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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Lisa Graff, Most Recent at Top [Help]
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1. Cover Reveal: And it’s for my own book!!!

Ladies and gentlemen . . . the moment I’ve been waiting for.

Wait! Wait!  Background information first!

So for years I worked as a children’s librarian and I’d get girl after girl after girl coming up to my desk asking for funny books.  I credit some of this to Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  The boys and the girls loved that series and wanted more of the same.  Sometimes they wanted it in a notebook novel format, like Kinney’s book.  Sometimes they just wanted something hilarious, and they seriously didn’t care who wrote it.  So I’d grab books for them and then it slowly began to dawn on me.  Huh.  For all that I could find some pretty fantastic and hilarious books out there for kids, where were the funny story collections written by women?  Turns out, there weren’t any.

Until now.

I would like you to join me in applauding the following authors and author/illustrators . . . .

  • Cece Bell
  • Sophie Blackall
  • Libba Bray
  • Lisa Brown
  • Adrianne Chalepah
  • Alison DeCamp
  • Carmen Agra Deedy
  • Kelly DiPucchio
  • Lisa Graff
  • Shannon Hale
  • Charise Mericle Harper
  • Jenni Holm
  • Akilah Hughes
  • Amy Ignatow
  • Christine Mari Inzer
  • Lenore Look
  • Meghan McCarthy
  • Mitali Perkins
  • Leila Sales
  • Raina Telgemeier
  • Deborah Underwood
  • Ursula Vernon
  • Rita Williams-Garcia
  • Delaney Yeager
  • and Mackenzie Yeager

Each one of these women has contributed to my new book Funny Girl: Funniest. Stories. EVER.

Behold!  The cover by the aforementioned Charise Mericle Harper:


And here’s the full jacket in its entirety:


A portion of the proceeds of this book go to Write Girl, a Los Angeles-based creative writing and mentoring organization that matches girls with women writers who mentor them in creative writing.

When’s it out?  May 9th, 2017!  Feel free to pre-order it.


Oh! And while I’m thinking of it, there’s this other really fun thing that just started that I have to let you know about.  As I may have mentioned before, my husband’s first book The Secrets of Story just came out recently and I could be prouder.  He’s already put up a couple great videos alongside it (the latest is here and is about those little moments of humanity that make you like a character).  But fun upon fun upon fun, he’s created a podcast with YA author and 90-Second Newbery Film Festival creator James Kennedy and it may well be my favorite thing of all time.  I love it when James and Matt get together because they agree on NOTHING!  And now they’ve a podcast together where they can extol the beauty of that nothing together.  It’s huge fun for me, and it ends with a little feature where they mention a story idea they had that they decided wouldn’t work and give it away (as it were) to the masses for use.  So if you like the process of writing or you just like banter, I’ve your new favorite podcast.  The Secrets of Storytelling podcast is available through iTunes.  Subscribe today!


20 Comments on Cover Reveal: And it’s for my own book!!!, last added: 11/13/2016
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2. Jellyfish in the Sun

It's happening again!  Books with similar themes end up on my list right next to each other.

The Thing about Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin is narrated by Suzy who can't believe that her oldest friend could just drown.  "These things happen" is NOT an acceptable explanation.  Suzy becomes convinced that a rare jellyfish is responsible for Franny's death. 

Suzy is a fact person who inundates the reader with math and facts about jellyfish and the people who study them.  But this book also chronicles the all too frequent trauma that occurs when one person outgrows another - as Franny outgrows Suzy by the end of 6th grade.  This relationship break makes Franny's death so much harder for Suzy to accept. 

Her search for someone who can understand the horror of jellyfish - as she sees it - leads Suzy to start out on a dangerous and possibly illegal journey.

Her parents, her older brother and an unexpected friend help Suzy to move into a life without Franny.

Lost in the Sun by Lisa Graff    Ok.   In fifth grade, Trent killed someone during an ice hockey game.  Total accident.   Trent's parents and older and younger brother seem to think Trent should move on.  Trent's Dad, especially, has little patience for Trent's surly attitude.  Dad's new wife is expecting their first child any time now.  So, it was an accident. Get over it already.  (Not actual words from the book.)

Trent reacts to the guilt and the anxiety he feels by making sure he gets into trouble at school, and with his Dad.  He even refuses to enter into prank wars with his little brother.

Luckily, Fallon, a girl at school with a noticeable facial scar befriends Trent after she peeks into his Book of Thoughts and sees the pictures he draws there - pictures of what the boy he killed might be doing at that very moment.  Fallon wants Trent to draw a picture for her.

How Trent manages to make things worse and then how he manages to make them better - with the help of sympathetic outsiders - makes an engrossing and emotional read.

These books have totally different styles, despite their similarities - see below.  Jellyfish is awash with facts and musings on facts - the type of book that will lend itself to STEM curricula.  But there is an immediacy to Suzy's pain, even as she carefully plans her science report and her journey,  and her need to find explanations for her friend's death.

Sun, on the other hand, concentrates on Trent's emotional struggles.  Trent speaks in a matter-of-fact voice, referring to the accident almost casually.  And all the time he is seething and unable to see that he is till a worthwhile human being.  

Here is a list of other similarities:
New friends:  Both of the new frends have problems of their own that they seem to have overcome. 
Older brothers: Aaron - yeah, both of them.
Nice teachers:  Suzy likes her science teacher right away.  Trent hates everyone but his homeroom teacher really is pretty old.

Read 'em both, except you might want to read other books in between.  OK?

0 Comments on Jellyfish in the Sun as of 9/12/2015 9:55:00 PM
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3. Lisa Graff Talks with Roger

Lisa Graff Talks with Roger
Talks with Roger is a sponsored supplement to our free monthly e-newsletter, Notes from the Horn Book. To receive Notes, sign up here.

graff_lost in the sunIn Lost in the Sun, a companion to Umbrella Summer, Lisa Graff explores the consequences of one boy’s death on the other boy who inadvertently caused it. How do you get over that? And how, I also wanted to know, does having once been a children’s book editor (Graff worked at Farrar, Straus and Giroux) affect the way one goes about writing for children?

Roger Sutton: Let’s dive in because I have a lot of questions about Lost in the Sun. It seems like such a risk to use an unreliable — well, is unreliable the right word? Unsympathetic, maybe — narrator. How did it occur to you to do that?

Lisa Graff: I’m not sure it was a conscious decision. Though now that you say that, I’m remembering that my graduate thesis at The New School was on unlikable protagonists in middle-grade literature, so obviously it’s something that’s interesting to me. A couple of my narrators have been unlikable. I’m fascinated by kid characters, especially, but by all characters who seem on the surface to be people we wouldn’t want to spend time with. How they got that way, what they’re thinking, and what’s going on behind them.

RS: How do you, as a writer, keep a reader invested in that person? I thought, “This guy Trent is so screwed up.” But I fell for him.

LG: It’s funny, because with all of my characters that are “unlikable,” I really love them. They’re usually my favorites, and it doesn’t occur to me at first that the reader might not love them. It’s a matter of finding what makes them do the things they do — the bad decisions — and what makes them tick. We can connect with whatever the emotions are, if not necessarily the actions themselves.

RS: One thing you do early on in the book is let us know why Trent is acting the way he is. So we don’t just think he’s an asshole.

LG: He still is, a little bit. But you know why.

RS: Right. Here we have this protagonist who’s been involved in something terrible. He really didn’t do anything wrong, but you can see why he feels like he did, and now he has to learn to come to terms with it. How do you stop that from turning into a problem novel? Or is it a problem novel? What do you think of that term?

LG: It makes me cringe, even though every book deals with issues and problems. If they didn’t, they’d be boring. But the term is kind of horrific.

RS: It has a lot of bad history.

LG: My early drafts were definitely problem novels. When I write my first several drafts, everything is really big and broad and cheesy, and there are huge moments and huge emotions. I usually overwrite so much at the beginning. My first draft of this novel was probably five hundred pages. It was enormous. And a mess.

RS: Multiple victims. Crawling on the ice.

LisaGraff_200wLG: And then I go through and pick up the moments that really feel truthful. Those tend to be the quiet moments. They’re the ones that if I were to outline — which I don’t often do but, but if I were to — probably wouldn’t even make it in the outline, because they’re not big events. But they’re the ones that really matter. I keep those, and I throw everything else out.

