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Viewing Blog: The Anna Mei Series, Most Recent at Top
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Features the "Anna Mei" middle-grade book series by Carol A. Grund
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1. It's Real!

So my bright and shiny CALA (Catholic Arts & Letters Award) for Anna Mei, Blessing in Disguise arrived in the mail the other day. 

After getting its picture taken with me, its immediate plans are to move into the bookshelf, where my copies of the Anna Mei books live. I have a feeling it's going to look right at home there. 

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2. "Blessing in Disguise" Wins a CALA

It’s beyond thrilling to announce that the third book in my Anna Mei series, Blessing in Disguise, has just been awarded the 2013 Catholic Arts and Letters Award by the Catholic Writers Guild. The award was announced at the guild's annual conference, held this year in Somerset, New Jersey.

Although I was not able to attend the conference, I knew that Blessing in Disguise had been submitted for consideration by my publisher, Pauline Books & Media. Just prior to the conference I learned that it had been selected as one of three finalists in the children’s fiction category.

Then on Aug. 8, bestselling author and CWG president Ellen Hrkach announced that Blessinghad won the award. Pauline's Sales and Marketing Director, Sr. Martha Moss FSP, accepted the award on my behalf.

It’s impossible to describe how honored I feel to have my work singled out by the CWG, an amazing group of 250 talented and dedicated writers whose mission is to promote excellence. I’m also grateful that PBM believed in Blessingand felt it belonged in this competition. And I hope this recognition means that more readers will discover Anna Mei, and be inspired by her journey of self-discovery and acceptance.

I can’t think of any better way to end this post than by quoting the final paragraph of the book. Although I was writing from Anna Mei's point of view, I share her feelings about the blessings that come at unexpected moments: 
Her life was filled with blessings—some of them smiling brightly, others hiding behind a fake nose and black plastic glasses. But from now on, no matter how they came into her life, she would try to recognize them, and be grateful.

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3. Getting Caught

Recently my library district ran a promotion called "Get Caught Reading." They invited people to submit photos of themselves (or their family members, or their pets!) reading whatever they like.

There were a lot of cute and clever entries...but I'm kind of partial to this one.

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4. Ordinary Treasures

Since publishing the Anna Mei series, the groups I’ve been invited to speak to have fallen into two basic catregories: 1.) children, and 2.) adults who are aspiring writers.

With Margaret L. and Linda G.
So it was a nice change of pace to be asked to speak at a luncheon hosted by a chapter of the Association of Catholic Women. What a lovely group! Even though I was meeting them for the first time, I felt as if I knew these women. They were like the mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters and friends I'd known my whole life.

My talk that day was less about the path to publication and more about inspirations. I explained how I had learned to find mine in the everyday occurrences of family life. As a mother of three, I had what practically amounted to an idea factory right in my own home. Things that amazed my children, amused them, challenged them, charmed them—these were the seeds that eventually grew into published stories.
When I decided to try writing a full-length novel for middle-grade readers, my inspiration came from my family again. I settled on the idea of a character based loosely on two of my nieces, who had been adopted from China as babies. I wondered what extra challenges the girls might face during their tween years, and what kind of inner strength it would take to meet them. Those initial questions were the basis for the Anna Mei stories.

My writing has never been about the mystical or the magical. For me it's more about paying attention, filing away memories, finding inspiration in ordinary life. As I looked at the faces in the audience, I knew these women understood. After all, they had family stories, too, stored up in their minds and hearts like treasures.

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5. Going Home Again

2nd grader
Of all the author events I've done in the past several years, one of my favorites is a recent visit to my own elementary school, where I was a student in grades 1-7. 

I was invited as a special guest during their March is Reading Month celebration, which also included Dress Up Like a Book Character Day, Doughnuts with Dad Day, and Crazy Hat Day. Those all sounded like a lot of fun to meI couldn't imagine how Visiting Author Day would stack up. So I drove into the parking lot and headed toward the school office with a box of books, a display board, a folder full of handouts...and a stomach full of butterflies.

The first thing I noticed, walking down the hallway, was the smell. I can't describe it exactly, but it's that unique mixture of floor wax, Elmer's glue and whatever they served in the cafeteria the day before. Instantly I was back in first grade, standing in that same hallway as I waited in line to drop my hot lunch ticket into the battered coffee can. Yes, things were slightly less high-tech in those days. But the smell was exactly the same.

Another thing I noticed was how clean and bright and scrubbed everything looked. This was no run-down, shabby little place with its best years behind it. Every surface was gleaming. Every wall was lined with colorful bulletin boards, bursting with student artwork. I felt both relieved and proud to see it look so well-loved and cared for.

In front of the red curtains
I had another stab of recognition when I entered the gym. There were the wooden bleachers where I had sat during countless pep rallies, cheering for the school teams. There was the stage with the red velvet curtains where I had performed in dozens of school plays. There was the tile floor where I had spent Friday nights roller skating with my friends. I could feel myself starting to relax, even to smile as the memories came flooding back. When the students started to file in for my presentation, I knew I was ready.

