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1. News and More: Book Reviews, Blog Posts, and Caught Between Two Curses

Busy spring!

Busy spring!

Lots going on lately in our household with birthdays, Mother’s Day, spring winery trips and the end of the first year of preschool. So, I have also had a lot of web happenings that I’m late on reporting. Here’s a round-up:

  • Caught Between Two Curses (CBTC) news: I’m so excited that YA author Brian Katcher reviewed CBTC over at Foreveryoungadult.com  and he said, “There’s a lot of creepy stuff going on in the wings, with baseballs flying out of nowhere and the grim specter of death hanging over Julie’s family. But they’re Cubs fans. They’re used to living in hell.”  He also said, “Dill does a great job of linking Julie’s family curse to the cursed Chicago team. Can Julie and Matt stop the curse that is destroying her family? Will the Cubs go all the way this year? Keep in mind, this is a work of pure fiction.”
  • I was also lucky enough to be featured as the Indie Spotlight on Reading Teen, writing about how I got my idea for CBTC and how I wanted to explore the question of destiny and why some people survive accidents and others don’t, as well as the Cubs Curse. You can read about that at the link above. I also was lucky enough to answer some questions about writing fiction on the St. Louis Writers’ Guild blog, The Writers’ Lens.
  • News-Gazette Book Reviews: As many of you know, I write a Sunday Book Review column for the News-Gazette. I recently reviewed two very interesting books, one science fiction and one non-fiction parenting book. To check these out, both written by strong and interesting women, click on the titles: The Self-Esteem Trap (parenting) and Zero Time (science fiction).
  • Over at WOW! Women On Writing, I posted about writing in multiple points of view, how to do it well, books that do it well, and why authors may consider using more than one character’s point of view to tell the story. We have an interesting conversation going on The Muffin and on our Facebook page!
  • At Lit Ladies critique group on May 5

    At Lit Ladies critique group on May 5

    Lit Ladies blog: On the Lit Ladies blog, I am blogging about strong women and girls (GIRL POWER!) on Tuesdays now, and I talked about a book that changed my life, Half the Sky! Put it on your summer reading list. Find out how you can help women and girls find their voices around the world. I also blogged about my friend Kelly who exemplifies the Margaret Mead quote about never doubting what a small group of citizens can do.

And last but not least, I am currently organizing a blog tour for myself and my YA, Caught Between Two Curses. If you have a blog and want to participate, I have some dates in July! I am writing guest posts about young adult topics, writing, strong girls and women, baseball, curses, adult illiteracy and more. Please email me at margo (at) margodill.com if you would like to participate. You get a free ecopy of CBTC for your participation!



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2. The Truth About Princesses and Other Stuff I’ve Been Doing

My daughter at princess tea

My daughter at princess tea

On the Lit Ladies blog, I am starting a series of posts about girls, strength, gender identity, uniqueness, strong females and more. I started with a topic currently near and dear to my heart–princesses. I think they are currently getting a bad rap from many, and so I’m sticking up for them here. Here’s my take on the obsession with princesses and why it’s not so bad: http://www.thelitladies.com/the-truth-about-princesses/

Besides this, if you are a writer, I also blogged on WOW! Women On Writing about coming up with a marketing plan for your book that makes sense. If you are in the throes of  marketing or even thinking about marketing, here’s what I had to say here: http://muffin.wow-womenonwriting.com/2014/04/coming-up-with-marketing-plan-that.html

I also reviewed two funny books that would be perfect for gift books for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, or graduation here: http://www.news-gazette.com/arts-entertainment/local/2014-04-20/give-gift-laughter.html

If you are a children’s writer and live near St. Louis/St. Charles or within driving distance (or you have frequent flier miles), consider coming to the Fall SCBWI Missouri Conference on September 6 and 7. It is going to be awesome. I can’t wait! In attendance will be agents, editors, art directors, published authors, and published illustrators. You can pay for critiques and pitch sessions, too. The Saturday non-member rate is $175 and you get so much stuff for that, you don’t even need to add more on to get a good value. Check out all registration information starting on this page: https://missouri.scbwi.org/events/2014-fall-conference/

Finally, I am participating in the Arthritis Foundation Walk on May 16 in St. Louis, and I am so close to my fundraising goal! I am walking in honor of my mom and my friend’s elementary school aged son! Please consider donating to this amazing foundation that helps people from ages 0 to 100. Here’s my page: http://stl.walktocurearthritis.kintera.org/faf/donorReg/donorPledge.asp?ievent=1095770&lis=0&kntae1095770=2DA0A7A304F64CE1B2E178573D47321A

1655060_10202352586313888_1471055173_oThanks, everyone! If you haven’t had a chance to buy Caught Between Two Curses yet, check it out here: http://www.amazon.com/Caught-Between-Curses-Margo-Dill-ebook/dp/B00J8UWR4K

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3. A Southern Place by Elaine Drennon Little

Southern PlaceHello readers! I have another WOW! Women On Writing blog tour to participate in today. If you missed yesterday’s review and giveaway of BEYOND BELIEF: The Secret Lives of Women in Extreme Religions, go to it now!

Today, I am hosting Elaine Drennon Little, and her novel from WiDo Publishing, A Southern Place. This is a terrific,  heart-wrenching novel–it’s being billed as a southern saga.

Read my review and then enter to win a copy of the book through the Rafflecopter form below! This is the last stop of the tour AND the last chance to win. Plus, check on the entry form for a special FRIDAY THE 13th entry!! (Insert scary music here. . .)

Elaine Drennon Little introduces readers to a dysfunctional family full of misunderstood souls in her debut novel, A Southern Place. The pages of Little’s novel are filled with characters readers will feel like they could reach out and hug—that’s how much detail and work this talented author put into her first book. It’s a character-driven ride, mostly through the late 1950’s South, focusing on hard-working, proud individuals who can’t catch a break.

Little chose to tell the story through the eyes of five characters, and this is where the strength in the book lies. When the novel opens with Mojo, the youngest of the cast, beaten almost to death and in the hospital in the late 1980s, the sheriff reveals how awful her background is and how she really hasn’t got anybody left in the world. Readers will be forming an opinion on Mojo’s family before finishing that beginning section; but as the author spends the majority of the book in the point of view of Mojo’s mother, uncle, and father (whom she doesn’t know), opinions will soon change. That’s the beauty of Little’s first novel—she drives home the point that appearances are not always the truth; life is seldom what it seems. No one knows what happens behind closed doors.

Once Little flashes back to the past to the late 1950s, readers meet Phil (Mojo’s daddy, even though it’s a huge secret), a rich kid whose learning disabilities are an embarrassment to his successful and powerful father. Calvin, Mojo’s uncle, works on Phil’s daddy’s plantation, and is well-respected—that is until a farming accident leaves him with a hook instead of a hand. Then, there’s Delores, Calvin’s younger sister and Mojo’s mama. She, like Mojo, is a good, kind woman who just wants to take care of her family and do the right thing. She’s willing to take just about any job she can and lend an ear to any poor soul. This is how she gets together with Phil, starting a short and passionate affair. ElaineDrennonLittle

Once all the pieces of the plot are in motion, Little alternates point of view between the three main characters, showing readers how one choice can lead to a life full of heartache. Sometimes, though, the characters’ misfortune isn’t a result of their own choices, like when Cal is involved in the farming accident. If readers are a fan of Les Miserables, they may be reminded a bit of this classic novel while reading A Southern Place. Not because it takes place in 19th century France, but because these Georgian 20th century characters are down on their luck and often wind up in poverty and sickness.

Little grew up on a farm in southern Georgia, where much of her novel is set. She taught music for 27 years in public school and graduated with an MFA in 2008. She currently lives in northern Georgia with her husband, and she blogs at http:// elainedrennonlittle.wordpress.com/.

When the novel ends, readers have a real understanding of how the beginning could happen—just how did young, innocent Mojo wind up beaten to a pulp in the hospital? Little brings the plot full circle and even ends with a bit of hope. This Southern saga is sure to leave readers wanting more from Little soon.

Fill out the Rafflecopter form below for your chance to win!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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4. Today is Caught Between Two Curses Release Day

1655060_10202352586313888_1471055173_oHappy birthday to my new young adult, light paranormal, baseball, romance novel titled, Caught Between Two Curses. I AM EXCITED! YAY! YAY! YAY! YAY! YAY! Rocking Horse Publishing did an amazing job with the cover, and they have been super to work with. Thank you! I hope that you will order a copy from them today for a teen in your life or for yourself. You can do so here: http://www.rockinghorsepublishing.com/new-release.html.  OR if you live in St. Louis, come to the book launch party on Friday evening. Those details are right here: https://www.smore.com/v4a3

Some of you are over here because you read my post at the Lit Ladies and you are looking for the actors whom I think could play Julie, Gus, and Matt. So, I won’t keep you wondering any longer. . .