RS: That makes me wonder about outlining as a technique for putting a novel together. I wonder if people miss things, because they’ve got this list, dammit, and they’re going to stick to it. I guess it’s different for everybody.

LG: I think so. I’m not an outliner, because when I do — after I’ve spent all that time and hated every moment of it — I realize that my outlines are all about things that the characters understand and emotions they’re having. There’s no actual plot in the entire outline, and it doesn’t work.

RS: Oh, plot. Plot.

LG: My books are not particularly plot-y. That’s not the way I think. The plot is very secondary to me. I just can’t outline.

RS: But you do have things happen to your characters. I’ve read some books where it feels like the plot is just an excuse to move the characters from place to place so they can have another conversation.

LG: It’s all in the rewriting, the revision. Where can I put these characters, and what would best show us what’s happening to them?

RS: What has your previous career as a children’s book editor done for you as a novelist?

LG: That’s a great question. I sold my first two novels just about three months after I started at FSG, so I was really learning how to be an editor at the same time as I was learning how to be a writer. It was wonderful, though very difficult. Being an editor has probably helped me to just take my time. At first it was hard, because I was working with all these wonderful writers and wonderful books, and I would try to edit myself too much. But after a while of seeing the process so many amazing writers go through — how some projects start not as amazing as they end, and the very different ways that people go through drafting and writing books — I realized that it was okay to start from a really terrible place. What was important and necessary was to just work through the process the way you need to do it. So counter to what you might expect, being an editor has actually helped me take my time more.

RS: Do you feel like you’re nicer to yourself as an author, maybe?

LG: At the beginning of a book, yes. Then I’m brutal and cruel in the middle, which is also very important. There’s no greater satisfaction to me than slashing out entire pages of a draft. I get a sick pleasure out of it.

RS: Just sort of lacerating yourself with self-hatred — is that what you’re doing?

LG: I want the book to be as concise as possible, and since I know I’m someone who overwrites in drafts, I know that the cutting stage is part of my process. Often I’ll make myself some word count — I have to cut twenty-five words on every page in a draft, say. That’s actually fun for me, because I see what’s crucial to the story. Sometimes passages or paragraphs or even whole pages that were my favorite things to write can be unimportant to the story.

RS: That’s something I had to learn as an editor as well. Sometimes design dictates you can only use so many words and no more, and it becomes like a puzzle. How am I going to get all the words into the allotted space?

LG: Love that.

RS: It is kind of fun. And how far will you go with this before you share a manuscript with your editor?

LG: It depends on the project. Jill Santopolo has edited all my middle-grade books, and I like to show her my projects when I know they need work but I don’t know what else to do to them. That’s my ideal situation, though it doesn’t always happen that way because of time constraints. There have been a couple of times, too, when I’ve hit a spot where I have no idea what I’m doing, and it’s just a mess. I’ll show it to Jill, and she’s amazing because she can see through all that, and she’ll point me in a direction and say, “Okay, this is your story,” or “This is your main character,” and I can go back to square one with that little piece.

RS: Do you feel like it’s done when it’s done? I know writers who are never satisfied, even when the thing is published.

LG: When I was working on my first published book, The Thing About Georgie, I remember having this moment when I realized that I could just revise this thing until the end of time, and it would become a different book. There was something kind of wonderful and scary about that. But there does come a moment when it feels like it’s the story that I was trying to write, even if it’s not perfect in every regard. That’s the point where I want to stop. Usually what happens is after that draft where I think I’m done, and I go out for a nice dinner to celebrate, two days later Jill emails me another revision letter. This has happened with every single one of my books. She says, “Okay, just one more draft.” And then after that one I’m really done. She’s always right.

RS: Let’s talk about the end of this book. I loved it. But I noticed that even the Horn Book review has some questions about the ending. I don’t want to give anything away, because it is a great surprise of an ending, so let’s talk around it a little bit. What kinds of reactions have you had from readers?

LG: You mean the very, very end, right?

RS: The very, very end.

LG: There have been some people who were surprised and upset, but most of the responses are positive. I think most people felt it was the best, natural ending to the story. For me there was never a question. It seemed like the truest way to tell these characters’ stories. I’m trying to find the best way to talk around it.

RS: I know.

LG: I think it speaks to one of the central themes of the story, which is that it’s not the events in our lives that are important so much as how we respond to them. That’s what I really wanted to get across.

RS: That’s the theme of your novel all the way through. The big central propelling event of the story happens before the first page.

LG: Absolutely. In essence, it could have been anything that happened. It’s the way that Trent reacts. It’s not that event per se that shapes him, it’s what it did to him.

RS: Right. Had he been someone else, it would have been a completely different story. Because it’s about what happens to that character, not what happens to a person, when a tragedy like that occurs.

LG: Exactly. The idea for this book came from a book I wrote several years ago, Umbrella Summer, which is about a character, Annie, dealing with the tragedy of her brother dying. It occurred to me at the time that someone had to have hit the hockey puck that struck her brother. There was nowhere in the book to address it, so I just ignored that side of things. But the idea sat in my head, and it wasn’t until maybe five or six years later that I decided I wanted to write a book about the boy who’d hit the hockey puck. And then it wasn’t until the book was finished that I figured out why I wanted to focus on Trent’s character, who I hadn’t realized at the time was based on someone I had known, whom I was very close to. That was my jumping-off point.

RS: There’s this new book by Sophie Kinsella — she writes those Shopaholic novels. But she’s written her first YA, Finding Audrey. It’s about a girl who has become intensely agoraphobic. She even wears sunglasses so she doesn’t have to look at anybody. All we know is that something happened at school between her and this clique of girls, but we never learn what it is.

LG: Oh, interesting.

RS: Similarly, she’s dealing with the fallout and recovery from this event. The actual whatever happened happened before the book began. We never find out what that was, and it becomes all the more powerful because you don’t know. That’s kind of how I feel about what we’re trying not to discuss.

LG: I always feel funny about that, when kids ask me what happens to these characters after the book ends. I’m like, “Whatever you want. It’s fiction. It’s not real.” But yes, I do feel like I know what happened.

RS: I got so mad when J. K. Rowling told everyone that Dumbledore was gay. Not because I care that Dumbledore is gay. Be as gay as you want, Dumbledore. But it’s like she took that power that you’re talking about away from readers. She didn’t write that he was gay.

LG: I had that same reaction. It’s not on the page, so it’s not true. I feel like once you write a book it belongs to the reader. It doesn’t belong to you anymore, so it doesn’t matter what you think, or what your backstory is for those characters. It’s everyone else’s.

RS: You have done your part. And the reader has a job too. And if you don’t give readers the room to do that job, I suspect they’re not going to get invested in your story.

LG: It’s interesting to read people’s interpretations of my books, because there are times when I think, “That’s absolutely not why the character did that.” But that’s just my interpretation. Readers can think whatever they want. They have that freedom, and it’s great.

RS: But it must drive you crazy when people do actually misread what you have put on the page.

LG: Yeah, that’s annoying. It says it right there! But I remember being in a grad school workshop, and someone was giving me notes. I cut in, which we were never supposed to do; we were supposed to just remain silent while they gave us their comments. But I cut in and said, “That’s not what I meant.” My thesis adviser said, “Lisa, you can’t sit over everyone’s bed while they read your novel and tell them what you meant.” Which is really true.

RS: And kind of creepy.

LG: So I try to remember that.


The post Lisa Graff Talks with Roger appeared first on The Horn Book.

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4. MMGM review: Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff

From the publisher:

From the author of the National Book Award nominee A Tangle of Knots comes an inspiring novel about figuring out who you are and doing what you love.

Albie has never been the smartest kid in his class. He has never been the tallest. Or the best at gym. Or the greatest artist. Or the most musical. In fact, Albie has a long list of the things he's not very good at. But then Albie gets a new babysitter, Calista, who helps him figure out all of the things he is good at and how he can take pride in himself.

