Dog Years was just in range, so I was able to interest both parent and child in that. I sold them on The Hound of the Baskervilles and then hit paydirt with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. The boy had a friend with an Asperger-like syndrome and they were friends in their advanced math classes. Whew. Finally, three books and a reasonably happy father. But I couldn’t help but think – what are they going to do as the child continues through the school system?
You’re probably wondering where I’m going with all this since this isn’t quite the usual tone for a “‘Tis the Season” post.
Well, I really just wanted to put this out there to maybe help save parents, children, and teachers (and possibly other booksellers and librarians) some grief. I would like to ask school administrators and teachers to work with children and parents to come up with lists of possible books appropriate to both grade-level and Lexile range (and I understand if you do this and the parents forget, are obstinate, or leave the list at home when they head to the bookstore). For parents, Lexile provides a map with lists of titles for score ranges. It’s a good place to start when trying to find books.
I would also like to ask teachers to be less rigid when assigning Lexile-related reading assignments because this seems to be where children have the most trouble. I have so often helped kids who love, love to read but have found that none of the books they find appealing “count” for a reading assignment because they aren’t in the “right” Lexile range or have no score because either the book is too new or has an un-evaluable format. These kids feel disheartened, that they’re failing, that the things they love are unimportant, and I hate seeing their disappointment when I’ve gone through the entire stack of books they’ve picked out and not a single one was in the right range. I had a little girl just burst into tears once when I told her The Last Olympian – the book she so desperately wanted to read – had a score of 620L; she had to have books greater than 700 or her teacher wouldn’t count them at all. Please let children with high Lexile ranges count some of those lower-scoring books toward their reading assignment (say, an exchange of two non-Lexile books for one Lexile book, not to exceed half the assignment) or perhaps give them extra credit for those books as long as they’re keeping up with the Lexile assignment (if you’re already doing that, bravo!). These kids are reading because they love reading and they’re already reading outside of school, which is sort of the point of those types of assignments. I rarely hear of a child being penalized for reading above his or her range so I think there’s a compromise that can be reached for those kids who want to read but have trouble finding books due to age or content.
So bring your Lexile ranges to me and I and my fellow booksellers and librarians will do our best to find what you like to read as well as what you need to read – if we’re very good, that book will fill both requirements. ‘Tis that sort of season.
The art of learning how to count both backwards and forward is a milestone for children. Pair it with the antics of Halloween and a classic children’s book is born. Each group of Halloween characters approach a different house at various times, each clustered in the number they represent. Find out how the fun-filled adventure concludes for these Halloween creatures in Ten Little Tricksters.
Penelope Anne Cole creates a grand storytelling trick or treating adventure to entrance the reader in learning how to count backwards. The alluring illustrations created by Kevin Scott Collier, brings Halloween to an all-new level of fun.
Best wishes, Donna M. McDine Multi Award-winning Children's Author Ignite curiosity in your child through reading! Connect with Donna McDine on Google+
A Sandy Grave ~ January 2014 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ 2014 Purple Dragonfly 1st Place Picture Books 6+, Story Monster Approved, Beach Book Festival Honorable Mention 2014, Reader's Favorite Five Star Review
Powder Monkey ~ May 2013 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ Reader's Favorite Five Star Review
Hockey Agony ~ January 2013 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ Reader's Farvorite Five Star Review
The Golden Pathway ~ August 2010 ~ Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. ~ Literary Classics Silver Award and Seal of Approval, Readers Favorite 2012 International Book Awards Honorable Mention and Dan Poynter's Global e-Book Awards Finalist
Other info: Chris D’Lacey has also written the Last Dragon Chronicles.
Summary : When Michael Malone discovers his supernatural ability to alter reality, he is recruited by an organization dedicated to investigating strange and paranormal phenomena. He joins in hopes of finding his father, who mysteriously vanished three years earlier. Michael's first task is to solve the mystery of a dog he rescued from a precarious clifftop -- a mystery that leads him to a strange and sickly classmate and a young girl who was killed in a devastating accident. Stakes are high as Michael learns to harness his newfound ability and uncover the deadly truth about his father's disappearance. A bold and thrilling tale of alternate realities, paranormal mystery, and extraordinary adventure.