4840900429_18ec70d2ea_n This would be Gus, played by Matt Lanter. (This photo is courtesy of GreginHollywood on Flickr.com.) If you check out Julie’s list I revealed on the Lit Ladies site today, you can see that this actor here fits many of the qualities of Gus. So, you can see why Julie is a bit torn between the two guys in her life, if this is what Gus looks like. :)

5865258116_c8fc1887fb_nJulie and Matt are on the cover of my book above, but if I had to choose actors, I would choose.. .Chord india eisleyOverstreet, who plays Sam on Glee.  He would be my first choice for Matt. (Photo is courtesy of vagueonthehow at flickr.com) And for Julie, I would love Ellen Page, but she’s probably a bit too old now, so we’ll have to go with. . .India Eisley who plays on the show, The Secret Life of The American Teenager.  (photo from abcfamily.com)

So, what do you think?

To read a short excerpt and a back cover book summary, check out the Lit Ladies post!

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5. Online Book Launch Party for My New Young Adult Novel

Join me at the Lit Ladies blog for my online book party with prizes. Details on the flyer below or on The Lit Ladies blog here: (http://www.thelitladies.com)

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6. Great Books I’ve Read Recently

reaperReaper: YA urban fantasy written by St. Louis area author, L.S. Murphy, is the story of sixteen year old Quincy Amarante who will become the fifth grim reaper. Quincy is concerned about one thing before Death enters into her life–being popular and going out with a gorgeous guy. But Death won’t leave her alone and neither does her childhood best friend, Ben–whom all readers will be swooning for by the end of the book. Here’s what I think: I really enjoyed this book from the beginning until the end–it’s one that I found myself anxious to read and getting in the way of the things that I should have been doing, such as work. I know Quin is self-centered at the beginning and mostly concerned with being popular. But I liked her–she had some endearing qualities and was pretty funny actually. I loved the love triangle, the grim reaper aspect, the main character learning about what is actually important in life, and the ending. WOW! no spoilers here, but I was not expecting that ending, and I love it! I would read another YA by LS Murphy in a heartbeat. :)

five famous miceFive Famous Mice Meet Winston Churchill: This is a picture book by Jean Davies Okimoto and illustrated by Jeremiah Trammell. It’s a sequel to Winston of Churchill. In this book, five mice go on a quest across Canada to let people know about climate change and how it affects everyone. Here’s what I think: The illustrations in this book are great, and the mice are cute. I like how determined the mice are to get noticed, and the ends they go to–to see the polar bears–to have their voices heard. I think this is better suited for K-2. My 3-year-old loved the mice but had a little trouble understanding why people weren’t listening to them and why they had to go to the polar bears. If I taught K-2, I would definitely use this in my classroom for Earth Day.

time and foreverTime and Forever: This is Susan B. James’s first romance novel,  and it is great. It’s a time travel romance, full of twists and turns. I wrote an entire review for it for The News-Gazette. You can find that here at this link.




excelsiorExcelsior:  This is a new YA book by George Sirois, who is published by the same publisher as me (Rocking Horse Publishing). In George’s book, high school senior Matthew Peters, Excelsior – savior of faraway planet Denab IV – is becoming an Internet sensation as the main character of a popular online comic strip. But before Matthew can enjoy his burgeoning success, a beautiful older woman arrives at his school and tells him that not only is she from the planet Denab IV, but that Excelsior’s lifeforce lives within him.  Here’s what I think: I love books that start in the real world and then go into the fantasy world–and Excelsior delivers on this promise. I also love that Matthew is an everyday hero who turns into the best hero ever! :) I did feel a little sorry for him that the comics he created were actually memories—but you’ll have to read the book to figure out how. I also like that the author did not steer away from modern technology in a fantasy book. Since he sets it in the real world in the beginning and teens are into technology, it was a must he include it and he did not disappoint. (Plus of course, new gadgets were created!) FINALLY, I liked that the adult in Matthew’s life also had to get involved and didn’t just disappear. I think there really are some teenagers who don’t mind an adult or two around every once in a while. . .I’m excited that the author is planning a series.


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7. Finding My Place and the 6 + 1 Traits of Writing

I am currently creating a short guide (PDF or Word) that shows how you can use my book, Finding My Place: One Girl’s Strength at Vicksburg (ages 9 to 12) in 6 + 1 Traits of Writing lessons. The guide will be free for the teachers at any workshops I do at schools and if a teacher/home school parent buys a copy of my book. To give a little preview, I thought I would show an excerpt of each trait on the next few Wednesdays. So, here we go. . .

IDEA is one of the 6 + 1 traits of writing. It is important to start with a good idea when you write because it makes it easier for the words to flow and more interesting for the reader. Usually the first idea we come up with is not our best idea. We need to dig deeper to find a unique idea. You can do this with brainstorming, word webs, free writing, talking to a friend, or even research. For example with my book, I wanted to write about the Civil War for kids, but there are already a ton of books out there about the Civil War. SO, I had to dig deeper, and I did some research. Then, I decided to tell a story from the Confederate viewpoint, make the main character a citizen and a girl instead of a solider/drummer and a boy, and I set it during one specific battle that had extremely interesting elements, such as the citizens living in caves to protect themselves from the Yankees’ bombs.

In Finding My Place: One Girl’s Strength at Vicksburg, Anna, my 13-year-old main character, loves to write. She writes about events that happen in her daily life, poems, fiction stories, and letters. In one section toward the end of the book (page 134, chapter 21), Michael, Anna’s older brother, asks her to tell a story she has written. At first, she doesn’t want to because she doesn’t think it is a very good idea. Then when she does tell it, she realizes she never really ended the story. She started with the premise of a selfish orphan living with an elderly woman, who delivers food to his room. One day the food stops coming, and the orphan gets angry. He must leave his room to investigate.

Final Finding My Place CoverMichael asks her what happened, and Anna replies, “Yes, she had a heart attack. I never really finished the story.”

Here’s where you can use the IDEA trait with your students and this premise. Give them 10 minutes to brainstorm an ending to Anna’s story. Give them a few questions to think about: What could have happened to the elderly lady? What did the orphan do next? Does the elderly lady necessarily have to be deceased? Could she be teaching the orphan a lesson? And so on.

After the 10-minute brainstorm session, have students discuss their ideas with a partner. Then have a class discussion, where you make a list of the different ideas.

When concluding the lesson, talk to students about a fiction story they have written and ask them to think about their ending. Are they satisfied with it? Could they use these techniques to come up with an alternate (and perhaps better!) ending? Work on these new endings during the next writing period.

For more information on FINDING MY PLACE and to read an excerpt, please go to this link: http://margodill.com/blog/finding-my-place/

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8. For the Love of Pete (An Orphan Train Story) by Ethel Barker


This is a book I am EXTREMELY excited to tell you about for several reasons. . .

  • I helped to edit this book in its beginning stages in 2009, as part of my Editor 911 business.
  • It is a terrific HISTORICAL FICTION book for upper middle grade/tween/younger YA audience by a delightful author.
  • Ice Cube Press is a wonderful small publisher that also published DIVORCE GIRL (see my post:http://margodill.com/blog/2012/07/30/the-divorce-girl-blog-tour-and-giveaway-ya-or-adult/ ) which is one of the best books I read last year!
  • You can use this book to teach history AND writing lessons such as voice. There are TERRIFIC voices throughout this book.

*Historical fiction, upper-middle grade/tween/younger YA (set during the Orphan Train days)
*Three main characters: a street-smart boy, an older sister, and a younger sister–all three have chapters in their voice
*Rating: Well, is it appropriate to give a rating to a book you helped to edit? :) For the Love of Pete is a very well-written book with an interesting story/adventure that will appeal to both boys and girls–perfect for the classroom and/or home school setting!

Short, short summary:

The book starts out with a bang! Iris and her sister Rosie have to flee their New York tenement when their mother is murdered. This puts them out on the street, where they meet a “street rat”, Pete (love this character!). The three come to rely on each other and become friends. When they are put on the Orphan Train and taken to Iowa, they hope to stay together–but adults have different ideas about where the children should be and with whom. However, you can’t squash a child’s spirit or determination, and Pete, Iris, and Rosie work hard to get back together again.

So, what do I do with this book?