A perfect companion to Lisa Graff's National Book Award-nominated A Tangle of Knots, this novel explores a similar theme in a realistic contemporary world where kids will easily be able to relate their own struggles to Albie's. Great for fans of Rebecca Stead's Liar and Spy, RJ Palacio's Wonder and Cynthia Lord's Rules.

My thoughts:

Oh, how I loved Albie. He's sweet, kind--if very aloof sometimes. It seems like the kids around him 'get it', and he's just forever behind the curve. I think we can all relate to that at one point or another in our lives. Only for Albie, it's status quo.

The thing I loved most about Albie was how he managed to impact the people around him: his best friend, his parents, even his nanny Calista. So many people were changed for the better by his kindness.

I will say that Albie isn't really the kid who almost makes it, like is implied in the title... He's more like the kid who always comes in last, which is an entirely different thing. Special needs comes to mind as I read this story. Also, it's definitely a city life kind of book (the nanny business, etc.), and might be tougher for your average kid in my neck of the woods to relate to... Still, I cried more than once, which makes these minor things go away, I say.

Recommended if you liked Wonder by RJ Palacio. Keep your tissues handy.

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5. Fuse #8 TV: Eric Carle Museum Tours and Absolutely Lisa Graff

Top of the morning to you, folks!  I’m happy to release my second Fuse #8 TV episode.  This time around I thought it would be a bit of fun to take a trip to the Eric Carle Museum.  Not everyone has ever had a chance to visit and it’s just the loveliest place.  After that, I sit down with the truly delightful Lisa Graff to talk a bit about the slow burn of her career and her latest book Absolutely Almost.  Enjoy!

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6. Review of the Day: Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff

AbsolutelyAlmost Review of the Day: Absolutely Almost by Lisa GraffAbsolutely Almost
By Lisa Graff
Philomel (an imprint of Penguin)
ISBN: 978-0-399-16405-7
Ages 9-12
On shelves now.

In the stage musical of Matilda, lyricist Tim Minchin begins the show with the following lines about the state of children today: “Specialness is de rigueur. / Above average is average. Go fig-ueur! / Is it some modern miracle of calculus / That such frequent miracles don’t render each one un-miraculous?” This song ran on a bit of a loop through my cranium as I read Lisa Graff latest middle grade novel Absolutely Almost. For parents, how well your child does reflects right back on you. Your child is a genius? Congratulations! You must be a genius for raising a genius. Your child is above average? Kudos to you. Wait, your child is average? Uh-oh. For some parents nothing in the world could be more embarrassing. We all want our kids to do well in school, but where do you distinguish between their happiness and how hard you’re allowed to push them to do their best? Do you take kindness into account when you’re adding up all their other sterling qualities? Maybe the wonder of Absolutely Almost is that it’s willing to give us an almost unheard of hero. Albie is not extraordinary in any possible way and he would like you to be okay with that. The question then is whether or not child readers will let him.

Things aren’t easy for Albie. He’s not what you’d call much of a natural at anything. Reading and writing is tough. Math’s a headache. He’s not the world’s greatest artist and he’s not going to win any awards for his wit. That said, Albie’s a great kid. If you want someone kind and compassionate, he’s your man. When he finds himself with a new babysitter, a girl named Calista who loves art, he’s initially skeptical. She soon wins him over, though, and good thing too since there are a lot of confusing things going on in his life. One day he’s popular and another he’s not. He’s been kicked out of his old school thanks to his grades. Then there’s the fact that his best friend is part of a reality show . . . well, things aren’t easy for Albie. But sometimes, when you’re not the best at anything, you can make it up to people by simply being the best kind of person.

Average people are tough. They don’t naturally lend themselves to great works of literature generally unless they’re a villain or the butt of a joke. Lots of heroes are billed as “average heroes” but how average are they really? Put another way, would they ever miscalculate a tip? Our fantasy books are full to overflowing of average kids finding out that they’re extraordinary (Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, Meg Murry, etc.). Now imagine that the book kept them ordinary. Where do you go from there? Credit where credit is due to Lisa Graff then. The literary challenge of retaining a protagonist’s everyday humdrum status is intimidating. Graff wrestles with the idea and works it to her advantage. For example, the big momentous moment in this book is when it turns out that Albie doesn’t have dyslexia and just isn’t good at reading. I’ve never seen that in a book for kids before, and it was welcome. It made it clear what kind of book we’re dealing with.

As a librarian who has read a LOT of children’s books starring “average” kids, I kept waiting for that moment when Albie discovered he had a ridiculously strong talent for, say, ukulele or poker or something. It never came. It never came and I was left realizing that it was possible that it never would. Kids are told all the time that someday they’ll find that thing that’ll make them unique. Well what if they don’t? What happens then? Absolutely Almost is willing to tell them the truth. There’s a wonderful passage where Calista and Albie are discussing the fact that he may never find something he’s good at. Calista advises, “Find something you’d want to keep doing forever… even if you stink at it. And then, if you’re lucky, with lots of practice, then one day you won’t stink so much.” Albie points out, correctly, that he might still stink at it and what then? Says Calista, “Then won’t you be glad you found something you love?”

Mind you, average heroes run a big risk. Absolutely Almost places the reader in a difficult position. More than one kid is going to find themselves angry with Albie for being dense. But the whole point of the book is that he’s just not the sharpest pencil in the box. Does that make the reader sympathetic then to his plight or a bully by proxy? It’s the age-old problem of handing the reader the same information as the hero but allowing them to understand more than that hero. If you’re smarter than the person you’re reading about, does that make you angry or understanding? I suppose it depends on the reader and the extent to which they can relate to Albie’s problem. Still, I would love to sit in on a kid book discussion group as they talked about Albie. Seems to me there will be a couple children who find their frustration with his averageness infuriating. The phrase “Choose Kind” has been used to encourage kids not to bully kids that look different than you. I’d be interested in a campaign that gave as much credence to encouraging kids not to bully those other children that aren’t as smart as they are.

I’ve followed the literary career of Lisa Graff for years and have always enjoyed her books. But with Absolutely Almost I really feel like she’s done her best work. The book does an excellent job of showing without telling. For example, Albie discusses at one point how good he is at noticing things then relates a teacher’s comment that, “if you had any skill at language, you might’ve made a very fine writer.” Graff then simply has Albie follow up that statement with a simple “That’s what she said.” You’re left wondering if he picked up on the inherent insult (or was it just a truth?) in that. Almost in direct contrast, in a rare moment of insight, his dad says something about Albie that’s surprising in its accuracy. “I think the hard thing for you, Albie… is not going to be getting what you want in life, but figuring out what that is.” I love a book that has the wherewithal to present these different sides of a single person. Such writing belies the idea that what Graff is doing here is simple.

Reading the book as a parent, I could see how my experience with Absolutely Almost was different from that of a kid reader. Take the character of Calista, for example. She’s a very sympathetic babysitter for Albie who does a lot of good for him, offering support when no one else understands. Yet she’s also just a college kid with a poorly defined sense of when to make the right and wrong choice. Spoiler Alert on the rest of this paragraph. When Albie’s suffering terribly she takes him out of school to go to the zoo and then fails to tell his parents about this executive decision on her part. A couple chapters later Albie’s mom finds out about the outing and Calista’s gone from their lives. The mom concludes that she can’t have a babysitter who lies to her and that is 100% correct. A kid reader is going to be angry with the mom, but parents, teachers, and librarians are going to be aware that this is one of those unpopular but necessary moves a parent has to face all the time. It’s part of being an adult. Sorry, kids. Calista was great, but she was also way too close to being a manic pixie dream babysitter. And trust me when I say you don’t want to have a manic pixie dream babysitter watching your children.

Remember the picture book Leo the Late Bloomer where a little tiger cub is no good at anything and then one day, somewhat magically, he’s good at EVERYTHING? Absolutely Almost is the anti-Leo the Late Bloomer. In a sense, the point of Graff’s novel is that oftentimes kindness outweighs intelligence. I remember a friend of mine in college once commenting that he would much rather that people be kind than witty. At the time this struck me as an incredible idea. I’d always gravitated towards people with a quick wit, so the idea of preferring kindness seemed revolutionary. I’m older now, but the idea hasn’t gone away. Nor is it unique to adulthood. Albie’s journey doesn’t reach some neat and tidy little conclusion by this story’s end, but it does reach a satisfying finish. Life is not going to be easy for Albie, but thanks to the lessons learned here, you’re confident that he’s gonna make it through. Let’s hope other average kids out there at least take heart from that. A hard book to write. An easy book to read.