Review: Michael’s going to school via a non-normal route when he senses the thoughts of a suicidal dog, and somehow manages to stop her going over a cliff. This brings him to the attention of UNICORNE, who say they can tell him what happened to his father, who disappeared. They set him on the task of finding out what the dog was doing on the cliff, and this leads him to a mystery involving a classmate, a dead girl, and his newly discovered powers.
I’ve heard great things about Chris D’Lacey’s other work (which I have never read) so I was hoping this would be good. The blurbed concept isn’t particularly original, but I really liked the idea of cellular memory and the way it played out in the book.
There’s science-fiction elements, fantasy elements, and some thrillery elements too. It could have been a good mix, but in parts it goes so quickly that things don’t get explored as much as they could have been.
I like the characters, especially Josie, Michael’s ten year old sister, Chantelle, a UNICORNE agent, and Freya, Michael’s sick classmate.
The plot twists and turns, sometimes well, and sometimes in convenient places. I like the mix of more normal things that Michael has to deal with, in between the paranormal. I think the start of it was stronger than the way the setup played out though; it started with a strong hook, but then got a bit confusing. The main mystery did get played through well looking back on it, but with side elements being created due to Michael’s powers, it is harder to follow than it needed to be.
Overall: Strength 3 tea to a genremixing thriller.
Please give a warm welcome to special guest Deborah Blake. Deborah’s book, Wickedly Dangerous, hits stores next week. I’ll have a review soon over at Romance at Random, but until then, find out a few items that you will never find in protagonist Baba’s magical Airstream. I asked where I could get one of my own, too, so I’d be styling at the horse shows. Unfortunately, I think I’m out of luck.
5 things you’d never find in Baba’s Airstream:
1. A bag of Cheetos
2. Cleaning supplies (since she can do it all with a snap of a finger)
3. A copy of TV Guide
4. A pair of Birkenstocks (she’s strictly boots or bare feet…but you might find them in her sister Baba Beka’s magical school bus)
5. A cat (Chudo-Yudo would never allow it, alas)
And sadly, Barbara’s Airstream only exists inside my head, and I don’t think you’d want to live there. It is a very confused and messy place!
Plopping his hat on over his dark blonde hair, Liam strode up to the door of the Airstream—or at least, where he could have sworn the door was a couple of minutes ago. Now there was just a blank wall. He pushed the hair out of his eyes again and walked around to the other side. Shiny silver metal, but no door. So he walked back around to where he started, and there was the entrance, right where it belonged.
“I need to get more sleep,” he muttered to himself. He would almost have said the Airstream was laughing at him, but that was impossible. “More sleep and more coffee.”
He knocked. Waited a minute, and knocked again, louder. Checked his watch. It was six AM; hard to believe that whoever the trailer belonged to was already out and about, but it was always possible. An avid fisherman, maybe, eager to get the first trout of the day. Cautiously, Liam put one hand on the door handle and almost jumped out of his boots when it emitted a loud, ferocious blast of noise.
He snatched his hand away, then laughed at himself as he saw a large, blunt snout pressed against the nearest window. For a second there, he’d almost thought the trailer itself was barking. Man, did he need more coffee.
At the sound of an engine, Liam turned and walked back toward his car. A motorcycle came into view; its rider masked by head-to-toe black leather, a black helmet, and mirrored sunglasses that matched the ones Liam himself wore. The bike itself was a beautiful royal blue classic BMW that made Liam want to drool. And get a better paying job. The melodic throb of its motor cut through the morning silence until it purred to a stop about a foot away from him. The rider swung a leg over the top of the cycle and dismounted gracefully.
“Nice bike,” Liam said in a conversational tone. “Is that a sixty-eight?”
“Sixty-nine,” the rider replied. Gloved hands reached up and removed the helmet, and a cloud of long black hair came pouring out, tumbling waves of ebony silk. The faint aroma of orange blossom drifted across the meadow, although none grew there.
A tenor voice, sounding slightly amused, said, “Is there a problem, officer?”
Liam started, aware that he’d been staring rudely. He told himself it was just the surprise of her gender, not the startling Amazonian beauty of the woman herself, all angles and curves and leather.
“Sheriff,” he corrected out of habit. “Sheriff Liam McClellan.” He held out one hand, then dropped it back to his side when the woman ignored it. “And you are?”