1. Compare a nonfiction book, such as Orphan Train Rider: One Boy’s True Story by Andrea Warren, to Ethel Barker’s book. What makes For the Love of Pete historical fiction? What true facts can you learn from it about the Orphan Train? Can you tell the author did research to make the characters experience the same things as the actual boys on the Orphan Train? (The back of the book does have a small section on the Orphan Train with a photo of boys living on the street.)

2. As mentioned, this book is told in three different voices–Pete, Rosie, and Iris. Ethel Barker does an amazing job with each voice, and this is a perfect example of voice to use with a six plus one traits lesson. You can read a bit of each chapter to the students, and without looking, they can tell you which character is speaking. Which voice do they hear? What makes that voice unique? Is it word choice? Sentence fluency? Which voice do they like best? Have a discussion about voice using this book as a starting point (since it has such a strong voice!).

3. This is also a great book to study characters, motivation, and feelings. Each character has their own motivation throughout the story (and it changes a bit as the characters develop). For example, ask students what is Pete’s motivation in the beginning of the book for helping the sisters. How does he follow through on this? Why does this motivation fit his character? As for feelings, how does Iris feel toward the end of the book? (Sad and determined) Why?

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9. Traveling and Voice: Some Thoughts on Finding My Place

Speaking to the COSMO group in Columbia, MO

Speaking to the COSMO group in Columbia, MO

Today, I have a few things to share with you about Finding My Place: One Girl’s Strength at Vicksburg: a story about my recent “book tour” :) , a story from someone who bought the book, and a quick lesson on VOICE, one of the 6 + 1 traits of writing–so let’s go!

Going On a Book Tour
Last week, my good friend, who is just like a mother-in-law to me (that’s a story for another post!), Pamela Anderson from Columbia, MO invited me to stay at her house with my two-year-old and speak to her COSMO group (diabetes research) and Pachyderms (the first club ever in the U.S.) and then organized a breakfast for me of old friends–all to promote my book. My husband came, too, and the trip was a huge success! I was worried about my talk because I was used to speaking to either groups of writers, teachers, or kids; but I tied the story of taking 11 years for my book to be published (FIVE after I signed the contract) to never giving up and following your dreams. People seemed to really relate to it, even if they weren’t writers because when I finished talking, there was actually a line to buy a copy of my book! I met the most interesting and nice people–one woman was almost 90-years-old and had been researching her family on the Trail of Tears for over 30 years. Her determination and spirit made my trip. The breakfast with old friends was so great, and my two-year-old came to that–I was a little worried about this, as she is not in the “patient” stage. But even she was so good and ATE, too. (You mothers of toddlers know what an accomplishment this is.)

I am so thankful to Pamela Anderson (the retired air traffic controller, not the actress) for organizing AND my husband Rick and my good, good friend Michelle Pfeiffer (I swear–I have a friend named Pamela Anderson and Michelle Pfeiffer–both married last names!) for helping me with KB!

Final Finding My Place CoverA Cool, Heartwarming Story
My mom’s friend, Bobette, bought a book for her grandson, Gavin. He is in fifth grade. My mom and Bobette have been friends for longer than I’ve been alive (not telling you how long that is!); and I’ve met Gavin before, but he lives in a different state–so I don’t know him well. Anyway, as the sweet kid that he is, he took my book to his fifth grade teacher and said that he HAD to read if for independent reading because this was written by a family friend. The teacher was reluctant–this is understandable because she has NO IDEA who I am–but agreed to read the book to see what she thought. (What an awesome teacher!) After she finished reading it, she agreed Gavin could read it, and even better–she put my book on her reading list. WOW! Thank you!

A Lesson in Voice: 6 + 1 Traits of Writing

This is a quick lesson you can do with ANY book, not just Finding My Place. But it works better with novel length books. traits-logo

1. Once you and your students have read at least half of the book, they should be familiar with the main characters’ voices. For example, in Finding My Place, students should be able to recognize Anna, Sara, James, Mrs. Franklin, and possibly Dr. Franklin and Stuart, too.

2. Review what VOICE is. This is such a hard concept for children to understand–there is an overall voice to the book, which is Anna’s in FMP, but then each character also has their own voice. Voice is the way the words sound together, and authors have their own distinct voice. For example, you can easily tell the difference between my book and one written by Mark Twain! (HA!)

3. Each student should have a piece of paper, numbered 1-10. You, the teacher (or students can take turns doing it to) or parent, read a line or two from FMP–it could be Anna’s narrative or dialogue OR dialogue from one of the main characters. Then ask students to write down whose VOICE they think that is.

4. After revealing the correct answers, discuss with students how they knew that Mrs. Franklin said what she did or that it was Anna speaking–what is different about the VOICE?

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10. A Cat Named Mouse: The Miracle of Answered Prayer by Anna Alden-Tirrill (giveaway)


I have a special book to share with you today for chapter book/middle-grade readers (ages 8 to 12 or so) titled, A Cat Named Mouse: The Miracle of Answered Prayer. This book is inspirational or Christian fiction for kids with a heavy emphasis on prayer and Bible verses. It would be perfect for a homeschool family or group, parent/child book club, or a Christian school. Parents who are wanting to introduce or emphasize how prayer is answered and how Bible verses can be applied to our lives would also find this book helpful for their children to read or to read with their children. It has several illustrations. AND THE BEST NEWS OF ALL: I HAVE A COPY TO GIVEAWAY! IF you would like to enter the giveaway, please go below to the Rafflecopter form and do the tasks that you are interested in doing. Each task you do gives you more entries into the giveaway contest, which closes at the end of February. I’m using the Rafflecopter system because it is an easy way to keep track of entries! Thanks for trying it out with me.

A Cat Named Mouse: The Miracle of Unanswered Prayer is. . .

*A chapter book/young middle-grade realistic, inspirational fiction (based on a true story) for kids ages 8 to 12
*12-year-old girl as the main character (and a cat named Mouse!)
*Rating: A Cat Named Mouse is an enjoyable and fast read, perfect for a parent to read with a child. This book is important to discuss with children–there are a lot of Christian concepts and ideas!

Short, short summary: After being introduced to Annie and her family and their cats (as well as some neat practices they have such as their TALK UP tradition), Mouse, one of their cats, goes missing when a large animal tears down a window screen, scaring the cat who likes to sleep on the windowsill. The cat either falls out the window or jumps out the open window and goes missing. During this time, Annie and her family come up with many different ideas to get the cat back–one of them being prayer, another discussing how God has a plan. They also make signs and look for the cat. So, since it’s a children’s book, you can probably figure out what happens in the end–but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone! Annie is a wonderful main character with very loving parents.

So what do I do with this book?

1. It’s important to discuss the concepts with children that are presented in the book. One of the main things to focus on is that Annie and her parents use prayer to help find Mouse, but they don’t just sit by and hope God finds the cat. They are proactive also. Asking children to respond in a journal after reading a section will give them a chance to reflect on what happened before the discussion.

2. This is a great book to compare a personal story to what happens in the story. Children can either discuss something their family prayed for and the prayer was answered or a time something important to them was lost and then found with God’s help. If they think about this time in their own lives, they will understand the feelings Annie is having, too.

3. If you are reading this post between Feb. 18, 2013 and Feb. 28, 2013, then enter the Rafflecopter form below for your chance to win a copy. (United States and/or Canada mailing addresses only please) If you have any problems, leave a comment or e-mail me at margo (at) margodill.com. Depending on your Internet browser, you may have to click the blue underlined words that say: RAFFLECOPTER in order to see the form and enter the contest! Remember if you enter a comment, make sure you check the box in the RAFFLECOPTER FORM, so you are entered to win. :) EVERYBODY who checks the free entry gets two free entries into the contest without having to do anything else. :)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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11. Finding My Place Word Choice Lesson

Final Finding My Place Cover

Here’s a simple word choice lesson you can do with kids while reading FINDING MY PLACE: ONE GIRL’S STRENGTH AT VICKSBURG or really any historical fiction book. Word choice is one of the 6 + 1 Traits of Writing.

One thing about the 6 + 1 Traits of Writing that I love is that these are the terms that professional writers use–from voice to word choice. So, when talking to kids about word choice, using a published book, you can say: “Authors have to make decisions about word choice all the time. Here’s this author’s story.”

When I wrote Finding My Place, it was very hard for me to write from a 13-year-old girl’s point of view during THE CIVIL WAR. I remembered being 13, so it was easy for me to get feelings down. But I kept using contemporary words. My critique group would say, “I don’t think people used the word OKAY or STUPID in 1863 like they do today. That doesn’t sound natural.” My word choice was off, and it messed with the authenticity of my book. So, I had to find words that did make sense during 1863, such as Anna calling James, “a loon,” or saying, “all right” instead of “okay.” I also tried to put a little Southern flavor in my dialogue through word choice instead of writing out how they might have talked. For example, Mrs. Franklin uses “y’all” and the kids refer to the Union Soldiers as “Blue Bellies” and “Yankees.”