In the end it was a wonderful experience. The teachers, principal and staff were all gracious and welcoming. The students were polite and attentive; the joy they felt about their own reading and writing came shining through with every question. Two of my nephews were in the audience, and I couldn't resist giving them a personal shout-out (the younger one loved it; the older one forgave me). 

So maybe it's true that you can't go home again, once you've grown up and left your childhood behind. But here's something else I've learned is trueyou sure can have a nice visit.

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6. Connections

I've been working on a new project lately, and it feels good to get some writing done after taking a few months off. I've also spent some time doing author appearances, talking about my writing life with both kids and adults. Although public speaking isn't exactly my favorite thing, I do enjoy connecting with people about a topic so dear to my heart.

Signing books for young fans
I had a great time in January attending the annual Chinese New Year party hosted by Families with Children from China. It was fun signing books and catching up with some of the families I met last year; there were a lot of new faces as well. The most thrilling part was seeing how excited some of the kids were about the two newest Anna Mei titles. Several parents told me it was the first time their daughters had ever seen an adolescent Asian girl featured on a book cover. 

Let the Dragon Dance begin!
The Dragon Dance was just as colorful and festive as I remembered, and the faux fireworks were just as hilarious. Now that I've seen how this group parties, watching the ball drop in Times Square will always seem anti-climatic! 

In February I helped organize a panel of children's authors to do a library presentation called 'The Road to Publication.' We each spoke about our different journeys from aspiring to published. Since we weren't sure how much of a draw this topic would be, it was very gratifying to end up with an enthusiastic, standing room-only crowd. 

Left to right: McNally-Barshaw, Grund, Huntley, Diesen
I just wish I had thought to bring a notebook with me to the speakers' table, to jot down some of the great tips shared by Ruth McNally Barshaw, Deborah Diesen and Amy Huntley. Thanks to their wit and generosity, the event was a big success. I would be proud to share a stage with them anytime.

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7. 7 Things You May Not Know

What do I admire about Belle from Beauty and the Beast? Find out by reading an interview I did about my work and inspirations, currently posted here on my publisher's blogsite. I had fun answering the questionsthe only hard part was keeping them short. I justified that by pointing out that I had three books to talk about, not just one!

After reading my answers, think about you might respond to three of the questions they asked, based on the Anna Mei book titles:

1. What cartoon character would you like to be?
2. When you have been like an escape artist?
3. What been a blessing in disguise in your life?

If you like, post your responses as a comment to this post. Or email me here!

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8. The Year of the Dragon

It’s January, and I’m celebrating the new year with some opportunities to spread the word about Anna Mei!

I’m starting with a return visit to an event hosted by Families with Children from China. The local branch in my area throws an annual Chinese New Year Party for its members, and last year they invited me to come and talk about Cartoon Girl, the first title in the series. I had a lot of fun and met some wonderful families, so I was delighted to be asked to come back this year. This time I’ll have all three titles available.  

And I predict that one more thing will be different—last year’s festivities included a petting zoo filled with baby bunnies, in honor of the Year of the Rabbit. Given that this is the Year of the Dragon, well, let’s just say I’d be pretty surprised to see a petting zoo!

Then on Saturday, Feb. 4, I’ll be participating in an event at a local library. It’s called Children’s Author Panel: The Path to Publication, and features four authors talking about how they went from aspiring to published. I’m thrilled to be included on the panel along with Ruth McNally Barshaw (Ellie McDoodle), Deborah Diesen (The Pout-Pout Fish) and Amy Huntley (The Everafter). We'll each have a different story to tell about how we got started down this path. We'll be speaking from 1-2 p.m., with books available for sale and signing afterward. If you’ve ever thought about being a writer, or even if you just love children’s books, come on out and see us!

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9. "Raising the Flag"

Thanks to Jaymie Wolfe, the editor for both Escape Artist and Blessing in Disguise, the Anna Mei series is currently featured on the publisher's "Storyline" blog. Here's a bit of what she has to say:

Anna Mei, Cartoon Girl came out in the spring of 2010 accompanied by a lot of excitement, enthusiasm, and a bit of breath-holding. Why? Because for us, releasing this great book by Carol Grund was raising the flag for Pauline’s new venture into the world of the middle grade novel.  There couldn’t have been a better character to take us all there!

Anna Mei, a sixth–grade Chinese-born American family adoptee, is a completely relatable regular girl trying to make sense of the world and her place in it. Moving, making real friendships, and confronting those oh-so-uncomfortable moments that make up the daily existence of most twelve-year-olds, Anna Mei doesn’t so much bring readers into her world, as she does fit right into the world they already live in. It didn’t take us long to realize that Anna Mei Anderson had a lot more to experience than could fit into just one book...(Find the complete post here)
It's been an amazing experience "raising the flag" for Pauline. And now that there are three books in the series, I'm excited to report that Jaymie and I have been working together on a new project. The details haven't been finalized yet, but I can disclose that Anna Mei will definitely make an appearance. And we certainly couldn't leave out Danny, who has plenty of his own fans!