On shelves now.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

Like This? Then Try:

Other Blog Reviews:

Professional Reviews:

Other Reviews: BookPage


  • Lisa speaks with BookPage about the creation of the book.

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7. Absolutely Almost

Hey y'all.

Remember that Disney movie, The Shaggy Dog, where a kid turned into a dog? 

Well, guess what?

Lisa Graff has turned into a fifth grade boy!


She must have.

Because how else could she have NAILED the main character in her amazing new book, Absolutely Almost?

How else could she have written such an absolutely perfect fifth grade story?




Read it.

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8. The Life and Crimes of Bernetta Wallflower

by Lisa Graff

Bernetta Wallflower has been framed for a massive blackmail crime by her "best friend" Ashley Johansson - the real criminal. The result is that her scholarship has been revoked by her school, and if she wants to return to Mount Olive for the next school year, she'll have to dish out $9000. The threat of public school stares Bernetta in the face. She's just about lost all hope, until a mysterious boy makes her an offer: the two of them will become con artists for the summer. All money will be split 50/50.

Oh boy was this book fun! The writing is tight and the fast-paced plotting forces you to keep turning the pages. It's chock-full of humor; I was laughing about every other page. Come on, 12-year-old con artists?! How great is that? The book leaves you wanting more, but in a very good way (all the plot threads are tied up). I had a total blasting reading this. Read just the prologue and I promise you'll be hooked, too.

Excuse me now, I need to go re-watch The Sting. . . .

(release date: Jan. 28, 2008)

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9. Interview: Lisa Graff

Lisa Graff is the fabulous author of The Thing About Georgie and her newest release, The Life and Crimes of Bernetta Wallflower. (Read my review of the latter.) She is also the crazy (translation: way cool) experimenter of her own self-imposed beauty challenge. You can find her online at her hilarious blog, or at her website.

My blog is the first stop on her mini blog tour. Tomorrow you can find her at MotherReader and Thursday she'll be at Seven Impossible Things.

Giveaway: Wanna win a copy of Lisa's newest book? The first three people who email HarperCollins (at [email protected].com), with the name of the blog they saw Lisa at and their address, will get a free autographed copy of the book.
Lisa is also hosting a giveaway with super cool prizes: details here.

And now, on to my interview with the one and only Lisa Graff!

What inspired you to write The Life and Crimes of Bernetta Wallflower?

Well, I’ve always had a strange fascination with con artist movies. Even though I’m the kind of person who informs the grocery clerk when she accidentally gives me an extra 17 cents, for some reason I love watching films about swindlers. I love all the fast-talking, the quick-thinking, the elaborate scams. It’s just so much fun to escape for a bit and let yourself route for the bad guy.

Anyway, one day I was standing at the bus stop, and there happened to be a poster for Matchstick Men (that con artist movie with Nicholas Cage that came out a few years back), and I starting thinking how strange it was that I’d never read any con artist books for children, especially since some of my very favorite books—The Great Gilly Hopkins, There’s a Boy in the Girl’s Bathroom—star “bad” kids. So why not make that bad kid a con artist? And before I knew it I had this image of a girl with a frizzy red braid chewing on a piece of paper, planning out her very first scam . . .

What sort of research did you do for this book?

The first thing I did, before I put a word down on paper, was go to the video store on the corner and rent every con artist movie I could get my hands on. I did this for weeks. The store clerks really got to like me. They’d see me come in and they’d say, “Have you seen House of Games yet?” Or, “We just got Shooting Fish back. You need to watch that one!” I watched them all, and I took notes. I was trying to piece apart what “rules” there are for telling a con artist story. For example, one of the things I love most about movies in this genre is that, if they’re well-done, there are enough twists and turns in the story that the audience gets conned too. So I wanted to be sure that I understood enough about the storytelling to be able to do this in my own book.

After that I started to research real-life cons and con artists. I knew my biggest challenge was going to be coming up with a “long con” that two twelve-year-olds could realistically pull off. There are hundreds of great cons out there, but they were all too elaborate, or too tricky, or required bizarre skill sets or what-have-you, and in the end I found exactly one long con that I thought Bernetta could pull off. That was it—one con. My entire novel was based around that scam. I remember holding my breath when my workshop group read that part of the novel . . . and then when my editor read it . . . and then when it went through copyediting. I kept thinking, If anyone finds a hole in this thing, I’m done for.

I also did a lot of research on magic and magicians, since Bernetta’s father is a professional magician. I read biographies of Harry Houdini and David Blain (who, by the way, is a total nutcase), and bought a giant instructional book of magic tricks and practiced sleight-of-hand and coin tricks, just to see what the hand movements would be like to perform. This part of the research also helped me realize that I am a truly terrible magician.

If you had to be one of the following, which would you want to be: spy, con-artist, or actor? (let's assume they're all equally legal)

Definitely an actor. I’m not nearly crafty enough to be a spy—I’d think of a clever cover story four hours after I’d been imprisoned for treason. And I get too guilty to be a con artist. I’d be stealing someone’s cash and they’d notice me sweating profusely, and the whole ruse would be over. Actor, definitely.

What can you tell us about your next book, Allergic to Chocolate?

I’m still deep in revisions on this one, but the one thing I can say with absolute certainty is that the title is no longer Allergic to Chocolate. I have no idea what it will be, but I know it’s not that. Very helpful, right?

In all seriousness, the story is about a girl who becomes a sort of hypochondriac after her older brother dies, and the way the situation affects her relationships with her friends and her parents. It’s the weightiest theme I’ve tried to tackle so far, but really it’s a very lighthearted book. And, hopefully, a very funny one.

What were some of your favorite books as a kid?

I was a die-hard Baby-Sitters Club fan for a very long time. I must have owned at least 60 of those books. When I got to high school I donated them all to the local elementary school library, so to this day I’m sure there are small children thinking, “Who is this weird Lisa girl who wrote her name inside all her books, and why was she so obsessed with the BSC?” (On the other hand, maybe those small children understand me perfectly…) The other writers I loved with a passion were Roald Dahl, Beverly Cleary, and Louis Sachar. I always wished that middle school was exactly like Sixth-Grade Secrets.

What's the hardest part of the writing process for you? The easiest?

The hardest part for me is probably the revision process, which is also the part I get the most satisfaction out of. I’m one of those writers who can slap down a rough draft in just a few months, but then I have to laboriously re-write and re-write again, tearing out entire chunks and adding new characters and plots, until everything finally comes together. But it’s so thrilling for me when it finally does come together. It makes me feel like some sort of paleontologist, whose finally found that elusive hipbone proving T-rex was bipedal.

The easiest part is when I get in what I like to call the “writing zone.” This happens right after I’ve had an idea for a story, but before I write anything down. I have no idea what sparks this period, but it’s the time when my creativity runs amok, and I simply can’t stop thinking about the story I’m working on. I always know I’m deep in the center of the writing zone when I miss my stop on the subway. (Once I was so busy thinking that I missed my stop on the train going north, then I got onto a southbound train, and missed my stop that way too.) This is when I like to do all my research for a novel, too, because it seems like everything inspires me, and it’s all so wide-open and full of potential.

What's the most bizarre thing that's happened to you because of your beauty experiment?

I think by far the weirdest thing that I’ve done so far was wear a beehive hairdo on a plane to visit my parents in Arizona. (For people who don’t know, since last October I’ve been attempting to follow all of the beauty advice from six women’s magazines for six months. This particular “beehive” bit of advice came from Glamour.) My flight left at six in the morning, so I woke up at three-thirty, ratted all of my hair up into this ridiculous poof on top of my head, and left for the airport. I was also wearing sparkly blue nails and false eyelashes. With jeans and a T-shirt. I was quite the sight, I must say. And I had so many bobby pins in my hair that I actually set off the metal detector! I had to be scanned for weapons by one of the attendants. Everyone eyed me warily the whole flight, and I was so tired from coifing myself that I fell asleep on the airplane, and woke up hours later to discover that I’d drooled on myself and had a fake eyelash resting on my cheek. So much for beauty, right?