Another thing that I had trouble with in dealing with word choice is using the words bomb and shell. First of all, I had to find ways not to repeat bomb or shell a million times during the periods in my book when the characters were experiencing being bombed. And people would argue with me that Vicksburg citizens wouldn’t have said, “BOMB!” Luckily, I read a diary from a woman who lived during 1863, and she used the words “shell” and “bomb” in her entries.

What you can do with children to discuss word choice in a mini-lesson is: pick a line or two out of the book–this can be done in any chapter and with any character and even with narrative. CHANGE some of the word choices to inappropriate ones and see how children think and work to improve the word choice. Then share the original lines from the book with them.

As I said, this can be done with any historical fiction book or really any book with strong word choice. Children LOVE to correct you or the author, and will work hard to find words that are unique and specific in this exercise.

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12. Sentence Fluency Lesson with Finding My Place

Final Finding My Place CoverContinuing with my Wednesday 6 +1 traits of writing lessons to go with my book, Finding My Place, today I’m going to talk about a lesson in sentence fluency, using Finding My Place.

One of the writing skills you teach with sentence fluency is having sentences of different lengths that start with different words when you are writing a section of your story. When you vary your sentences like this, the overall voice sounds more natural and the writing tends to flow better. The point is to study a published work like my book to see how a professional author uses this skill. Then talk to kids about it and show them how they can do this in their own writing also.

Pick any chapter in the book, such as chapter 23, “Missing Ma.” Read a section out loud to children. Next show them the section and ask them to write down the first word of each sentence. Ask them to notice how the first word varies. It can be repeated, but it is not always the same word. Also ask students to count how many words are in each sentence. They will notice that some sentences are long and some are short. (You can also talk to students about how during times of action or excitement, authors tend to use shorter sentences.) Finally talk about the different styles of sentences. Some start with phrases, others are subject/verb, and so on.

Once you’ve studied the book, then talk to students about looking for these types of things in their own writing–if it seems too much for your students, then choose one–such as varying sentence beginnings.

For more information on Finding My Place, please go to http://margodill.com/blog/ .

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13. Karmack by J. C. Whyte

Karmack*Middle-grade fantasy novel

*5th-grade boy as the main character

*Rating: Karmack by J. C. Whyte (MuseItUp Publishing) is a good novel about a bully who learns a bit about karma through the creature pictured here. Filled with humor, interesting characters, plenty of pranks, adventure, and a subtle lesson, children will enjoy this book immensely.

Short, short summary: Sully is the Big Cheese of the 5th grade. He got that way by being tough (a bully) and playing pranks on everyone from classmates to his teachers. He has a gang, and he has enemies. . .until one day, when he sees a little creature, Karmack (stands for Karma) playing pranks on him and his friends. He’s able to catch Karmack and question him about what he’s doing. Karmack’s basically there to even out all the bad things that Sully and his friends are doing. If Karmack doesn’t do his job, all of their bad deeds will add up, and some doom will happen to them. In the end, Sully figures out how to beat bad Karma, and he changes as a result of it. Although it sounds like this novel could be preachy, I don’t feel like it is. The lesson is there, but the characters and situations are interesting enough to get kids into the novel and discuss the lesson afterwards.

Buy this book from the publisher: MUSEITUP Publishing: http://museituppublishing.com/bookstore/index.php/museityoung/karmack-detail

So, what do I do with this book?

1. This is a great book to work on reading skills, such as character arc, character emotions, and character motivation. Sully goes through amazing changes in the book–you can discuss why with kids–and also list characteristics he has BEFORE he meets Karmack that might have led to him being able to make these changes.

2. Give students a journal writing prompt: If you could have a conversation with Karmack about your good and bad deeds, what would you say? Write a one-page conversation between you and Karmack OR a letter to Karmack. Are you “balanced”?  Could you get “balanced”?  What if you are leaning in a good way–more good than bad?

3. Before you read the end of the book with children, stop at the part where Sully says he put the mustache on the photo. Ask: Do you think he really did it? Why or why not? How did it get there? Why is it there? What’s going to happen now that Sully admitted it, but maybe didn’t do it? Ask students to use their knowledge of the story world to make some predictions. Then after reading the ending, see who predicted correctly.  (As long as a prediction is logical, even if not correct, it works for this activity.)

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14. Beyond Belief: The Secret Lives of Women of Extreme Religion (Giveaway & Review)

Beyond Belief CoverAs part of the WOW! Women On Writing blog tour, I am reviewing Beyond Belief: The Secret Lives of Women of Extreme Religion. I have a print copy to giveaway to U. S. mailing addresses. Please see the rafflecopter form at the end of the review to enter!

Beyond Belief: The Secret Lives of Women in Extreme Religions is an anthology edited by Susan Tive and Cami Ostman, who both chose to enter religious communities they weren’t born into. They met in a memoir writing class—Ostman has written a book about running a marathon on every continent, and Tive was working on writings about her years spent in Orthodox Judaism.

After discussing their lives over coffee and wine outside of class, they realized that their journeys were similar: both experienced a faith that asked them to shun personal freedoms many women in the United States take for granted. Both were expected to view men as the head of their married and religious lives. The more they talked, the more they began to question: “Why did we choose to join such restrictive religious practices? Why did we stay so long? Why was it so hard to leave?”

Then they wondered if other women had experienced the same thing in their lives. Since Ostman and Tive were writers, they developed the idea for the anthology, and Beyond Belief was born.

In the introduction, the editors explain that they had many ideas for how this anthology should look when they first got the idea. They were only going to allow women who had chosen to enter an “extreme religion,” although they were not going to define extreme. But they received many pieces from women born into their religion and the struggles as children and teens, and so the editors changed their minds. They ask readers of the anthology not to judge the true stories in the book on whether or not they are “extreme enough.”

Buy Beyond Belief on Indiebound.org!

The bottom line is this book is filled with heartfelt and well-written essays that readers will find interesting and which often read as fiction, but they are not. Maybe these narratives seem like they could be fiction because readers who grew up in a “non-extreme” religious household will be filled with wonder and disbelief when reading what some of these women have been through in their lives, all in the name of religion.

Cami Ostman

Cami Ostman

Many different religions are covered from Evangelical to Catholic to Baptist, from Mormon to Muslim to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The stories are divided into three sections: “In the Beginning,” where authors write stories about getting IN to these religions; “Burnt Offerings,” a very interesting section on the practices and beliefs of people IN extreme religions; and finally “Exodus,” about women who got out of an unhealthy religious situation for them.

Depending on readers’ own religious beliefs, they may see themselves in the pages of the essays—parents trying to raise their children according to their beliefs, or young mothers lost and struggling who need support and aren’t finding it in church, or even women going through divorce and leaving a particular religion.

Many of the authors in this book are brave for sharing their most personal stories and inner beliefs. This book is not

Susan Tive

Susan Tive

“preaching” that anyone should leave a certain religion or that there’s even anything wrong with being religious. It’s an honest look at the lives of these women authors. Readers can learn from their stories—understanding religious customs, finding their own freedom, living life to the fullest, respecting elders, and loving family members for whom they are.

If you are interested in religion, have been exploring different churches, or even questioning where your beliefs lie, then you will appreciate the thought-provoking and touching essays in Beyond Belief.


Enter below to win Beyond Belief!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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15. Dark Water by Chynna Laird (YA Author Interview and Giveaway)

Today, I welcome my colleague and fellow WOW! team member, Chynna Laird, with her YA paranormal-suspense novel, Dark Water. Chynna has written a creepy, suspenseful book that also touches on some serious issues contemporary children/teens are dealing with such as a parent at war, PTSD, and death of a loved one. Chynna also has a copy to giveaway, so leave a comment for your chance to win! It’s YA, remember–and I know how many of us adults also love YA!

Margo: Welcome, Chynna, to Read These Books and Use Them. I am so thrilled to host you today and your first YA book, Dark Water. Can you tell us a little about your book?

Chynna: Thanks for having me here, Margo. Yes! Dark Water is a young adult suspense/paranormal. It’s about a sixteen-year old girl trying to solve the mystery of her mother’s disappearance. The deeper she digs, the bigger the mystery seems to get. Here’s the book cover synopsis:

“Some answers are found far beneath the surface…”

Sixteen-year-old Freesia Worth has a mystery to solve—the disappearance of her mother at their family lake house. Her traumatized sister Sage hasn’t said a word ever since that day.