As they say on TV, stay tuned...

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10. September Brings a "Blessing"

Although it’s hard to see summer come to an end, I always look forward to the pleasures of fall. For me this year’s pleasures are especially welcome, as they include the arrival of the third book in the Anna Mei series: Blessing in Disguise.    

In this follow up to Cartoon Girl and Escape Artist, Anna Mei Anderson has started 7th grade. Although that means another new school for her, she’s no longer the “new kid.” In fact, she’s pretty sure she has everything figured out this time, with a group of good friends and a to-do list that includes joining the Science Club. She’s even prepared to be friendly and helpful to Kai Chen, whose family has just moved to town and whose father works with Anna Mei’s father at the research lab.

But she hasn’t counted on how annoying Kai turns out to be. Or how the more she gets to know him, the less sure she is about anything—including her feelings about her family, her friends, even her own identity. Some things, it turns out, are a little more complicated than they seemed.

This chapter in Anna Mei’s journey toward self-awareness was especially challenging. I owe a huge debt of gratitude to my editor at Pauline Kids, Jaymie Stuart Wolfe.  An adoptive mother herself, Jaymie provided invaluable insight into the hearts and minds of families like the Andersons and the Chens. Her enthusiasm and guidance gave me the confidence to take Anna Mei’s story in this direction.

Once again the cover art was created by the talented  Wayne Alfano. Mary Joseph Peterson, FSP, designed a great collage for the back cover, featuring maps, a compass, and a portrait of Anna Mei with her friends. It's fun to see all of them together for the first time!

I hope you'll enjoy Blessing in Disguise and appreciate the  depth it adds to the series. It's available online now at Amazon.com, Barnes&Noble.com, and Pauline Books & Media. It’s on the shelf at Pauline bookstores across the U.S. and in Canada, as well as at Schuler Books in Lansing, Michigan. Other bookstores will be stocking it soon.

If you’d like to order a signed copy, simply email me at [email protected], and I’ll reply with payment and shipping information.

I decided to end this post with a quote from Lucy Larcom, a 19thcentury poet famous for her detailed account of early American childhood. It's appropriate because the book features a botany project as well as a life lesson that can only come from experience sometimes, our biggest challenges turn out to be our greatest blessings.

"Like a plant that starts up in showers and sunshine, and does not know which has best helped it to grow, it is difficult to say whether the hard things or the pleasant things did me the most good."

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11. Five Stars for "Escape Artist!"

Good news! Anna Mei, Escape Artistthe second book in the middle-grade Anna Mei Serieshas just received two five-star reviews:

Everyone has secrets, and sometimes that secret is all of your family. "Anna Mei, Escape Artist" is an entry into Carol A. Grund's series following Anna Mei as she faces life and learns many lessons. Anna has many friends, but Danny has proved peculiar to her, as Anna has never met any of his family. Anna fears that Danny is hiding something from her, but the truth comes and Anna learns much. "Anna Mei" is a fine read for young readers who are trying to branch into standard novels. Highly recommended.


What a delight to have my old friend Anna Mei back! I enjoyed this book just as much as I enjoyed its predecessor, and I can't wait until my six-year-old, who has just discovered Junie B. Jones, is old enough for Anna Mei. In this, we're faced with more of the difficulties of friendship and discerning how to treat people, especially close friends who are hurting and confusing you. In the face of a big misunderstanding, Anna Mei finds herself battling feelings and learning to grow in interpersonal skills. (Can you tell I'm trying not to spoil it?) Maybe it’s that I’m a girl too, but I found myself, even with an adult perspective and quite a few years on the main character, sucked right into the drama of the book.   

This is a great introduction for intermediate readers and a situation girls in this age will definitely enjoy. The lesson that’s taught doesn’t feel preachy and the way it’s told makes it worth reading. I enjoyed it, and I'll bet your intermediate reader will, too! Highly recommended.

I'm thrilled that both of these reviewers, who also liked Cartoon Girl, found this new story just as compelling. I'd love to hear from other readers, too. Send me an email and let me know what you think!

More good news this month: my short story titled "A Family Recipe" appears in a new anthology for ages 8-12 just published by Pauline Kids. Family Matters:Thirteen Short Stories was edited by Jaymie Wolfe, my editor on Escape Artist. She's done a great job selecting stories that reflect a broad range of families and the issues they deal with. Mine is about a girl named Allison and a unique gift that links several generations in her adoptive family. All the stories include discussion questions, making this a wonderful tool for classroom use. It's available at online bookstores like Amazon as well as at Pauline's site.