*smothers a laugh* Thank you so much, Lisa! I wish you all the luck in the world (sounds like you might need it, heheh) during the remainder of your challenge! :)

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Pint-sized interviews that leave you smiling.

LISA GRAFF is an associate editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers, where she has worked for the past four years. She is particularly interested in middle-grade novels, but enjoys everything from picture books to YA, especially the funny stuff. In addition to working as an editor, Lisa is also a writer. Her first book, The Thing About Georgie, was selected for seven state reading lists, including the Texas Bluebonnet master list, and her latest novel, Umbrella Summer, is due out in June 2009. With the help of seven other children's and YA authors, Lisa keeps a blog about the writing and the publishing world, The Longstockings. Her website is can be viewed here.

I had the pleasure of meeting Lisa at a recent SCBWI retreat. She was funny, insightful and charming. I'm so happy she agreed to answer some questions for us!

What is it like wearing both the author and editor hats, and how does this benefit each role?
I feel very lucky that I get to be both an author and editor—two awesome jobs, and I get to do both of them! The thing I like most about it probably is talking to other authors about their craft, and getting an inside look at how stories develop, which helps me tremendously as a writer. Just knowing that other writers face the same struggles that I do all the time, and yet somehow manage to be brilliant storytellers in the end is very inspiring. And there’s nothing that makes you want to buckle down and write more than being surrounded by good books all the time! I also think that being a writer helps me when I have my editor hat on because it makes me more empathetic to my authors and to aspiring authors—and hopefully helps me skew my thoughts and criticism in a way that is most helpful to them.

Another great thing about being both a writer and an editor is that I get to work on stories I would never be able to write myself. So far all of the books I’ve written have been funny, contemporary middle-grade novels (although I’ve just signed up a funny, contemporary chapter book—so you can see I’m branching out!). But as an editor I can work on anything from historical fiction to non-fiction to picture books, all of which I think I would write extremely badly myself. So I get a chance to learn about new genres and styles, which I really enjoy doing. Still, my favorite stories to work on are funny, contemporary novels (go figure), from chapter book up through YA.

The double-life can be a bit hard, too, though. I think it’s especially taxing when I’m in the throws of working on something really wonderful and tricky at the office, and also working on my own writing at home—trying to use the same part of your brain all the day long can be very tiring! Those are the days I think I’d rather be a welder. But it’s very satisfying, too, so I really can’t complain much.

Can you tell us about your latest book?
My newest novel is coming out in June, and I’m getting very excited about it. It’s called Umbrella Summer, and it’s about a ten-year-old girl named Annie who becomes a bit of a hypochondriac after her older brother, Jared, dies unexpectedly. It’s a weighty subject, obviously, but there’s a lot of humor in there, too, and some very fun characters that just a ball to write.

What is your favorite children’s joke?
My absolute favorite joke makes no sense written out, unfortunately, but I’ll give it to you anyway:

Q: What do you call a pig with four eyes?
A: A piiiig.

See? Totally not funny on paper. But for some reason every time I tell that joke it makes me bust up laughing. I am obviously very easily amused.

Thanks so much, Lisa!

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11. My trip to New York

Last week I took the train down to New York.

I visited the office of my publisher, Farrar, Straus & Giroux:

Which is very conveniently located next to this!

With the most amazing cupcakes I've ever seen. (Take note, Grace Lin.)

And this is pretty handy located next to a children's book publisher:

I loved snooping around my editor's office. This is an amazing painting by the brilliant Peter Sis, who thought she needed a window (back when she had a windowless office):

I loved seeing all of the books in various stages of production, tucked away on a shelf, waiting to become real books and fly out into the real world.

Of course, I was particularly interested in these two:

Here I am (right) with my brilliant editor, Frances Foster.

And I finally got to meet Lisa Graff (left), associate editor, author, and blogger (Longstockings). (See how much fun Lisa is having?)

Frances and Lisa and I had a wonderful lunch. First we debated the possible shape of cavatappi. Then we had some great conversations about writing, books, and the importance of dressing well when taking airplane trips.

After saying goodbye to Frances and Lisa, I went to my son's senior thesis photography show (Parsons School of Design). It was wonderful. (Those art school kids work hard!)

And I was very proud.

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12. Look what I just got!

Umbrella Summer by Lisa Graff.

Can't wait to read it!

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13. One Illustration Reverie; Two Real Deals

What does this short animated clip have to do with John Singer Sargent  or children’s book illustration?

A quoi ca sert l’amour,  a short animation by Louis Clichy, with thanks to illustrator  and animation/game artist Amanda Williams for finding this.  She called  it “brutal and adorable.”

If a child-friendly story had illustrations with these lines — and visual characters as memorable as these,  and color the way John Singer Sargent used it in his painted scenes, it would be some picture book, right?

I’m assembling my fantasy football — I mean  illustration project  — team here.

So, starting with the cartoon: What makes these stick figures tug at your emotions as they do?

The honesty? That we know these people? And been these people?

The “simple” (but oh-so-sophisticated) graphics with their varied perspectives and 360 degree “camera revolutions”?

All the fast cutting and surprise transitions?

The song? Edith Piaf’s and Theo Sarapo’s singing?

The subject?

Could some of this aplomb be translated into picture book illustrations?

Are these enough questions for now?

OK,  so let’s add some color and texture.  John Singer Sargent had a knack  for these.

Thanks to Chicago based painter Raymond Thornton for finding this.

I know.  Sargent is the painter who gives all other painters inferiority complexes.  We don’t now a lot about how he made his palette choices. (We know that he looked carefully.)

So enough with dream teaming. We’ve got some housecleaning items today.

Two powerhouse chapters of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) have announced their 2010 pow-wows — both set for early next year.

It’s Time to Mingle in Texas

Awesome Austin

Austin SCBWI comes first with Destination Publication featuring  a Caldeecott Honor Illustrator and Newberry Honor Author, along with agents, editors, more authors, another fab illustrator, critiques, portfolio reviews and parties.

Mark the date – Saturday, January 30, 2010 from 8:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.  Get the full lowdown and the registration form here. Send in your form pronto if you’re interested — more than 100 people have already signed up. Manuscript crtiques are already sold out. But a few portfolio reviews are still open at this writing!

Destination Publication features Kirby Larson, author of the 2007 Newbery Honor Book, Hattie Big Sky and Marla Frazee, author-illustrator of A Couple of Boys Have the Best Week Ever, which received a Caldecott Honor Award, and more recently All the World penned (all 200 words of it) by Austin’s own children’s author/poet Liz Garton Scanlon.

Frazee teaches children’s book illustration at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA.  She and Scanlon plan to talk about their collaboration. You can read wonderful essays by them on this very topic here.

All the World" by Liz Garton Scanlon and Marla Frazee

"All the World" by Liz Garton Scanlon and Marla Frazee

The  faculty also includes: Cheryl Klein, senior editor at Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, Lisa Graff, Associate Editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers, Stacy Cantor, Editor, Bloomsbury USA/Walker  Books For Young Readers, Andrea Cascardi agent with Transatlantic Literary Agency (and a former editor), another former editor, Mark McVeigh who represents writers, illustrators, photographers and graphic novelists for both the adult and children’s markets,  and agent Nathan Bransford.

The conference also features authors  Sara Lewis Holmes, Shana Burg, P. J. Hoover, Jessica Lee Anderson, Chris Barton, Jacqueline Kelly, Jennifer Ziegler, Philip Yates,  and illustrator Patrice Barton.
Read more about everyone here.

Happenin’ Houston

Houston SCBWI has announced the (still developing)  lineup for its conference just three weeks after Austin’s:   Saturday, February 20, 2010.  Registration is NOW OPEN.

It headlines Cynthia Leitich Smith, acclaimed author of short stories, funny picture books, Native American fiction, and YA Gothic fantasies,   Ruta Rimas, assistant editor Balzer & Bray/HarperCollin, and Patrick Collins, creative director at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers. Collins art directs and designs picture books, young adult novels and middle grade fiction.