“Not looking for trouble,” she said, a slight accent of unidentifiable origin coloring her words. Her eyes were still hidden behind the dark glasses, so he couldn’t quite make out if she was joking or not. “My name is Barbara Yager. People call me Baba.” One corner of her mouth edged up so briefly, he almost missed it.
“Welcome to Clearwater County,” Liam said. “Would you like to tell me what you’re doing parked out here?” He waved one hand at the Airstream. “I assume this belongs to you?”
She nodded, expressionless. “It does. Or I belong to it. Hard to tell which, sometimes.”
Liam smiled gamely, wondering if his caffeine deficit was making her sound odder than she really was. “Sure. I feel that way about my mortgage sometimes. So, you were going to tell me what you’re doing here.”
“Was I? Somehow I doubt it.” Again, that tiny smile, barely more than a twitch of the lips. “I’m a botanist with a specialty in herbalism; I’m on sabbatical from UC Davis. You have some unusual botanical varieties growing in this area, so I’m here to collect samples for my research.”
Liam’s cop instincts told him that her answer sounded too pat, almost rehearsed. Something about her story was a lie, he was sure of it. But why bother to lie about something he could so easily check?
“Do you have some kind of ID?” he asked. “Your vehicle didn’t turn up in the database and my dispatcher couldn’t find any record of a permit for you to be here. This is county property, you know.” He put on his best “stern cop” expression. The woman with the cloud hair didn’t seem at all fazed.
Deborah Blake is the author of seven books on modern Witchcraft from Llewellyn Worldwide, including The Witch’s Broom (2014). An eighth book, The Everyday Witch, will be out in 2015.Deborah’s first fiction series, The Baba Yaga books, are coming out from Berkley in 2014; they include a prequel novella, Wickedly Magical, as well as Wickedly Dangerous and Wickedly Wonderful. She is represented by agent Elaine Spencer of The Knight Agency.
When not writing, Deborah manages The Artisans’ Guild, a cooperative shop she founded with a friend in 1999, and makes gemstone jewelry. She also is a professional tarot reader and energy healer. Deborah lives in a 120 year old farmhouse in rural upstate New York with five cats who supervise all her activities, both magickal and mundane.
Known as the wicked witch of Russian fairy tales, Baba Yaga is not one woman, but rather a title carried by a chosen few. They keep the balance of nature and guard the borders of our world, but don’t make the mistake of crossing one of them…
Older than she looks and powerful beyond measure, Barbara Yager no longer has much in common with the mortal life she left behind long ago. Posing as an herbalist and researcher, she travels the country with her faithful (mostly) dragon-turned-dog in an enchanted Airstream, fulfilling her duties as a Baba Yaga and avoiding any possibility of human attachment.
But when she is summoned to find a missing child, Barbara suddenly finds herself caught up in a web of deceit and an unexpected attraction to the charming but frustrating Sheriff Liam McClellan.
Now, as Barbara fights both human enemies and Otherworld creatures to save the lives of three innocent children, she discovers that her most difficult battle may be with her own heart…
People love to take road trips during the summer time. The team at EpicReads.com has created an infographic called “Open Road Reading.”
This infographic lists 12 young adult books could help in planning your next adventure. It features “the characters’ origins and final destinations –– but if you want to know their exact routes, you’ll have to read the books!”
While Disney is not my preferred choice for a Broadway show, the enthusiastic New York Times review and what I saw on the Tonys, peaked my interest in seeing the Broadway production of Aladdin, the Musical. And so yesterday, as a reward for completing a big writing project before school starts, I went to see it and was not disappointed; it was loads of fun. And now rereading the Times review, I’m not surprised to see that the director was also responsible for The Book of Mormon musical. Both have an old-fashioned feel and are loving appreciations of the musical theater genre with production numbers that are reminders of old favorites, while being entertaining all by themselves.
And then there is James Monroe Iglehart who rightly won a Tony for his terrific performance as Genie. At first his performance reminded me somewhat painfully of Robin William’s creation of the character in the movie, but eventually Inglehart’s terrific singing and dancing made the role all his own. To honor both men here are their performances of the showstopper, “Friend Like Me” and then one more recent video of Inglehart and the Broadway cast leading a tribute to Williams.
Soccer star Tim Howard has landed a memoir deal with HarperCollins. Earlier this year, he served as the goalkeeper for Team USA in the 2014 World Cup.