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12. "Anna Mei" Fans Come Through

I wanted to share some pictures from two recent book signings, both held at bookstores in my area. I admit that I'd had a couple of sleepless nights leading up to them, imagining myself sitting alone at a table, with nothing but untouched stacks of books for company.

But as always, my friends and family came through for me. They not only bought books, they stayed to chat and to ask about my upcoming projects. One especially wonderful moment came when I looked up and saw two of my college roommates smiling at me. We all live in different towns, so although we've been in touch, we hadn't seen each other for many years. I was just delighted that they took the time to come to the bookstore and support me (although I could kick myself for not getting a picture of the three of usnext time, ladies!).

Another friend and former co-worker traveled from out of town, bringing her little boy along. I hadn't seen Josh since the family moved away when he was a baby, and this fall he will be starting kindergarten! We had a great time catching up. Other friends and family came to buy books for their kids, grandkids, nieces and nephews. I also met a couple of young fans, including Isabelle, a student at the school where I recently made a presentation. She and her mom had seen the signings advertised in the paper and made a special trip to come and get some books.

So in the end I never had to sit at a table all alone, arranging books into artistic piles and counting my bookmarks over and over. Books were sold, laughter was shared, many hugs were exchanged. What a blessing to have so many special people in my life, including the new friends my little Anna Mei has made for me. Many thanks to all of you, and to Whitney at Schuler Books and Jamie at Bestsellers, who hosted and promoted the events. Maybe we'll all touch base again in the fall, to celebrate Book 3!

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13. Upcoming Book Signings

I'm happy to announce that I'll be doing book signings of both Cartoon Girl and Escape Artist at Lansing, MI area bookstores in May.

Find me at Schuler Books & Music in Eastwood Towne Center from 2-3:30 pm on Saturday, May 7, and at Bestsellers Books & Coffee Company from 2-4 pm on Saturday, May 14. I'd love to see you there!

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14. A Room Full of Inspiration

In schools and libraries across the country, March is celebrated as "Reading Month," a time to focus on reading as a fun activity that helps foster a lifelong love of learning. A few weeks ago I was privileged to be invited to a local elementary school to make a presentation about reading and writing.
The K-4 students had been doing special activities and tracking their reading time all month long, earning one "mile" for each minute of reading. I was impressed to learn that they had collectively logged 79,000 miles in only four weeks. As the reading specialist explained, that's more than three times around the equator!

I was prepared but nervous as the kids started to file in. What if I couldn't hold their interest with my story about being a "writer" ever since I was their age? That thought was still in my head when a group of third graders marched in, proudly carrying a large plastic jar which they plunked down on the table in front of me. It was filled with pieces of food in various stages of decay, from just a little green around the edges to being completely covered in white fuzz. 

"Do you know what this is?" the teacher asked me as the students gathered around, grinning in anticipation. Know it? I'd imagined it about a hundred times--I would have recognized that jar anywhere.

"It's the mold terrarium from the book!" I said, just as excited as they were. Not only had they done the science experiment described in Cartoon Girl, they had brought it to show me. I told them I'd never seen such beautiful mold.

After that, talking about my journey from grade school student to published author was easy. The kids, many of whom had read Cartoon Girl or one of my short stories, listened attentively and asked great questions. They especially seemed to enjoy seeing some of my original drafts, with words, paragraphs, even whole pages crossed out as I worked to revise and sharpen my stories, trying to make them sparkle. In the end I explained that if they loved to read and write the way I did, they could find ways to keep doing that their whole lives. 

Later I received an envelope filled with thank you notes from some of the students. A boy named Evan wrote, "I learned to never give up on your goal no matter it is." Chloe's note said, "My birthday is coming up soon and the Anna Mei stories are now at the top of my wish list!" And a girl named Tanya shared this: "I learned that you can have dreams and they can come true."

Reading those notes, I realized that my visit had been as inspiring for me as I hoped it would be for them. So thank you, students and teachers at Donley, for the warm welcome and all your enthusiasm. Whenever I think about dreams 
coming true, I'll think of the lovely notes you sent, and all your smiling faces, and a jar full of beautiful green mold.

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15. "Escape Artist" Arrives!

I'm happy to announce that Escape Artist, the second title in the "Anna Mei" series for middle grade readers, is now officially available! The continuing story of Anna Mei Anderson takes place during the summer between sixth and seventh grades. It's about the deepening of her new friendships, but also about how friendships are tested. What do you do when someone you care about is in trouble, and you suddenly feel like you're in over your head? Find out what Anna Mei does when she unexpectedly finds herself in this situation.

You can read the first chapter at the Pauline Books & Media website. My editor also wrote an article about it for their quarterly magazine. The book is available for online purchase ($8.95) through the publisher or at Amazon. It's also on the shelf at any of Pauline's bookstores, as well as some bookstores in mid-Michigan.