After almost a year, Detective Barry Cuaco has found nothing but frustrating dead ends. Soon he’ll have to let the case go. But Freesia isn’t making it easy for him. She needs answers. Now.

With the help of her secret crush, Rick, and a mysterious Goth girl named Mizu, Freesia learns about an ancient Native legend and a man known as the Watcher of the Lake.

Will Freesia finally uncover the truth? Or will the lake keep its secrets far beneath the dark water?

Margo: Spooky! I hope that Freesia can uncover the truth. (Winks) I read on your website that this was your NaNoWriMo [National Novel Writing Month in November] project in 2011. Tell us a little about the process of Dark Water going from a NaNoWriMo project to a published book.

Chynna: Just before NaNoWriMo, I had this really creepy dream about an old Native man and a ghost he was trying to help. When I got up, I googled Native water legends, and my story came to me. I was so excited about this project, I actually finished it before NaNo was over! After that, I spent a couple of weeks editing and polishing it, then sent it to a publisher I knew who handles several books in the suspense/paranormal genre (Imajin Books). And then Dark Water was born!

Margo:How cool is that! Just goes to show you why we should listen to our dreams! If you had to compare your book to others on the market right now, where would it fit? How is it similar and different from these?

Chynna: I’d have to say that Dark Water is very similar to the works of Chris Grabenstein, Sharon Sala, and Charlotte Blackwell. They all have a wonderful talent of weaving creepiness and fun into their storylines. Dark Water

is a bit different in that I also mix in the issues I think that need to be talked about more. Of course, authors have to be very careful when doing this because younger readers do NOT like being preached to. When you write about these issues, you need to make sure that it is at their level and non-preachy. So I hope that I accomplished that. I think I did…

Margo: Great, then let me ask: What are some themes you are exploring in this book?

Chynna: There are several issues I touch on in Dark Water. First, the main character, Freesia, is part of a military family. Her father was killed in a mission in Afghanistan. Another theme I touch on is Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). Freesia’s younger sister, Sage, lives with it, and I give a sense of what it’s like to live with a sibling who has this disorder. I also touch on mental health issues, specifically Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Before she disappeared, Freesia’s mother was a clinical psychologist who worked with children and families coping with this very difficult disorder. Finally, I touch on how young people deal with the very painful situation of parental loss.

I love to educate and stimulate conversation about these issues by weaving the information within a good story. That’s the best way to digest it, I think.

Margo: I couldn’t agree with you more! That’s the entire reason for my blog. :) How could teachers or parents use Dark Water? Are there certain discussion points that would naturally occur after reading it?

Chynna: I think there would be several discussion points after reading it. Young people may have questions, for example, about what SPD or PTSD is. Teachers can open the discussion to researching and learning about these disorders, how it affects individuals, and what they can do to help raise awareness. Caregivers can use the book to teach tolerance as well as to connect with their children by encouraging questions or concerns. That’s the first step to understanding. =)

Margo: So true! Are you working on any more YA books? I know you’ve written a variety of books—a memoir, a parenting book, a children’s book, and more.

Chynna: Yes I am, actually. I am working on one project that is a YA contemporary (tentatively called Just Shut Up and Drive), a potential action/immortal series as well as a special surprise. ;D

Margo: That sounds great! Maybe one of these days I’ll find a publisher for my YA, and then we can be YA authors together! :) Anything else you’d like to add about writing for YA and your book, Dark Water?

Chynna: The only thing I’d like to add is that anyone wanting to write in this genre, or already is, should just do it. Research the genre, talk to young people reading these books, and put out the best you can do.

Margo: Chynna, thank you for your time and encouraging words.

Readers, don’t forget to leave a comment by Sunday September 2 for your chance to win!

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16. Who Peed On My Yoga Mat? by Lela Davidson

I’m so happy to welcome back my writing friend Lela Davidson (Blacklisted from the PTA) with her second book with another hilarious title, Who Peed on My Yoga Mat?. Need a Christmas present for a mom who needs a good laugh–look no further because you have found it right here. I have laughed as hard at this second book as I did the first one! And I got the chance to talk to Lela a bit about her book. Here’s what she said:

Margo: Welcome, Lela. I’m so glad to have you back with your second book on what it’s really like to be a parent and being able to laugh about it! How would you say this book is similar to Blacklisted from the PTA? How’s it different?

Lela: Thanks for having me! Yes, this book is very similar to my first book in that it is made up of short essays that can be read while you are sitting in the carpool line or pretending to do yoga. The kids are older now, so there are fewer stories about babies and toddlers.

Margo: It’s funny how we forget those baby and toddler times–I think that’s why people have more than one child. . . If readers accidentally missed the chance to read Blacklisted from the PTA, can they start with Who Peed On My Yoga Mat? Do they have to be read in order?

Lela: No, they are fully independent! All of the essays in both books are stand-alone reads. I hope new readers will want to go back and discover my first book.

Margo: I’m sure they will! Do you have a favorite essay or section in your new book? If so, which one and why?

Lela: I have a few pets, and most of them are the ones that star my husband. Marriage is just so hard. It’s easier when you laugh about how hard it is.

Margo: That is such a nice way to say it: “starring my husband!” Not only do you talk about parenting, but you also discuss what it’s like to be married and a parent in the section, “Marital Bliss.” Based on your essays, communication is key (along with calendar scheduling!). What are a couple tips you can share with readers about how to handle your spouse and your kids?

Lela: Oh, my. I don’t think I handle them. I think they handle me. Everyone in the family is good at something different; so, yes, I keep the calendar. I keep food in the house and the kids on their dental schedule. I do 643 loads of laundry every week. These are the basics. Everything else is over-achievement.

Margo: Completely agree! For my readers that are also writers, what tips do you have for getting a series of essays published–whether they are about travel, parenting, teaching, etc?

Lela: It’s just like money: “Watch you pennies, and the dollars will watch themselves.” Work on publishing one essay at a time until you have enough with a common tone that can be called a collection. I have been published hundreds of times in parenting magazines all over the US and Canada. Write an essay, and then get it out into the world. Over and over and over.

Margo: Great advice! Thanks for stopping by. Now let’s clue readers in on the important stuff–where can they get a copy of Who Peed On My Yoga Mat? And where can they find out more about you?

Lela: Thank you! This is fun. Who Peed on My Yoga Mat? is available on Amazon and my website, www.leladavidson.com. My website is a great place to find out more than you ever wanted to know about me, watch my book trailers, and read my blog. Thanks!

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17. Should Characters Change During a Story? For Teachers and Writers

Found at this link: http://www.sonofthesouth.net/leefoundation/civil-war/southern-belle.htm

I’ve been thinking a lot about this question lately–should characters change throughout the course of a novel, and more specifically–should they change for the better? In the latest novel I’m working on, I had a fairly simple, but hopefully humorous-appealing-to-boys story, idea for a middle-grade series–especially book one. While writing it and finishing the first draft during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month which is November), I realized that one reason why I wasn’t falling in love with the story yet is it was SO plot-driven. My main character was cute and clever and funny, but did he learn anything from his experiences? Did he change? Not much, and in the rewrite, that’s one thing I plan to work on.

In Finding My Place (White Mane Kids, October 1, 2012), Anna the main character definitely changes from the beginning of the book to the end of the book. I think it’s one reason why the book was accepted by a publisher and the reason why it’s fairly universal, even though it’s set in 1863 during the Civil War. Anna has to grow up and accept responsibility. She has to adopt to her new role in the family. She has to make decisions that affect more than just herself. She is not like this in the beginning of the book–in spite of her 13 years of age back in Civil War times. She was still acting like a child before the Siege, always wanting to write in her journal and not help out her ma.

You can help children understand character growth and change using books and characters, like Finding My Place or even picture books with younger students–any book or story that has a character (not concept books probably) who shows growth due to experiences. You can discuss these questions below with students when focusing on characters. (These questions will work for any book–not just mine. :) )

  • How is the character different at the end of the story than at the beginning?
  • What events happen in the book to help the character change?
  • Does the character change for the better or for worse? Explain!
  • Why do you think the character changed?
  • Can you think of a time in your life when you might have changed like this character did?

You would probably focus mostly on these questions during reading, but remind students of the answers when they are writing their own fiction stories.

For more information on Finding My Place: One Girl’s Strength at Vicksburg, please see this page.