Howard (pictured, via) will share the story of how he became a professional athlete while enduring a lifelong battle with Tourette’s Syndrome. The publisher will release both an adult and a young reader’s editions of The Keeper on December 9th.
Howard had this statement in the press release: “I’ve always wanted to write a book. My goal is to share many of the highs and lows of my journey—with a little bit of the magic of the World Cup and the English Premier League—in the hope that it will provide others with some inspiration to reach for their own dreams.”
Melissa L. Edwards is a graduate of Washington University in St. Louis and Vanderbilt Law School. She is a member in good standing of the New York State bar. While Melissa began her career as a commercial litigation attorney, she always maintained aspirations to work in publishing. At present, Melissa handles foreign rights for Aaron Priest and she is actively reading to develop her own list. Melissa's taste ranges in genre from classic Victorian literature to hard-boiled crime dramas. She is interested in reading international thrillers with likeable and arresting protagonists, light-hearted women's fiction and YA, female-driven (possibly small-town) suspense, and completely immersive fantasy. Ultimately, Melissa is looking for a book that will keep her glued to the couch all day and night, and continue to occupy her thoughts for weeks later.
Melissa, What are some things you love to see in a query?
I love when a query is well- organized. This is not the time for stream of consciousness. I want to be introduced to the writer. Who is she? Where does she live? What does she do? Why is she writing this book now? Then I like to see an introduction the material at hand—a pitch, a hook. I am less interested in a synopsis because I want to be surprised by the plot as I am reading the manuscript. Then I almost always want to see a sample of the manuscript itself. Ten pages or so is the perfect amount. Just enough to whet my appetite to ask for more. A query should feel a little bit like cocktail hour—short, potentially exciting, and just tantalizing enough to prep for dinner.
Character, world, or plot?
I am going to be the worst and say all three. I think we are all aware that publishing is an extremely subjective and competitive business. Putting a manuscript out on submission is a huge amount of work (to say nothing of the amount of work that went into writing the book.) I want to do the work for a manuscript that I love wholeheartedly. A manuscript that creates a fully developed, palpable world with charismatic, believable characters and an exciting, mind-gripping plot is the ultimate want. I think the three elements interplay with another to seamlessly create a book that becomes un-put-down-able. (I create words—probably why I am not the writer in this relationship!)
Why did you become an agent?
I became an agent because I wanted to pursue a career that combined my skills and my interests. I went to law school after college and, among other topics, I studied Intellectual Property and Copyright Law. I learned how to interpret contracts and advocate for clients. However, I found the actual practice of law less than stimulating. I’ve always been a passionate reader. Like so many, I found solace in literature from a young age. (YA literature was so important to my development as a young person—I think is why I am so driven to find and support the publication of great YA titles.) In law school, I could often be found eschewing my casebooks and instead reading a novel. At some point, I realized being an agent would allow me to read books for a living, while also making good use of my (very expensive) legal education. When conceiving of this dream job, I didn’t realize how much I would enjoy both the selection and advocacy elements of being an agent. There is something extremely fulfilling about reading through the slush pile to unearth and nurture a debut author. Negotiating publishing contracts has also proved to be more satisfying than the law student in me could have imagined. Further, I feel very fortunate to be working at the Aaron Priest Agency, which has a long history of success for authors. There is so much to learn and thankfully the Aaron Priest Agency allows for a fully immersive education.
I continue to be in awe of you parents out there who manage to carve out time for your writing in the midst of taking care of children, household chores and (in some cases) a day job as well.
At a recent conference, several working parents told me how they were still struggling to find the time to write and illustrate.
Having no children myself, I can't offer practical advice, but here are some online resources which might help. If you can offer tips from your own experience or know of other other helpful resources, please do post them in the comments below. Thanks!
Finding Time To Write - Parents' Version - by Julie Duffy on StoryADay.org. Main tips: coordinate your work sessions with your kids' energy levels, work to an outline, stretch sessions when you can, sit where you can hear your kids, be willing to stop after 2-3 sessions.
Finding Time To Draw - On Step, Skip, Pause. Main tips: Work in the early morning before everyone else is up. Sketch while watching tv, while waiting, on the public transport, at friends' houses, in short snatched moments, at concerts and plays.