I'm still working out details for a public book signing next month and will be sure to post them as soon as they are available.

I can't wait to hear what you think of Anna Mei's adventures in Escape Artist. Please feel free to email me your comments, and if you'd like to write a review, I will bless you forever and also post it here. How can you pass up a deal like that?

Many thanks for all the encouragement you've sent my way over the past year as I worked to bring Anna Mei's story to life. To have people actually waiting for one of my books to come out is an unexpected and amazing delight!

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16. Happy New Year, Chinese-style!

In February I was invited to sign copies of Anna Mei, Cartoon Girl at a Chinese New Year Party. This annual event is hosted by the local branch of an organization called Families with Children from China

What a wonderful group of parents and children! Most of the kids were girls adopted from China, ranging in age from 18 months up to about fourteen. They seemed excited to see a book cover featuring a character that looked like them--according to some of the parents I talked to, that is a rare experience. Many of the girls wore traditional Chinese clothing. They looked just beautiful in their brightly colored and embroidered silk outfits.

After sharing a potluck dinner, we were treated to live music from a young Chinese opera singer. The girls enjoyed making crafts and playing with the live rabbits who were honored guests, since this is the Year of the Rabbit in the Chinese calendar. Then they joined together to don a dragon costume and parade around the room with noisemakers. Finally the girls were invited to participate in what the organizers called "faux fireworks." Since we were inside a church hall, I couldn't imagine what this could be, short of all of us gathering around a TV to watch a fireworks DVD. The actual event turned out to be so much more fun than that! First the adults laid out long strips of bubble wrap on the floor. The girls, holding fiber-optic flashlights, lined up on both sides. Then someone turned off the lights, someone else yelled "Go!," and suddenly the hall was filled with the pop and crackle of hundreds of tiny "fireworks." The girls laughed and jumped and waved their flashlights until the very last bubble had burst. It was the cutest thing I ever saw, and that includes the bunnies!

I had a great time and am so delighted to have been invited to the party. Many thanks to Janelle and Jo Marie from the FCC, to all the parents who stopped to chat with me about their cherished daughters, and especially to the girls themselves, whose bright eyes and happy smiles reminded me why I wrote a story about a girl named Anna Mei in the first place.

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17. Almost Time to "Escape"

I just learned from my publisher's marketing department that the next book in the Anna Mei series will make its official debut on March 15, 2011.

And here is the cover art, created once again by illustrator Wayne Alfano! Since the story takes place during Anna Mei’s first summer in Michigan, the setting is the nature center near her house. I love how bright and sunny and colorful it is. But even though the sun is shining on this particular day, there are definitely clouds on the horizon for Anna Mei. Before the summer is over, everything she thinks she knows about friendship will be put to the test.

Here's another sneak peek, courtesy of the book trailer created by Pauline Books & Media:

The book will be available at Amazon, Pauline Books and other online stores, as well as bookstores in the Lansing/Jackson, Michigan area. I plan to schedule a couple of book signings in the spring and will post the details here, along with information for anyone who’d like to order a signed copy by mail. It's so great that my little Anna Mei already has fans!

A few months ago, I was interviewed by a reporter from the local paper. She did a great job summarizing all the information I gave her about my work. You can read the full article here.

As a result of that article, I received an invitation to a Chinese New Year party! The local chapter of Families with Children from China has asked me to come and talk about the books and sign copies of Cartoon Girl. I’m looking forward to sharing in their celebration, which includes food, tea, a dragon dance and even some rabbits, in honor of the Year of the Rabbit. I'll post pictures here because really, who doesn't want want to see a bunch of cute, fluffy bunnies?

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18. A Fresh New Look

I just realized that this month marks the 10th anniversary of my professional writing life. In October of 2000, I got the news that a story I had written about the art of quilting in colonial America would be published by Cobblestone, a history magazine for ages 9-14. That first sale led to others, and eventually I built up a list of credits that basically served as a resume.
Since so much of the business of freelance writing takes place online—market research, interviews, submissions, collaboration with editors and other writers—I knew that eventually my resume would need to go online, too. Having a professional site allows you not only to list credits, but to show editors and other potential employers your level of commitment.
I decided to hire a fledgling designer to create a website for me—my son, David. He actually built the whole thing from scratch, using HTML and a lot of other hocus pocus I know nothing about. The result was a unique site completely customized to my specifications. In February of 2009, CarolAGrund.com was officially launched, just in time for my first public appearance at a women’s expo. 