Among the recent picture books he has worked on:  Baby Bear, Baby Bear, What Do You See?, Old Penn Station and Rosa, which was a Caldecott Honor book.

The conference also features Alexandra Cooper,  senior editor at Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Lisa Ann Sandell,  senior editor at Scholastic Inc., and Sara Crowe, an agent with Harvey Klinger, Inc. in New York.

You can download Houston conference info and registration sheets from this page.

No, you don’t have to be Texan to register for either of these big events. You just have to be willing to get here for them.

Remember that just about any SCBWI conference or workshop is a great education for a very modest investment.

* * * * *
Speaking of  great educations for a very modest investment,  Mark Mitchell, author of this post and host of this blog  teaches classes in children’s book illustration at the Austin Museum of Art Art School and online. Learn more about the online course here — or sample some color lessons from the course here.

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14. Writers’ motto: Never give up

If there was a theme in what the many published writers said at the Austin SCBWI conference a couple weeks ago, it was that perseverance is an important part of their success.

Three of this year’s ALA winners were there — Jacqueline Kelly (The Evolution of Capurnia Tate), Marla Frazee and Liz Garton Scanlon (All the World illustrator and author) and Chris Barton (The Day-Glo Brothers) — and they all told tales of facing many rejections before publication and of pursuing their dreams of being published for years before making them a reality.

Kirby Larson, author of the 2007 Newbery Honor book Hattie Big Sky, said she received piles of rejection letters before her publishing career began. Finally, after many years of trying and taking a 10-day course that happened over her daughter’s birthday — what a sacrifice — she sold her first picture books. A few more followed, but then she didn’t sell anything for seven years. That’s when she tried a different type of writing and Hattie Big Sky was born.

Former editor and now full-time author Lisa Graff explained that for her last book, Umbrella Summer, she wrote 18 complete drafts.

Yesterday, this theme was reinforced in an article in the Los Angeles Times about non-fiction author Rebecca Skloot, whose The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks appeared on Amazon’s bestseller list immediately after the book debuted on Feb. 2. This was all after Skloot spent 10 years working on the book and went through three publishing houses, four editors and two agents.

All these writers shared something in common: They didn’t give up.

So, the motto for today: Never give up.

Write On!

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15. Gnomes in the Garden

One week ago Saturday, I stepped into a Story Garden. Immediately, like magic, roots grew down into the ground, connecting me to a rich substrata of writers, editors, agents, all with amazing stories to tell. As I wandered the Story Garden (known to some as the SCBWI Western Washington Writing and Illustrating for Children Conference) flowers of every sort shot up out of the ground at my very feet. I watched with amazement as one particularly bright colored blossom (Genus Lainius taylorus, fuschia petals, quite lovely) began to speak. Wondrous tales of a circus troupe within her very being, struggling to emerge, wove a spell around all of us in the Story Garden, prompting great excitement at the possibilities for each of us, ready to bring forth our own fruit.

As the day wore on, and we were watered, fertilized and shone upon by Master Gardeners Jay Asher, Peter Brown, Edward Necalsulmer IV, Jordan Brown, Lisa Graff, Paul Rodeen, Michael Bourret, Sara Crowe, and so many others--voila! We bore fruit. Many of us scurried to secret corners, to quickly capture those first buds of a new story, the tentative tendrils of a plot twist.

No garden is quite complete without a Garden Gnome, and by early afternoon, our very own gnome appeared (see above), cheering us on, giving bits of writing advice to each of us who captured him before he disappeared back into his own hidden garden, once again to write.

And now each of us have returned to our own secret gardens, treasuring all we brought back from that magical weekend, seeding our own stories to bloom in due time.

Watch our gardens grow!

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16. Video Sunday: “If I hadn’t become an artist I probably would have become a serial killer.”

What you are witnessing here is the first trailer for Library of the Early Mind — a feature-length documentary film by Edward J. Delaney and Steven Withrow exploring children’s literature.  According to its website, “The film will have its first public screening at Harvard University in October and is now being submitted to film festivals worldwide. Music is by Jason K. Nitsch.”  The sheer number of talented speakers they found is impressive alone.  If you can’t view it on their site, it’s also available through YouTube.  Thanks to Steven Withrow for the info.

Book trailer time!  Here we see what a little talent with stop animation, a fellow with a voice straight out of movie trailers, and a well chosen oboe can do for your average book.  It’s Sophie Simon Solves Them All by Lisa Graff:

This one’s a little different.  I guess it’s a book trailer at its heart (for Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich’s 8th Grade Superzero) but it’s also just a take on what it is to be an author.  It also works as a lovely tribute to New York City (and my library makes one brief appearance, which is nice).

Selling your book is one thing.  Selling yourself, another.  I suppose that author/illustrators need to make a living, and school visits can be a lucrative part of that.  So Dan Yaccarino had the idea to create a kind of commercial for himself.  It works.  It might work for other author/illustrators too.  Mind you, few of us have three different television shows under our belts (three, Dan?  Really?) but with a bit of creativity it isn’t hard to make something like this:

I didn’t get around to interviewing or talking to anyone at BookExpo this year.  Interviews are hard.  You have to come up with some kind of burning question for folks to answer.  Katie Davis is better prepared than I.  She went about the conference asking folks, “If you could go to the yard sale of any fictional character, whose would it be and what would you buy?” It’s worth it just to hear Scieszka say, “Katherine Schmatterson.”

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Another great book trailer.

This one from the uber talented Lisa Graff for her adorable Sophie Simon Solves Them All.

I LOVE this book. For anyone looking for funny reads for the younger set that will appeal to both girls and boys, look no more.

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18. Video Sunday: Happy Easter!

Normally I don’t advertise author/illustrator contests and challenges but this one has something I like.  Namely, Rube Goldberg machines.  Actually, I also happen to like Lisa Graff.  And I happen to like her new book which I finished yesterday and includes the aforementioned Rube Goldberg thing.  The first to ever appear in a children’s book?  You decide.

Next up, I’ve heard the movie news but if we’re gonna do Hobbit then we’re doggone gonna do Hobbit.  Just maybe not the version you’ll be seeing in theaters soon.

Thanks to Hark! A Vagrant for the link.

Next up, grants plus The Eric Carle Museum plus copious Raul Colon?  There is nothing about this that I do not like.

Thanks to Sandy Soderberg for the link!

Now these days everyone’s talking about nonfiction.  Thanks to the Core Curriculum the subject is hot as hot can be and nonfiction’s been getting a real leg up.  I can’t tell you how many people have recently asked me if I knew any librarians that are specifically knowledgeable in the realm of elementary informational texts.  With that in mind, the interest in quality nonfiction has never been greater.  That’s why it’s nice to see new biographies out there, like the recent Twice As Good by Rich Michelson which tells the tale of William Powell.  But, as LeVar Burton might say, you don’t have to take my word for it.

And since we’re dealing with Easter here, it’s only fair that we end with bunnies.  Bunny bunny bunnies.  It was a toss-up between this, the bunny who eats the flower, and the bunnies in the cups.  In the end, I figured you go with the sure-fire crowd pleaser.

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19. Lisa Graff is in the house!!

Lisa Graff
Today I have the pleasure of being joined by the uber funny, talented author Lisa Graff.

We're celebrating the publication of Lisa's hilarious new middle grade novel, Double Dog Dare. This book has Lisa Graff written all over it: funny, quirky, upbeat, and full of heart.

Want to win a free copy? Details following the interview below. 

Lisa was here back in 2010 discussing her delightful Sophie Simon Solves Them All.

I raved about her amazing The Thing About Georgie back in 2007.

I had the pleasure of working with Lisa when she was an editor at Farrar, Straus & Giroux. We clicked from day one and have been clicking ever since.

So without further ado, let's get started.

Okay, Lisa, be honest now. You write so well about kids double dog daring one another to do crazy stunts. Which one of the dares below would you REALLY do?

I double dog dare you to sing a chapter of your book on the subway.

I double dog dare you to tap dance in Central Park with your underwear on your head.

I double dog dare you to do any one of the dares in Double Dog Dare and put it on YouTube.