Writing and mother: how I (sort of) do both - Shannon Hale explains how she does it. Main tips: Enlist help, constantly reevaluate your balance, set priorities, take a day of rest, commit fully, separate writing from publishing.
Busy Moms Write - A blog by Marcia Fowler, who is a mom of two boys, a freelance writer, and a certified elementary school teacher and reading specialist. "Busy Moms Write is a blog to inspire other moms to finally sit down and write, even if it’s only for five minutes a day."
11 Ways Stay-At-Home Moms (and Other Busy Folks) Can Find Time To Write - by K.M. Weiland. Be stubborn and endure, find your focus, connect with family every day, remember there are others in your boat, take your work seriously, it's never too late to start, be realistic in your goals, give up on the idea of trying to please everyone, enjoy your blossing career guilt-free, being a mom and writer are not mutually exclusive.
I was on the 2008 Newbery Committee that honored Christopher Paul Curtis’s Elijah of Buxton so I was both eager and nervous to read its companion, The Madman of Piney Woods. Eager because I so admired the first book, and nervous because you just never know. Happily, I was delighted with the book and those at the Horn Book Magazine where I reviewed it agreed with me, starring it. I concluded my review (which you can read here) thus: “Woven throughout this profoundly moving yet also at times very funny novel are themes of family, friendship, community, compassion, and, fittingly, the power of words.”
Woo, what a whirlwind, right? From crazy twitter pitches (twitches?) to ninja stalking and requests to hopefully making new friends in the forums, we hope you had as great a time as us! If you need a recap of the things that happened on day #2, here you go:
And… now the conference is over already! What a bummer, right? Well, don’t despair… at least our forums will stay up for a couple of weeks, so you can still read the work of other’s, critique and maybe even some ninjas might still show their faces – uh masks? – this week. Who really knows? They’re THAT sneaky.
First and foremost we’d like to thank all the literary agents and editors that provided their free time to WriteOnCon this year! You all have busy schedules and it means a lot to us that some of you keep coming back for more. We can’t say thank you enough for that!
Secondly, our attendees… thank you for sticking with us through server outages and technical difficulties. Thanks for contributing to the forums and generally being awesome!
A feedback form, where you can tell us what you thought of this year’s condensed version of WriteOnCon, can be found here!
We’ve already received a couple of donations, so THANK YOU so much to those people who’ve contributed. If you haven’t donated yet, please consider it, because your donations are what keeps WriteOnCon going and has us return every year! Even a small donation goes a long way!
Sometimes the Lord has to bring us to a place of remembrance. That place where you remember why you got up this morning. The place where you remember you are called. The place where you know you are also equipped, because you are called. He helps you to remember why you are doing this. He reminds you of Whose you are. He makes you to know your worth and value in the world. He tells you that you are His. He makes your heart warm again when it grows cold. He knows you are hurting, child. He tells you that you don't have to make anybody happy but you. He then gently whispers in your ear that their opinions never mattered in the first place. Only be gentle, tender-hearted, and please Him. Forgive. My darlings, stop trying to live for the world. Stop trying to bring back yesterday. It's dead and gone. A beaten horse. Stop trying to relive the good. Stop trying to replay the bad. Live in today my lovelies. Because you don't know if you have a tomorrow. Remember Who you belong to. And if you don't belong to Him, you can. All you have to do is ask. Or rather, accept the invitation. A feast, forever, party, eternal fellowship with the most Gentlemanly Being that ever lived.
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
It's all about the link. Make sure your minilessons link to ongoing work. Link to making choices. Link to all the other minilessons. Link to the charts and resources in the room. Most of all link your minilesson always to problem solving and independence.
The movie studios will be skipping over the third installment of this popular fiction series, The Lost Symbol. Actor Tom Hanks will return to play Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon, filmmaker Ron Howard will serve as the director, and screenwriter David Koepp will pen the script.
Here’s more from Deadline: “In Inferno, Langdon awakens in an Italian hospital with amnesia. He teams up with Sienna Brooks, the doctor he hopes will help him recover his memories and prevent a madman from releasing a global plague connected to Dante’sInferno.” Which actress would you cast to play Sienna Brooks?