Not long afterward, I was contacted by an editor about writing a full-length middle grade novel. I was glad I could refer her to my website, where she could see my credits, learn a little about me, and get a sense of my writing style from the blog entries linked to the site. I can’t say that having a website got me the job, but I do know it was an important step in my transition from hobbyist to professional.
After serving me well for a year and a half, I decided that the site needed a facelift. So I went back to my favorite designer, who by this time was attending a digital media & arts school in Chicago. Once again David waved his magic wand, producing a clean, fresh design to showcase my work. Of course, what seems like magic to me actually represents a lot of instruction, hard-won experience, and many, many hours of his time. The finished product showcases his hard work and talent as well.
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19. Coming Up for Air

Today I feel like a swimmer who has traveled a long way underwater and then, upon surfacing, looks around in confusion at her surroundings. My thoughts go something like this: How could I have ended up here, near the end of July, when I dove into this project way back in February?

The weeks in between are a blur. And now that I’ve resurfaced, I feel badly about neglecting this blog for so long. I had hoped to use it as a sort of journal, chronicling my experiences as a working writer. But I’ve been so busy with the “working” part that I’ve barely had time to breathe, let alone do any “journaling.” And although I regret the missed opportunity, I’d like to look back now at the past few amazing months, and attempt to summarize my experience as best I can.

In February I began writing the sequel to Anna Mei, Cartoon Girl. The basics of the storyline had been approved by the editorial staff at Pauline Books & Media, but Diane, the wonderful editor who had guided me through rewrites on the original book, had left for another job. While I continued to churn out pages, I definitely felt the lack of guidance. And I worried whether the new editor they eventually hired would want massive changes.

In the middle of all this, Anna Mei, Cartoon Girl was released on April 1st! What a thrill to open a carton of books and hold them in my hands. Suddenly my efforts turned from working on the new book to promoting this one.

I started by creating a special Anna Mei website, so that readers could easily find reviews, a list of booksellers, resources and some book-related projects and information for kids. I visited local bookstores with ordering information, so they could stock the book. I also created teacher packets and delivered them to local schools so that teachers could read the book over the summer and consider using them in their classrooms this fall. The packets included an article I wrote about the book, which appeared in the spring issue of Pauline Books & Media's quarterly magazine.

My most exciting event was throwing a book launch party in May, so friends and family in my local area could come and celebrate with me. I signed a lot of books that day and really enjoyed chatting with everyone who stopped by.

Then in June, I was invited to make my very first school presentations. I traveled to upstate New York to meet with kids in grades K-6 about being a children’s writer, and to talk with them about Anna Mei and Friend 2 Fr

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20. Days of Endless Summer

The older I get, the more my summers seem to go like this: Memorial Day—> whoosh! —> Labor Day. I’m not exactly sure when this started to happen. All I know is that summer once seemed very different than it does now.

There used to be an eternity—give or take a millennium—between the last school bell in June and the first one in September. I remember zooming out the door of my elementary school and into glorious, sunshiny freedom. Summer stretched out ahead of me like an endless green lawn, dotted here and there with yellow butterflies, while the faint jingle of an ice cream truck sounded somewhere off in the distance.

Back then almost every house in our suburban neighborhood was bursting at the seams with kids. There were the baby boomers, already in their teens and sporting the long hair and tattered jeans that made them seem somehow exotic and unapproachable. The youngest kids in these families, the ones I ended up babysitting for, were the first of the Gen-Xers.

But the ones in between—the tail-end boomers born in the late 50s and early 60s—those are the ones who ruled summers when I was a kid. Nobody was in daycare. We just woke up, slipped on a striped or plaid shirt and a pair of shorts, poured ourselves a bowl of Cap’n Crunch, and headed outside. Calling each other first to make plans? Unheard of. We just knocked on the doors and asked the moms if our friends could come out and play.

Me (far right) and the backyard
Kool-Aid stand I won in a contest
And boy, did we play. Climbing trees, catching butterflies, building forts, jumping rope, challenging each other to squirt gun fights and bike races. Eeny-meeny-miney-mo! Red Rover, Red Rover, and Mother May I? Endless games of kickball and dodgeball and baseball in someone’s backyard. The yards were small so we were always calling interference! and do over! whenever the ball hit a clothesline or a swingset.

Sometimes a mom would bring out Dixie cups full of Kool-Aid, or slices of watermelon, or a boxful of popsicles, which we gulped down gratefully. Moving from yard to yard, you could manage to have sticky fingers practically from breakfast until bathtime. And if you got thirsty, every yard had a hose, hooked up to a handy spigot.

Make-believe was part of summer, too. Spy shows and westerns were popular then, so we assigned parts and acted out episodes from The Man from U.N.C.L.E. or Roy Rogers. Sometimes we cobbled together costumes and put on plays out in

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21. Anna Mei...Part 2!

I’m excited to announce that the sequel to Anna Mei, Cartoon Girl is on track for its scheduled February 2011 release date. The publisher has commissioned illustrator Wayne Alfano, who did such a great job on the first book, to do the cover art. And the official title is (drumroll, please) Anna Mei, Escape Artist.