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18. Talking About Race: A Workbook About White People Fostering Racial Equality in Their Lives

Kaolin, the author of Talking About Race (publisher: Crandall, Dostie & Douglass Books, Inc.), contacted me about her book, and I thought it sounded so interesting that I told her to send it to me. And I’m so glad she did. This post is going to be a little different than my normal posts about books you can use with students (you could probably use this with teens and college-age students)–I am going to share the book with you and tell you how to use it, but I will show you examples straight from the pages of the book. I also want to share with you a little of the author’s story. So, here we go. . .

Kaolin was born Patricia Anne Graham, and she legally changed her name to Kaolin with no surname in 1991. She has had many jobs in her life: a waitress, a singer, a writer, and a teacher. She’s worked in adolescent programs with teens with disabilities and in politics. She has also worked on a tree farm. In 1994, she designed and taught a course titled, “Let’s Talk About Race: Confronting Racism Through Education,” which after many years became this book I’m talking about today.

The book is divided into seven chapters with a “writing interval” at the beginning. It is written for “white people working to achieve racial equality in their lives, and to readers of color who would like insight into psychological and social experiences white people encounter.” Personally, I find this perspective fascinating–as a white woman, I never thought it appropriate or even necessary to address the concerns and topics that Kaolin discusses in her book. But after reading it, I see that it is, and I saw myself and my feelings in the pages of her book–especially when I was younger. I can see youth groups, book clubs, college classes, and more reading and studying this book. It will start conversations that need to be had. I hope that I can discuss these issues with my stepson soon and with my daughter when she is older. And as the cover states, it does not just have to be white people–it can be all races working together.

As Kaolin states in her introduction about why she wrote it: “Because learning how to talk about racism is hard. Most of us ‘react’ to it first. . . The lack of thought that has gone into many white people’s position about racism is amazing to me. . . Talking About Race meets that need.”

She begins with recognizing racism with lists that describe what a racist believes and with a section that even addresses, “How do you know you whether or not you are a racist?” The next chapter is titled “Resisting Racism,” which can actually bring up many uncomfortable feelings–especially when children/teens are faced with racism from parents or other loved ones, and they don’t know how to confront these beliefs or even act around the person. Kaolin gives some ideas for figuring this out. She continues this theme in the “Defenses and Insecurities” chapter.

The book goes on through real-life examples and encouraging prose, as well as pages of thinking questions with room to write answers, to face racism head on and understand how it can affect people in a family and in a community. Kaolin forces people to also look at themselves and how behaviors can either promote or stop racism. It’s not a book intended for people to feel bad about themselves or members of their family. It’s a book written to get people talking and thinking and hopefully changing hurtful behaviors.

I highly recommend using Talking About Race with teens and college-age students. I think it is perfect for a home school group, a church youth group, a community group like Boys and Girls Club, and more. It’s well-done!

Here are a few of the questions from it that get adults and children USING the book:

  • If you woke up this morning and there had been no racism in your life, how would your life have been different?
  • Have you ever feared someone because of his or her color? Have you been fearful of anyone because of your color?
  • With respect to your own color, would you say you were born lucky?
  • Do you think white people have no problems?
  • In order to correct a racist situation, I would need. . .

Check it out on Amazon or at Kaolin’s website if you don’t believe me! :)

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19. Common Core State Standards Lesson Plan for 5th Grade Reading USING Finding My Place

One of the Common Core State Standards under reading standards K-5 literature for fifth graders is:

“Describe how a narrator’s or speaker’s point of view influences how events are described.”

Using a historical fiction novel to teach this standard is perfect–in Finding My Place: One Girl’s Strength at Vicksburg, there are a few events that are told from more than one character’s point of view. One great example would be the fire downtown. Another would be the army hospital. Here’s how you can use these events to work on this standard with students:

1. Pick an event that you’ve read in the story with students or they’ve read on their own, such as the fire downtown.

2. Ask students: how did Dr. Franklin describe the fire downtown?

3. Ask students: What is Mrs. Franklin’s description or opinion of the fire downtown?

4. Make sure students are giving details from the text to support this (Dr. Franklin tells what it was like to fight the fire; Mrs. Franklin at first says it serves the people right for having high prices.)

5. Ask students: What is James’s version of the fire? Again ask for novel support.

6. Discuss with students WHY each of these characters has a slightly different version of the fire. You can even bring in Rev. and Mrs. Lohrs as well as Anna. Each of these characters has an opinion/interaction with the fire. Why aren’t they all describing it the same way? Why don’t they all feel the same way about it?

7. Ask students to tell about an event the entire class attended. You can have them write in their journals first for about 10 to 15 minutes OR you can do think-pair-share–where they are thinking about the event, sharing it orally with a partner, and then the partner shares with the class. Did everyone mention the same details? Why or why not?

8. Now go back to the book and think about the army hospital. Ask students to write down Anna’s description of the army hospital. Next write down Molly’s. Finally do Michael’s or Frank’s. Do they all sound the same? Why are the descriptions slightly different? (They should be different or the students are not thinking about the individual characters.)

This will help students see bias in writing as well as unreliable narrators.

To buy a copy of Finding My Place, see this page: http://margodill.com/blog/buy-finding-my-place/ (Links to Amazon and Barnes and Noble)

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20. Unwritten Letters Project Book and Website by Alex Boles (Interview)

I’m welcoming Alex Boles, whom I met through my critique group (she’s the sister of one of our members) and who has a very exciting and important website and book! I encourage everyone to check out the website here and then the book through the Amazon link at the bottom of the post. I will let her tell you about the book and the website because she took the time to answer some questions! This seems to be teen week on my blog this week because this is another book and website PERFECT for teens! Here we go:

Margo: Hi Alex! Welcome to Read These Books and Use Them. How do you describe the Unwritten Letters Project? When did you get the idea?

Alex: The Unwritten Letters Project (ULP) is a website dedicated to allowing people to release emotions in a cathartic, non-violent fashion. It’s a place where anyone can write a letter to those who they haven’t had the chance to say goodbye to, didn’t have the courage or resources to say these things to them before or just release feelings, or confessions about themselves or their lives. ULP is more than just a letter-writing, interactive website. It’s a place where people can come to release emotions they didn’t know they were feeling and use it to cope and heal. Reading the other letters helps people to realize that we’re not alone in this huge world, and chances are, someone else has gone through or is going through something similar. If you can’t connect with the people close to you, maybe you can through someone’s letter from across the world.

I came upon the idea for the Unwritten Letters Project in 2009. I was a junior in college; and once the book version was released, I became the youngest (and some say first) undergrad to publish a book at Truman State University. The idea was inspired by a number of films and a class I was taking at the time called “Family Communication.” After reflecting throughout the course on how I would communicate my feelings growing up, I realized I tend to write how I’m feeling in journals or through creative writing. I created the website to see how many others use the same writing method of coping. If others used writing or could see how writing can be healing, then I figured the website could help a lot of people through difficult times and overcome hardships.

Margo: So, it started as a website! What were people posting to the website? What did you post?

Alex: Yes, the Unwritten Letters Project is in its truest form, a website. At the beginning, professors at my university would use the site for classroom projects and assignments. I used those letters to create the original base of letters and then began a self-ran marketing campaign to solicit letters from across the globe. Seemingly overnight, I was receiving letters from countries like Japan, Germany, and Great Britain–sometimes in their native languages adding to each letters authenticity. People would write about current love interests, lost love, friendship, regrets, passion, their own lives and wishes. I would receive letters about bullying, suicide, and self-harm. It seemed to open up to somewhat of a confessional, and people began trusting me with their deepest secrets. I feel very overwhelmed and lucky to be trusted by thousands of people just trying to heal.

Truthfully, I have posted a few of my own letters. I posted my own letters more in the earlier years because I had some old letters from my past that I wanted to let loose. Nowadays, I let the readers’ thoughts make up the website. It’s always been more about letting others utilize the website than what I can get out of it.

Margo: What a wonderful service you are providing other people! Why did you decide to make it into a book?

Alex: I decided to make the Unwritten Letters Project into a book because I wanted people to be able to get as much out of this project as possible. It’s a “coffee-table” book–something you read to feel comfort and hope. It’s something to read to realize you’re not alone, and things will get better. I wanted something tangible that readers could cherish and pass down to their children as something that helped them get through life’s hardest moments. I also wanted to use the resources I had while I had them. My college experience was amazing, and my university was very welcoming of ambition. They let me saturate the campus with my dream and embraced my enthusiasm for the project and its message. I was able to go in to classrooms to spread awareness, and the University Bookstore even hosted a book signing where the president and provost attended with campus and local media present. I realized I had an amazing support system through school, family, and friends and wanted to take advantage of the resources at hand, so that I could continue to spread the Unwritten Letters Project.