Oh man, I am such a chicken when it comes to dares! (That’s why I just write about them.) But if I had to pick, I would probably go with the YouTube dare. I could do the one Kansas has to do in the book where he duck tapes an ice cube to the crook of his arm until it melts. It sounds painful and sort of awful, but if a fictional character can pull it off and still look cool, surely I can too, right???

I LOVED those pics you used to post on your blog of you doing beauty experiments. I double dog dare you to post some of those.

Ha, all right! (For those not in the know, several years ago I attempted to follow all of the beauty advice from six beauty magazines for six months. It was very weird and very exhausting, but I did get some good stories out of it.) 

Here’s a

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20. Press Release Fun: Lisa Graff Announces Her Daring Winners

In the midst of all these trips down memory lane it can be difficult sometimes to remember that there are NEW wonderful children’s books being written and published for the young ‘uns every since day.  Case in point, Lisa Graff’s entirely fun middle grade novel Double Dog Dare.  The book involves three elements that instantly ramp up any children’s book: dares, divorce, and Rube Goldberg machines.  An enterprising young author, Ms. Graff had the idea of offering kid readers the chance to make Rube Goldberg machines of their very own.

The nice part about all of this is that Ms. Graff is allowing l’il ole me to be the official announcer of the winners of her contest.  And so . . . . DRUMROLL PLEASE!

brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr . . . .

The winners of the very first Double Dog Dare Contest in the small group category are . . .

Greg, Jack, Joey, Sam & Wren!

All five kids are nine years of age and hail from Somers, NY.  Well done, kids!

brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. . .

And the winners of the school group category are . . . .

“The Triple Dog Dares” from Mrs. Ennis’s 3rd-grade class, in Palm Beach, Florida!!!

Feel the full entries here if you’re curious.  And congrats to all the winners!

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21. joining an incredible line-up of writers at Main Point Books, May 24

So pleased to be part of this stellar line up of local authors to help celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Main Line's newest independent bookstore.

Join us — May 24th. Main Point is the cute shop at 1041 West Lancaster Avenue, Bryn Mawr, PA.

See you soon?

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22. Lisa Graff is in the house!

Welcome to day three of Lisa Graff's blog tour! I'm thrilled to welcome her here to Big A little a.

Lisa Graff's debut novel, The Thing About Georgie, has just been released (check my previous post for a review) and you can win a copy now! How? Here's the scoop:

The first three people to send an email to [email protected], saying that you saw the Lisa Graff interview here on Big A little a, will get a free copy of the book. You should write "Georgie Giveaway" in the subject line, and include your name and address. (And don't forget to mention that you read the interview [and review] here at Big A little a.)

Okay, on to the interview:

Kelly: The thing is, Lisa...I noticed in your author bio that you're a former Californian. I am too! Do you miss the Golden State, or are you a New Yorker for life now?

Lisa: Hooray for fellow former Californians! I'm not sure I'm a New Yorker for life, but I do love it for right now. People usually assume that since I'm from California, I can't stand the winters out here, but I actually grew up in a ski resort town in southern California (go Big Bear!), so I'm a snow bunny at heart. It's the summers that drive me crazy--so humid and hot! California definitely has better summers.

Kelly: Beer, wine, or a soft drink?

Lisa: I'll pick a nice white wine. That sounds writerly, right?

Kelly: Are you sick of the phrase "the thing is" yet?

Lisa: Actually I kind of like it. I hope it begins to sweep the nation soon, so I can be the founder of the next big catchphrase. Also, I've always sort of wanted to be responsible for something that "sweeps the nation." (This would probably an easier goal to accomplish if I were from a really small nation, like Luxembourg.)

Kelly: Beach, city, or forest?

Lisa: Ooh, a forest sounds lovely right about now, with the trees rustling softly all about and stars you can actually see and a gentle breeze that lulls you off to sleep. No bears, though. My forest doesn't have any bears in it.

Kelly: What draws you to children's literature in particular? What I mean is, why Middle Grade fiction and not, say, mystery, chick lit, or "literary fiction"?

Lisa: I guess I write children's books because I love to read them, even now as an adult. I think good middle grade novels are some of the best examples of fine storytelling--a clear story arc, tight plotting and characterization, and no excess words. There's no room for mucking about in children's novels, because kids won't put up with that. They'll just close the book. Writing something that will amuse kids and also say the things I want to say is both a challenge and a joy for me.

Kelly: Coffee, tea, or a triple skinny latte?

Lisa: This is a difficult choice, but I'll pick tea. I've been doing a lot of writing at night lately, and I find that a good cup of tea gives me just enough oomph to get my brain churning without keeping me wide-eyed for hours when it's time to go to sleep.

Kelly: The Thing About Georgie is your first novel. How long did it take you to write? And I mean from the very beginning--from the spark in your eye to the lovely product I just received?

Lisa: From spark in my eye to publication, a little over three years. I first got the idea to write about a dwarf in Fall 2003, and then I did some research and took some notes before I started writing. The first draft didn't take too long, probably only about six months. It was rather horrendous, though. There was a long period where my agent was sending the novel out to editors and no one wanted it at all. They were all very nice and encouraging, but still, lots of rejections. Then I found my amazing editor at HarperCollins, and she led me through two more drafts of the book, with major overhauls--characters were added, plotlines were taken away or changed or revamped, scenes were switched around for emphasis or clarity...It was a lot of work, but I couldn't be happier with the finished product. And it made me realize that I'm not the kind of writer who can sit down and whip out the next Great American Novel in one go (I'd like to say this type of writer doesn't exist, but sadly I know a few). I'm the kind of writer who has to write something, read it, scratch half of it out, and re-write it. Writing is like a puzzle for me, and it always takes me a few tries before I can get everything in just the right place, but along the way I learn so much about my characters and what it is I'm trying to say, that revision has actually become my favorite part of the process.

Kelly: Movie, Theater, or a Concert?

Lisa: Definitely the theater. I'm a huge musical theater fan.

Kelly: If you had an entire week and unlimited resources to do whatever you'd like, what would you do and why?

Lisa: I'd do some traveling. My dream travel destination at the moment is the Galapagos Islands. I'm dying to meet 100-year-old Galapagos tortoises, and do some snorkeling, and get a little sun too. Oh, I'm ready to go right now!

Kelly: Halloween, New Year's, or Valentine's Day?

Lisa: Well, even though today is Valentine's Day (Happy Valentine's!), I think I'd have to go with Halloween. It involves more candy than Valentine's and New Years combined, and you really can't beat that.


Kelly: What I particularly admired about The Thing About Georgie is that, while Georgie is a dwarf and faces challenges uniquely his own, in all other respects The Thing About Georgie is about the challenges all children face when they're moving on to the Middle School age. You could replace Georgie with Jeanie the Meanie (ADHD? Family problems?) or Andy (your grandmother from Italy sharing your room? Yikes!) and tell the same story. Can you elaborate on why you decided to make Georgie your hero specifically?

Lisa: Oh, I'm so glad you felt that way! I tried very hard not to pound readers over the head with the fact that Georgie is a dwarf, because really, most of the experiences he has and the challenges he faces are similar to those of any child.

I think most children, at one point or another, feel like an outsider. Whether it's on their soccer team or at school or within their group of friends, most kids feel that there's something different about them that prevents them from fitting in. What drew me to the idea of writing about a dwarf was that these differences would be undeniably apparent. No one can try to comfort Georgie by telling him, "Oh, don't worry, I'm sure no one notices you're short," because Georgie knows people notice. So I wanted to see how he would deal with that -- to what degree he'd overcome his differences and to what degree he'd embrace them--because it seemed like a good way to talk about the experiences every child goes through.

Kelly: All the adults in The Thing About Georgie are intelligent and well meaning, yet the children still face challenges of one sort or another. This is fairly unusual in Middle Grade fiction. (Often, in children's fiction, parents are absent, defective, or otherwise strange.) Was this a conscious decision on your part?

Lisa: I'm not sure it was a conscious decision; I think I simply wanted to write about parents who felt real, and most of the parents I knew growing up were pretty darn good ones. No matter how great our parents are, though, we're still going to have our share of problems. Part of this is probably due to the fact that adults and kids look at the world in very different ways, and the adult solution to a problem doesn't always work in a child situation. Georgie's parents help their son deal with his dwarfism by buying him special furniture and adapting their house to fit his needs, which is exactly what they should do. But it takes Jeanie the Meanie to tell him that when he can't reach something he should stop whining and get a chair. And I think she's right, too.