The word “artist” relates the new book to Cartoon Girl, and pairing it with “escape” is a clue to an important theme. I hesitate to say more than that, at least without posting a big “spoiler” warning first. Writing a synopsis that’s enticing but doesn’t give away too much of the plot is challenging enough. But writing one for a sequel is even harder—you can’t give away what happened in the first book, either!

Here’s what I’ve come up with that I hope will whet your appetite without spoiling it:

With sixth-grade graduation behind her, it's time for Anna Mei Anderson to spend her first summer in Michigan. Her plans include visits to the science museum and nature center, a week at volleyball camp, and plenty of time to just hang out. Not in the plan? All the hurdles that threaten to ruin her summer, including the ones that challenge her relationship with both family and friends. In this follow-up to Cartoon Girl, Anna Mei will need to re-examine everything she thinks she knows about friendship.

Escape Artist has been registered with the Library of Congress and will be assigned its ISBN (International Standard Book Number) soon. For now my work is done—it’s time to let this story go and move on to the third one. But it’s nice to know that I can always click here to remind myself of the promise of things to come. 

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22. Worth a Thousand Words

Completing a full-length middle-grade novel was challenging and fulfilling. Having it published was a dream come true. But knowing that actual kids are reading and enjoying the book brings the experience to a whole different level.

The picture above was sent to me by Sr. Donna, the moderator of a brand new book club in California. After reading Anna Mei, Cartoon Girl herself, she was inspired to start a discussion group for girls in her community. Six girls came together for a “getting acquainted” meeting, where they all agreed to read Anna Mei and then come back the next week to talk about it. At Sr. Donna’s suggestion, I created and posted a list of suggested topics to use as a springboard for the discussion.

She later emailed to tell me that the group enjoyed a lively and interesting meeting: “They all found Anna Mei's story realistic and relatable, especially when it came to the awkwardness she experiences at school and her reluctance to have her parents meet her friends. They also liked how her faith supported her in the quest of becoming true to herself…”

For their third meeting, the girls decided they wanted to do their own heritage projects, inspired by the assignment Ms. Wagner gives the kids in the book!

For as long as I can remember, reading has been one of the greatest pleasures of my life. So I truly appreciate Sr. Donna’s efforts to encourage kids not only to read but to enrich their reading by sharing it. And to the members of the best book club ever—Sarah, Brittany, Ashley, Marina, Kelsey, Brooke and BeatrizI’m just thrilled that you all found something in Anna Mei that had meaning for you at this particular time in your lives. Believe me, that picture of you holding my book will be a treasured memento of a very special time in mine!

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23. Bright Shining Faces

My beautiful niece Ana
Soon after Anna Mei, Cartoon Girl was published, I got an invitation any writer would envy—I was asked to make a presentation at my nieces' school in upstate New York. It seems that once their teachers learned that Mel (age 12) and Ana (age 8) had helped inspire a book, they started reading it aloud in their classrooms. Then they asked if I would come and talk to the kids about writing.

It was my first time doing a school presentation, so I was pretty nervous. And because I was still busy working on the manuscript for the sequel, I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to prepare. Even more nerve-wracking—the school had invited a reporter and photographer from the local paper to cover the event!

I’d just set up my display board and answered a few of the reporter’s questions when the students started filing into the room. The butterflies that had been flitting idly around in my stomach started beating their wings in a wild dance. I felt exactly the way Anna Mei did when she had to present her heritage report to the kids in room 117!

But like my young character, I found that the anticipation was much worse than the experience. The staff was warm and welcoming. The reporter stayed unobtrusively in the background, and the kids…well, the kids were amazing. They had a lot of great questions about writing in general and about Anna Mei in particular.

One of the best moments came when I mentioned the two short stories I’d written in a collection called Friend 2 Friend. Hands shot up all over the room. It turns out that the teachers had read those stories to them, so I was able to ask questions like “What happened next?” and “What would you have done?” Talking about my stories with a group of kids who have already read and enjoyed them is like the sweetest frosting on top of an already delicious cake.

Later I had a chance to talk with some of the students at a reception at my nieces’ house. Some were outgoing, others were shy; some wanted to have their pictures taken with me, just like I do whenever a visiting author comes to a bookstore or library near me. Some confided that they hoped to be writers themselves. I told them I looked forward to getting their signatures in their books someday.

2nd grade teacher Mrs. Smith
As a wonderful souvenier, I brought home thank-you cards from the kids. Baylor wrote, "You inspired me to be a poet. I like your poem Sandcastle!" "Thank you for coming to our school," Stephen's note says. "Now I want to write a book too! I even have the title—Fish and Cookie Picnic Day." Then there's this comment from Sé: "Thank you for being so nice and telling us how to make a book, and making my mind bigger." To which I can only say, "Thank all of you for being so nice, and making my heart bigger."

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24. Time to Party!