Larissa Renaud doesn't live in a regular house. As she tells it,
"My parents moved us into the Bayou Bridge Antique Store—a fact I do not brag about. It's embarrassing to admit I share the same space as musty, mothball-smelly furniture, dusty books, and teacups that dead people once drank from."
Sometimes she wishes they had never come back here from Baton Rouge, but her family has a long history in the bayou town, much of it is tragic.
When Larissa receives a mysterious call on a broken antique phone, she's got a real mystery on her hands.
"Trust the fireflies,"
the ghostly girl tells her, setting Larissa on a strange and eerie path of discovery. Can Larissa right the wrongs of the past to save her family's future?
Though it highlights rural poverty, bullying, and new sibling issues, The Time of the Fireflies is at heart, a ghost story with a remarkably likable and resourceful protagonist.
To avoid giving away too much, I'll merely mention that readers may see some similarities to Rebecca Stead's Newbery Medal-winning, When You Reach Me. The spunky Larissa and author Kimberly Griffiths Little will draw you into the rich world of the Louisiana bayou until you too, are carried away by the fireflies.
In this edition of Guess The Desk, award-winning author, _______, gives us an author’s-eye-view of the writing process: her laptop perched on a leopard-covered lap desk, with a lapful of her feline “research assistant.”
Haven't figured it out yet? If you don't recognize her, look below for obvious clues. :)
This author doesn’t use a formal desk. She writes all her novels, including the forthcoming Juliet’s Nurse, in a comfy chair, at the insistence of her feline research assistant.
_________________________________ Award-winning author,______, dwells in the spaces where literature and history meet.
Her work has appeared in numerous literary and scholarly journals, as well as The New York Times, the Los Angeles Review of Books, Chicago Tribune, Huffington Post, Bitch magazine, The Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, and on NPR.
The author gives talks about writing and history at universities, museums, and libraries around the country. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with two cats, one Canadian, and 60,000 honeybees.
As anyone who has flown United in the past quarter-century knows, the company has a long-standing history with George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. The piece appears in its television advertisements, its airport terminals, and even its pre-flight announcements. However, the history of United’s use of the piece is far from straight forward. This brand new safety video offers a compelling case in point:
Like recent videos by Air New Zealand and Delta Airlines, United’s safety briefing is designed to keep our attention as it reiterates the standard safety announcements that we know all too well. The video rewards paying close attention on multiple viewings. In fact, there are several airline-travel and United-specific “Easter Eggs.” A few of my favorites appear in the Las Vegas section. A tour bus traversing the Las Vegas Strip scrolls “lavatory occupied” and later “baggage on carousel 2.” Perhaps more subtle is a movie poster for a film titled “Elbow Room 2.” Look closely and you will see that it features a shot encountered later in the safety video as a James Bond-looking figure goes hand to hand against his nemesis a cable car—a clear reference to the 1979 film Moonraker for the alert viewer.
Under the banner “Safety is Global,” the familiar themes of the Rhapsody are musically arranged while diverse members of the United flight crew provide instructions from a series of specific and generic international locales. Certainly, the visuals play a key role in signaling our recognition of these surroundings: the Eiffel Tower and street corner cafe for Paris, a pagoda in front of Mt. Fuji for Japan, casinos and neon signs for Las Vegas, snow-covered peaks and a ski gondola for the Alps, kangaroos for Australia, a Vespa scooter and Mt. Edna for Italy, Chilean flamingos for the bird sanctuary, and palm trees and white-sands for the tropical beach.
But perhaps most important in drawing out the setting of each scene are the dramatic—if not clichéd—musical arrangements of Rhapsody in Blue. While in France a pair of accordions play the introductory bars of the piece while a pilot welcomes us aboard and reminds us to heed their instruction. A flight attendant hops a cab to Newark Airport (United’s East Coast hub) to the strains of a jazz combo setting of the love theme. A tenor saxophone improvises lightly around this most famous melody of the Rhapsody while she provides instruction on how to use the seatbelt from the bumpy backseat. A gong signals a move to Asia, where we encounter the ritornello theme of the Rhapsody on a plucked zither and bamboo flute. The bright-lights of the Las Vegas strip (where we learn about power outages) and a James Bond-inspired depiction of the Swiss Alps (where we learn about supplemental oxygen) are accompanied by the traditional symphonic arrangement of the Rhapsody created by Ferde Grofé. Curious kangaroos learn about life vests as the ritornello theme is heard on a harmonica punctuated by a didgeridoo and a rain stick. A mandolin plucks out the shuffle theme while a flight attendant extinguishes a volcano like a birthday candle—no smoking allowed! Finally, steel drums transport us to a Caribbean bird sanctuary and a tenor saxophone playing the stride theme to a laid-back, quasi-bossa nova groove relocates us to the beach.