Margo: How awesome! I went to TSU, too–way before you–it was still Northeast Missouri State University. (smiles) Anyway, what a great opportunity and what a great way you use that opportunity. So, how can teachers, parents, and counselors use the book with young adults?

Alex: Educators and professionals can definitely use the Unwritten Letters Project as a resource for learning or healing. It’s a great example of real life hardships and how people deal with, overcome, and react to these situations. Nothing is embellished or changed from the original letters. Every letter is pure raw emotion and real-life scenarios and actions. With so many fiction and fantasy novels becoming increasingly popular, we lose sight of reality and how people can really be affected by life’s decisions and our actions. Reading this book can remind us of our humanity. It reminds people that we feel, we’re alive, and we need to consciously make an effort to keep living our lives to the fullest each day. Because if we don’t, then we end up regretting the moments we didn’t have or wishing we would have done something when we had the chance.

Margo: WOW! That is powerful and so true and such an important message. Can people still post letters to your website?

Alex: Readers don’t post letters to the site directly. They submit the letters to a portal that sends them to a private e-mail. I then choose letters that are posted. I continue to receive letters on a daily basis and post as often as I can. I am definitely still accepting letters on the website. I encourage everyone to try writing at least one letter. I think you’d surprise yourself.

Margo: I hope some of my readers will consider it and use the website and book with their students/children. Do you have plans for future books?

Alex: I don’t have a second book planned for the near future, but I do have plans to publish more books with specific themes. As long as readership continues or improves, I will always run the Unwritten Letters Project. When the demand for another book increases, I will solicit publishers and agents. I’d like the second book to have a heavier following and possibly a blog/book tour if possible. Another book is definitely a possibility, but when it happens is up to the fans and future unknown publisher.

Margo: Thank you so much, Alex. I am just really in awe of what you are doing and think it is a wonderful idea and service. Readers, you can look inside the book on Amazon!

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21. The Adventures of Tilda Pinkerton by Angela Shelton (Interview, Giveaway, and WOW! Blog Tour)

TildaPinkertonI am happy to welcome middle-grade author Angela Shelton to my blog today for her book, The Adventures of Tilda Pinkerton (Book One: Crash-Landing on Ooleeoo). I am really excited about this book, which kind of reminds me of A Wrinkle in Time. If I was still teaching elementary school, I would choose this book as a read-aloud for sure! This would also be the perfect book for a parent/child book club or to read together before bedtime.

I have a copy to giveaway–print or e-copy–it’s the winner’s choice. To be entered to win, please leave a comment by December 23 at 8:00 pm CST. I will choose one winner using random.org.

Here is a short summary:

The Adventures of Tilda Pinkerton is a story of inter-galactic crisis with bionic bugs on a mission to capture the great Tilda Pinkerton and destroy her magical hats before she can spread her Light across the galaxy. Written in a wonderfully lyrical way that will appeal to fans of Dr. Seuss, Star Trek, Matilda Wormwood, and Harry Potter with every character’s name being a verbal play on their personalities. Quinn, for example, is Quinn Quisquilious, who works with rubbish to create new things. Belinda Balletomania is just that – obsessed with ballet. And of course Aaron Arachnophobia is the spider desperately afraid of himself.

Let’s join Angela and find out more about her book for middle-graders!

Margo: Welcome, Angela, and thanks for talking with us today! Tilda Pinkerton is a wonderful, lovely character, full of spunk, magic, and spirit! How did you create such a fantastical main character?

Angela: It’s me! Or at least the best me I could come up with. I wrote Tilda with all the aspects I would love to have more of: a vast vocabulary, magical powers, and direct contact with the light source!

Margo: Yes, we all need direct contact with the light source! What are some themes you are exploring in this first book?

Angela: I wanted to explore the theme of insecurity for one. It shows up in Tilda Pinkerton herself since she thinks she is deformed when in reality her deformity is her strength. It also shows up in little Maggie Mae who is mute since her mother disappeared and no longer sings or speaks. Turns out Maggie has a few tricks up her sleeve and more power than she realized, too.

Perception is the key word in Book One because I wanted to explore that what you think you know may not be true just because you were taught it–all your beliefs are based on your own perception. The book is also littered with many spiritual truths that I had fun sprinkling in and will show up more as the books progress.

Margo: I like that! “All your beliefs are based on your own perception.” So true! What led you to write a fantasy book?

Angela: I was a huge fantasy fanatic as a child and always had a dream to write fantasy. I love anything with magical trees and creating a book with trees you could ride like horses–I could not resist. But it all started with a meditation prayer asking what I should write next that would be great for kids and adults, and voilà–Tilda Pinkerton popped into my head.

Margo: How awesome is that! Who would you say is the perfect audience for your book? Whom do you envision reading it?

Angela Shelton

Angela Shelton

Angela: I originally wrote Tilda for 10-12 year old girls, the same age I was when I was reading the most fantasy; BUT lo and behold, the most people who are buying Tilda are women 50 and over. I was at a book signing yesterday, and it happened again, women 50 and over were the ones buying copies. So much for thinking I knew who I was writing for! Maybe Tilda is helping them connect with their 10-12 year old side again. Maybe they love clean, fun, and enlightening reads. I had a 12-year-old tell me that she really enjoyed Tilda and that it was very imaginative, but there was nothing inappropriate in it like there was in Twilight. I about fainted. The good news is that I wrote Tilda as a book I would want to read, whether I was 12 or 50: Who knew she would have such a wide audience? I did not!

Margo: I think it’s great, and actually as a children’s writer, sometimes I prefer reading books written for children. Us children’s writers are a talented bunch! While reading this book, I see a lot of ways that it can be “used.” One of the ways is the new vocabulary words you introduce and define on several of the book’s pages. What led you to do this?

Angela: Dinosaurs lead me to Tilda’s vocabulary! I play “Safe Side Superchick” in the Safe Side Series created by Baby Einstein’s Julie Clark, and I get recognized by kids all the time. I started being invited to their classrooms; and whenever I was around a group of kids, I would ask what they were loving to learn at the moment. The most common thing was dinosaurs. What struck me the most about it was how they knew exactly how to spell, pronounce, and explain each type of dinosaur. When I would try to get into the conversation and was incorrect about something to do with dinosaurs, I got the eye roll and the sigh–I just did not understand I was talking to experts! Seeing how well-versed the kids were in dinosaur speak, I wondered if they would be the same with large vocabulary. That is what brought the rare and sometimes difficult words into Tilda. But I know kids can handle it! (and 50+ women, too.)

Margo: Great, and I didn’t know that you were a Safe Side Series star, too. (smiles) On the front cover, it says, BOOK ONE! This means, readers are in luck–you are planning a series! What’s next for Tilda?

Angela: Someone kidnapped Tilda Pinkerton and she spends Book Two fighting to get away from her kidnappers and back to Ooleeoo to save Gladys, meanwhile discovering something horrible about Earth.

Margo: Poor Tilda–she can’t catch a break, huh? (laughs) Anything else you’d like to share about you, your books, or your writing world?

Angela: Buddy Balletomania is alive. That’s all I’m going to say. I am having so much fun creating Tilda and all of her friends. I learn as much vocabulary as Tilda shares, too; and though the general story is mapped out for 3 to 5 books, Tilda always surprises me, too.

Margo: As an author, those are the best kind of surprises. Congrats on your success, Angela. And readers, remember to leave a comment TO WIN COPY!

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22. Teaching Supply and Demand with Finding My Place

Final Finding My Place CoverI realize it is a few short days before winter break. You may not read this post until doing a search for lesson plans for supply and demand or if you decide to use my book in your classroom or home school program, and you are looking for lesson ideas. But either way, you can use Finding My Place: One Girl’s Strength at Vicksburg to teach supply and demand concepts.

The first place to do this would be with the fact that throughout the story, Grant and the Yankees are blocking supplies from getting to the citizens of Vicksburg. They are running out of everything. They are using substitutes instead of the real product: acorns instead of coffee grinds, sassafras for tea, berry juice for ink, and wallpaper for newspaper. When Mrs. Lohrs brings six apples over to the Franklins after Anna’s ma was hit by the shell, everyone is pleased and happy–about 6 apples. Can you imagine kids being excited about that today? So, that’s one thing you can ask children while reading this book–why was Anna happy about a gift of apples? The discussion should lead children to realize that when supplies are low, demand is high. When food is low–especially fresh food–then demand for it is high, and people will be excited about getting a gift of fruits and vegetables.