Although the book made its official debut in April, the real celebration took place on Saturday, May 22. That’s when family, friends and coworkers gathered at a book launch party to celebrate the publication of Anna Mei, Cartoon Girl.

The two-hour event was held in the community room at a local library. We decorated the room in bright blue to match the book cover, adding punches of Chinese red. A highlight was a beautiful, full-color poster of the cover, generously provided by the marketing department at Pauline Books (thanks, Sally!).

The book cover also found its way onto the dessert table, where it was featured on a cake with this message: Congratulations—It’s a book! Along with a variety of fruit and sweets, guests sampled a recipe straight out of the pages of Anna Mei—her grandmother Anna’s Danish spice cookies (Krydderikager).

A tabletop display traced my writing journey from '
Notebook Scribbler' to 'Published Author,' while the Anna Mei book trailer and interview played on a nearby TV.

Kids of all ages enjoyed a craft table that featured Chinese dragons and masks, and guests were encouraged to enter a raffle for a P.F. Chang's gift certificate. The winners were Andrew and Linda from Lansing, which seemed like good karma since they came to my party even though it was Andrew's birthday!

It was a thrill to talk with so many friends, all gathered in one place. I even met friends of friends who had stopped by to "meet the author." I signed a lot of books and one napkin, which my five-year-old nephew thinks will be pretty valuable some day.

After listening to a short reading
and a few heartfelt remarks, guests left the party with their signed books and party favors—colorful Chinese money bags stuffed with candy and fortune cookies.

A celebration like this would not have been possible if I’d had to do it alone. Luckily I'm blessed with generous family and friends, and I hope readers will indulge me for a moment while I acknowledge them. Both of my sisters contributed desserts and helped serve them.
My friend Donna spent many hours prepping the crafts. My friend Mark helped plan the whole event and was there from set-up to tear-down, as accomplished, creative and cheerful a support system as anyone could hope for.

My parents arranged for a special toast in my honor. My son David traveled from Chicago to be there for the party, then stayed up late to help stuff dozens of goodie bags. His friends MaryAnn and Peter stayed all day, doing whatever needed to be done..
True to form, my husband Jim provided unwavering enthusiasm and support—not only for this party, not only for this project, but for always. Despite being paid to be a writer, I simply have no words when it comes to thanking him.

Finally, many thanks to everyone who took the time to come and celebrate with me—you helped made this a day I'll never forget.

Here's a short clip of the signing and closing remarks:.

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25. Five Stars for "Anna Mei!"

It's been about six weeks since Anna Mei, Cartoon Girl was released by Pauline Kids, an imprint of Pauline Books & Media. The response has been wonderful so far--traffic to my website is way up, with people checking in from New York to California (sounds like a folk song, doesn't it?)

The story seems to be striking a chord with adults and kids alike. A twelve year-old girl wrote to say "I loved your book!", and the mother of an adopted daughter expressed her appreciation for a story that "may open up conversations that are often difficult to begin. As the population of young girls adopted from China matures, it's nice to have a book out that deals with some of the issues they face having dark hair, dark eyes in a sea of blond girls with blue eyes."

And how about this for a compliment: "I am impressed with the author's ability to get some very good, basic, value concepts across without being 'preachy.' I was toward the end of the book at breakfast and ended up being late for work"!

Over the past weeks I've learned that teachers are reading Anna Mei to their students. Adults are buying it for their kids or their nieces and nephews. Librarians have asked how to order it for their libraries. A few have even asked if I would consider talking to their students in person. It's so gratifying to know that people are embracing my little character and her story of identity lost and found.

A high point has been a review from the Midwest Book Review, a group that has been rating children's books since 1976. They recently gave Anna Mei, Cartoon Girl their highest rating:

5 out of 5 stars -A top pick for middle school fiction readers
Trying to fit in is the goal of any new kid, and some go to untold lengths. "Anna Mei, Cartoon Girl" tells the tale of Anna Mei who is trying to fit into her sixth grade class, as the child of an adoptive family. Fearing being an outcast, she manufactures herself a personality, only to find that reality will keep up with her and being herself is hard after trying not to for so long. "Anna Mei, Cartoon Girl" is a top pick for middle school fiction readers.

Another highlight has been seeing a series of pictures my son took in Chicago, where a PBM bookstore is featuring Anna Mei in its window and on its shelves. It's so much fun to see the characters come to life right there on Michigan Avenue!

Many, many thanks to all of you who have let me know that you enjoyed the book or are looking forward to reading it. I've gotten so many notes and phone calls offering congratulations and good wishes. Special thanks to those who have passed the book on to people in their lives who can share it with a wider audience. It doesn't help to be a writer when your feelings of gratitude are so completely, overwhelmingly... inexpressable!

Meanwhile, work on the sequel continues under the guidance of a new editor at PBM. I'm excited to see what she will bring to the project and hope people will be interested in the continuing story of Anna Mei. So if all goes well, I'll get to do this all over again next year!

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