Although each of these settings is somewhat stereotypical in its sonic and visual depiction of its respective locale, such treatment of the Rhapsody stands as less formulaic than past attempts at international representation by the airline. Both domestic and international advertisements have adapted the Rhapsody.
Although the video is a bit rough, by comparison to “Safety is Global,” the visuals and instrumentation choices are much more stereotypical. We clearly hear the “orientalist” signifiers at play: a taiko drum, a shakuhachi flute, a trio of pipas. But just as this commercial provides its American market with a glimpse at Asian cultures through the streamlined gaze of corporate advertising, a commercial aired in Japan in 1994 provides an equally reductive depiction of the United States.
The spot features a Japanese puppet of the traditional Bunraku style seated on an airplane as the voiceover announces a series of locales that travelers could visit at ever-increasing award levels. The puppet appears in a succession of wardrobes representative of each destination with arrangements of Rhapsody in Blue emphasizing each costume change: a shamisen accompanies the traditional Japanese kimono, an erhu for the silk Chinese robe, a Hawaiian slide guitar for a bright floral patterned shirt and yellow lei, a fiddle-driven two-step for a cowboy hat and bolo tie, and finally a calypso, steel drum for the white Italian sports coat and dark sunglasses—a clear reference to Don Johnson and Miami Vice. The commercial not only effectively promotes United’s frequent flyer program but also reinforces its corporate logos—both motto and music—to an international market. Through easily identifiable visual and sonic representations of destinations in the United States from Hawaii to Texas to Florida, it also promotes a positive—if not stereotypical—view of American culture using one of its most recognizable musical works.
And this is ultimately what the “Safety is Global” video accomplishes as well. By treating Rhapsody in Blue to a variety of musical arrangements, United Airlines has re-staked its claim on the Rhapsody not as its corporate theme music, but also as an international anthem. Its visualization of the Rhapsody over the course of time repositions the piece from a uniquely American (or specifically New Yorker) theme to one that aims to unite us all through the friendly skies.
These are our Lessons From Cup Stacking, and they have turned out to be such important big ideas that I find myself referring back to this chart on a daily basis, at some point or another.
I keep saying that I'm going to fancy this chart up when I get time, but I actually like its organic roughness so much that I might never get the time! Maybe I'll give it a title, but that might be all.
The cup stacking challenge was given to "tribes" on the first day. They had a stack of six styrofoam cups and the only tool they could use to make a pyramid was a rubber band that had four strings tied to it. They couldn't touch the cups. They couldn't touch the rubber band. They could only touch the strings.
After every group was successful, we talked about what had happened.
The group that finished first automatically gave themselves a new challenge. We decided that would be the right thing to do ANY time you finished early.
We talked about how to handle disagreements. There were lots of strategies: go with the majority, try everybody's idea, really listen to each other, and talk it out calmly. If only our world leaders would keep these strategies handy!
We talked about the importance of struggle, and when struggle is a good thing. I assured them that I am here to make sure that their struggles don't overwhelm them.
We listed lots of different ways to name "keep trying."
They have the option to modify a task I give them. In this case, one group chose a new place to work, but we talked about other ways they could modify a task, but still do what they were being asked to do. That might mean they do things in a different order, use different materials, or accomplish the same outcome in a way I haven't even thought of. I want my students to be active participants, always thinking of the best way...for them. And, of course, I have the option to intervene and modify their task for them. I had to do that for the last group to finish. They were so close and they knocked one of their last cups down. I picked it up and put it back so they could put the last cup in place. For the geography challenge, I asked for "focus groups," but the IS was in to support a few kids, so I allowed for a homogenous group of four instead of a mixed group of 3. This point is helping me model flexibility.
We ended with some general big ideas for group work in our classroom: BE DEPENDABLE, use TEAMWORK, and have FUN! I assured them that even though I planned to challenge them to work really hard this year, I would always do my best to try to make the work fun!