Then you can go on to the more economic lesson of what happens when there is a low supply and a high demand. In Finding My Place, this is addressed with the discussion about the prices at the General Store. Prices for almost all supplies are up–Mrs. Franklin talks about how it’s unfair and wrong, but that’s what happens when the supply for goods is down or low. You can ask children to think about popular gifts at Christmas time–like the newest video game system. When it is first out and there are a limited amount and NO ONE HAS ONE YET, demand is high and prices are high. As people buy them and they become more common and new systems are made, the demand is lower, the supply is still there, and so the price goes down.

In Finding My Place, you can even address how the price of goods being high creates tension and bad feelings and was probably the reason for someone setting fire to the General Store, which by the way did actually happen during the Siege.

When using books to teach a concept such as supply and demand, start with the events in the book and get students to discuss them–since they are already interested in the characters and the story. Then always try to find similar examples from the real world that students can relate to.

If you are reading this post during December–happy holidays to you and here’s to a great New Year in 2013.

PS: Also, there’s still time to win Angela Shelton’s mg, fantasy book: The Adventures of Tilda Pinkerton (contest closes on 12/23) by going here.

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23. Social Networks for Teachers and Finding My Place Speaking Engagements

Smarter Cookie, a site for teachers, logo

Smarter Cookie, a site for teachers, logo

It has happened again–I forgot to blog yesterday. It always seems to happen when there’s a holiday weekend. Then I can’t keep track of what day it is. SO, I am going to combine two posts–the one about Finding My Place that was supposed to be yesterday will just be a quick post about a couple of speaking engagements I am doing–in case you would be interested in having me at your school or group. AND then I am going to share a really great article written by my friend, Carole Di Tosti, PhD about social networking sites for teachers.

  • Speaking Engagements: I will be going a lot of places in February, but the three I wanted to point out are: Columbia, MO; Savannah, MO; and Wentzville, MO. In Columbia, I will be speaking to two community groups about writing a novel, researching historical fiction, and finishing a project to its end–the groups are COSMO (diabetes group) and Pachyderms. Both groups needed a speaker, and they are allowing me to sell copies of my book after I speak! So, if you need a speaker for your community group, let me know. Then in Savannah, I will be doing a workshop for TEACHERS! This is near and Final Finding My Place Cover dear to my heart, and my topic is 6 traits of writing! I can’t wait to share ideas with teachers and help them figure out how to use the 6 traits in the classroom. I can come do professional development at your school, too! Then in Wentzville, I get to talk to fourth and fifth grade students, who are currently doing a unit on historical fiction. I love to share writing and my story with children, and I have many different programs that I can present. They are on my website, under SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS, or I can send you a brochure if you e-mail me (margo@margodill (dot) com). In other words, I love speaking and can accommodate almost any group.
  • Social Networks for Teachers: Have you ever been worried that your students and parents of your students would find you on Facebook or Twitter? Worrying about whether you should post certain things? Well, Carole solves these problems with a list of social networks for teachers/educators only. This is a must-read article for teachers and even children’s authors who are trying to reach teachers. Read here: http://technorati.com/social-media/article/teachers-social-networking-increases-with-the/ .

I hope you find this information useful! I am going to be featuring two great books next week, so stay tuned.

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24. Sola Olu: The Summer Called Angel, A Memoir About A Preemie


When I found out WOW! Women on Writing was hosting a blog tour for Sola Olu, the author of The Summer Called Angel, I knew I wanted to be a part. One reason is because this blog is about children’s books AND about books and people who help women and children around the world–after all women hold up HALF THE SKY! But the other reason is because the subject of preemies and NICUs are close to my heart after I had my daughter at 33 weeks, and she spent a month in the NICU.

Sola’s book is excellent. You will be captivated by her story of how she had her daughter, Angel, at 28 weeks due to a severe case of preeclampsia. Angel was a very sick, baby girl, who had to have multiple surgeries and procedures, who spent time in two different NICUs, and who didn’t get to come home until the seventh month of her life. Sola shares the story of she and her husband and their little daughter fighting for her life with honesty and grace. She does not sugarcoat the bad times–the times when she thought she was going to lose her daughter, the times when she didn’t want to go to the NICU any more, the times when she and her husband had a difference of opinion.

My daughter, 33 weeks, 5 lbs. 2 ozs, A few hours old, holding my hand

My daughter, 33 weeks, 5 lbs. 2 ozs, A few hours old, holding my hand

If you have had a baby in the NICU, you will see yourself in her book. One thing that reminded me so much of my experience is when the doctors kept telling Sola and Chris that Angel was feisty. The doctors in the NICU in St. Louis would say the same exact thing to my husband and me, and they would always say it like they were so proud of how feisty she was–that made me proud, too. (And she is still that feisty today at 2!) The other thing that struck a chord with me is how often Sola called the NICU–I did the same thing all the time in the middle of the night AND how Sola and Chris just couldn’t wait for their little girl to poop. I remember asking nurses all the time. . .did KB poop yet?

In the back of the book, Sola shares some resources for pregnant women or for women who have a baby in the NICU. This is a great resource. She loves to hear your story if you had a baby in the NICU or if you are pregnant and on bed rest or anything really–she loves to help and listen. ANYONE who leaves a comment on this post will be entered to win either a print copy or e-copy of The Summer Called Angel. You can leave a question or a story or a well wish by Sunday, February 3 8:00 pm CST to be entered into the contest.

I was also lucky enough to interview Sola, and I asked her a few questions that may help high school/college writing teachers as well as writers wanting to write their own difficult stories–whatever those may be!

Margo: Welcome, Sola, thank you for taking the time to answer a few of my questions. Your story is so gripping and honest. How did it help you to write about this difficult time in your life?

Sola: It helped to heal. I love to write, and I’ve always been better at expressing my feelings by writing rather than speaking. I started writing at the hospital, even though it didn’t start out as a memoir. I guess it was therapeutic in some way.

Margo: That’s why your memoir is so honest and gripping–you were writing while you were living it! How did you deal with the emotions that had to arise while you were reliving these events (through your writing) with your preemie daughter?

Sola: Everything took time. Initially, I couldn’t talk about the details without

Sola Olu

Sola Olu

shedding tears, but gradually the pain lessened, and it was more wonder–how did we live through this? It didn’t help that I cry easily anyway. At the same time though because we stayed at the hospital for so long (two hospitals), I saw cases worse than mine, so I would always have that at the back of my mind to just be grateful it wasn’t worse, and that our outcome was good. Also because I stopped and started the book many times, I had my son as well; and by the time you have two kids, you’re too busy to mope. It was very difficult initially I won’t lie…even with the birth of my son. But with time, there’s healing.

Margo: I agree with the time factor. I have a terrible time writing about things that have just happened. It was even hard for me to write the Facebook updates while our daughter was in the NICU. Do you recommend women writing about hard times in their lives? Why or why not?

Sola: I would–it helps, at least it helped me; but for me, writing has always been my go-to remedy. It’s always been therapeutic. I remember as a teenager I would write to my parents when I had something difficult to discuss.

Margo: What are some good resources you can recommend for teenagers on up to adults for writing about their own lives and difficult events?

Sola: I belong to the National Association of Memoir Writers, and I love the resources they have to offer including webinars; but of course, there are more out there. There are a lot more resources out there on the Internet. My advice to myself for my next book is research, research, research, and more research.. .I think I can pass that along.

Margo: I’ve heard great things about NAMW, too. Thank you, Sola, for your honesty and sharing your story with families!

Don’t forget you could win a copy of this book by leaving a comment or question! Also, you can check out Sola’s book on Amazon.

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25. Finding My Place Thank You Notes

thank you by woodleywonderworks

I recently received two thank you notes–one in a roundabout sort of way–from children about my book, Finding My Place: One Girl’s Strength at Vicksburg. I thought I would share them here. These are my first ones from kids, and so I’m super excited! :) I am not changing spelling and or punctuation when re-typing, and I am not sharing names :) .

This one is from my friend, Becky, who bought the book for her niece. . .

Dear Aunt Becky and Uncle Ron, Thank you for the Book “Finding My Place” I Loved it! Love, G

This one is from a friend of my mom’s (and mine!) that goes to her church. The friend bought the book for her granddaughter.

Dear Miss Dill, I really, really loved your book. I learned lots of stuff like people had to live in caves. My mom and grandma and I really think it was a really good book. It was a really intresting book. Thank you for signing my book. I am going to share your book with my class. Your friend, M. R.

There is not a sweeter thing than notes like this from kids. It brings a huge smile to my face. :) I am busy scheduling school visits and writing conferences. If you are interested, you can find information at http://www.margodill.com and click on “Speaker Information.” To find out about Finding My Place, where to buy it, and an excerpt, please see: http://margodill.com/blog/finding-my-place.

photo found on Flickr.com by woodleywonderworks

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