Kelly: I found myself gaining an appreciation of Jeanie the Meanie over the course of the novel. Will we see more of her in the future?

Lisa: I'm so glad you grew to like her! I had a great time writing Jeanie. She's such a loose cannon, and just says whatever pops into her head without any sort of filter, but I think at heart she always means well. That said, I don't think she'll show up in any more stories. I spend so much time writing and re-writing a book that when I'm done I can't wait to try new characters on for size, and see what they have to say. Who knows for certain, though? Jeanie might just decide she wants to be in another novel (and if she does decide that, I'd better pay attention).

Kelly: What can we look forward to next from Lisa Graff?

Lisa: Right now I'm working on my second novel, which is also middle-grade, although it's very different from Georgie. It's called The Life and Crimes of Bernetta Wallflower, and it's a con-artist novel, in the spirit of The Sting or Paper Moon. I've just gotten it back from copyediting, so it's fun to see all the many colored pencil marks everywhere. That one comes out a year from now. I'm also in the midst of writing a third novel, which is about an eight-year-old hypochondriac and the strange old lady who moves in across the street

8 Comments on Lisa Graff is in the house!, last added: 3/13/2007
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23. Review: The Thing About Georgie

Fourth-grader Georgie has a good life. He has loving, talented parents--both professional musicians. He has a best friend, Andy, with whom he runs a profitable dog-walking business. He has a crush on the prettiest girl in his grade. And, oh yeah, he's also a dwarf.

Georgie has become used to the special accommodations made for him in school and at home. The janitor has placed his coat hook lower than those for the other students. His parents have taped Popsicle sticks to light switches so Georgie can reach them without trouble. And Georgie has become used to the staring and comments ever-present in his life.

All of a sudden, however, everything changes in Georgie's life. His best friend wants to include another boy, Russ, in the dog-walking business. Georgie just can't accept that Andy may make other friends and his jealousy messes up their friendship. Jeanie the Meanie, the kid everyone has known and despised since kindergarten for her erratic and sometimes cruel behavior, has made Georgie her own special project. And, Georgie's parents make a big announcement: Georgie is going to be a big brother! And the new baby...is not a dwarf:

  • "One day this kid, the one who wasn't even born yet, was going to be bigger than he was. It wouldn't take very long either; there were five-year-olds the same height as Georgie. Somehow it had never bothered him too much before. Georgie was short, and all those other kids weren't. But the thought of some kid living in his own home, growing taller every single day made him seriously queasy." (p. 43)

Georgie's predicament, on the surface of things, seems unique. But what I really love about The Thing About Georgie is that Georgie's story is really one of growing up, of figuring out who you are, and of opening your heart to others. Georgie, in the end, isn't much different from his peers. True, he's a dwarf and people sometimes stare at him. True, his parents will be having another child, one who is more "perfect" than he may be. But other people have problems too. His friend Andy, for example, has to share a room with his immigrant grandmother. And, Jeanie has to work against years of being the bad kid in her class, as well as having to deal with a difficult family life and attention issues. In the end, Georgie realizes that, yes, he has his problems and, yes, he's a unique individual, but, yes, he's not so very different in his individuality than anyone else.

Lisa Graff's debut novel, The Thing About Georgie, is a novel Middle Grade readers will enjoy greatly. It's also a book perfect for the 3rd-6th grade classroom read aloud. Graff has structured the novel in an ingenious way. Each chapter is introduced by a "handwritten" account of what it's like to live as a dwarf ("Stretch your right arm high up to the sky. Now reach across the top of your head and touch your your left ear....Did you know you could do that? Well, Georgie can't"), but the struggles that follow are universal. The Thing About Georgie is the type of book that any pre-Middle Schooler will appreciate: each child has individual issues, but together they can deal with anything.

The Truth About Georgie is highly recommended for readers ages eight and up.

3 Comments on Review: The Thing About Georgie, last added: 2/14/2007
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24. The Blog Tour Bus Makes a Pit Stop In Fuse Country

Graff. Lisa Graff.
She's lean, she's mean, she's a kick-ass writing machine. Which is to say, we've a very special guest here at A Fuse #8 Production today. Sit down and behave yourself, class. Lisa Graff, author of this year's The Thing About Georgie is stopping by here on her whirlwind blog tour. I am not the best interviewer (such skills belong far more to the 7-Imp camp) but I'll do my best for this lovely lass. After all, she is one of only five editors in my Editorial blogroll (off to the right).

For those of you unfamiliar with the plot of this book, here' s a review of the title as prepared by Big A little a. Onward!

FUSE #8: Why the burning, nay, overwhelming urge to write? And, more importantly, why children's books at all?

LG: I guess I write because I like to make up stories. I like looking at people on the subway or on the street, and trying to figure out who they are by the way they talk or how they twitch a finger. And since I’ll never know any of that for sure, I have to make it up. I write children’s books because I can’t imagine writing anything else. I love kids and telling stories about them. But I also love reading kid’s books. There’s no room for lazy storytelling or self-serving prose in children’s books, because kids won’t put up with that. You have to get in, tell your story, tell it well, and get out. A good children’s book is like a little gem—smooth, small, and perfect. And, um, shiny.

FUSE #8: You are part of a crazy group of gals knows as The Longstockings who blog regularly on a host of varied kidlit topics. Give me the skinny on how you came together as a whole.

LG: Well, all eight of us went to the New School here in Manhattan and got our MFAs in Writing for Children. It’s a very small program, so we all got to know each other pretty well. We’d meet every week and swap bits of our novels and critique them and offer suggestions, and somehow along the line we became friends too. When the program ended we decided we simply couldn’t bear to stop meeting regularly and workshopping, so we formed an official group. And then we decided to take on the World Wide Web, too, and start a blog. So far I think it’s going pretty well.

FUSE #8: I don't want to repeat any of the questions already asked on The Longstockings blog, but what the hey? What's the name of the children's book you'd like The Thing About Georgie to be mentioned with in a single breath? Which is to say, what's the best possible kidlit title someone could compare your book to?

LG: My all-time favorite kid’s book in the universe is Holes. Talk about a gem. I’m in love with that book—the way all the plotlines come together so unexpectedly and perfectly at the end, and the seamlessness of the storytelling. I’d pretty much die and go to Heaven if someone mentioned my book in the same sentence as Holes. Unfortunately, my book is completely different in terms of plot and characters and, well, everything, so probably the only sentence that would use both titles would be, “Hey, did you know that the chick who wrote The Thing About Georgie really likes Holes?”

FUSE #8: I'm stealing this particular question from the 7-Imp blog. Three authors you'd like to sit down and have dinner with.... go.

LG: Louis Sachar, obviously, because I just gushed about his book so that would be weird if I didn’t pick him. Also he seems down-to-earth and fun. Then I’d have to go with Katherine Paterson, because I think she’s a genius, and she is so wonderful at writing characters who do awful things but still manage to be completely lovable. I’m rather in awe of her. For my third author I pick George Bernard Shaw, because he’s witty and snarky and I bet he’d make fabulous dinner conversation.

FUSE #8: What's your next book? Or at the very least, some of the ideas that might be ah-percolating in your brain?

LG: My next book is called The Life and Crimes of Bernetta Wallflower, and it comes out early next year. It’s about a twelve-year-old girl who loses her scholarship to private school, so in order to earn her tuition she becomes a con artist for a summer. It’s very twisty-turny and fun. I actually just got the manuscript back from copyediting, and it’s covered in lots of pencil marks in all different colors with queries for me to answer… I should probably get cracking on that.

FUSE #8: Any advice you'd care to share with the umpteen-bazillion people out there who would kill to be in your my-book-just-got-published-by-Harper-Collins shoes?

LG: Read. A lot. I know everyone says that, and it sounds like the lamest cop-out answer ever, but it’s really true. You can’t be a writer if you don’t love to read. I think children’s writers especially can learn a lot from reading the kinds of books they want to write, and paying careful attention to everything—the structure of the story, the length, the words the author uses. I think we as writers can soak up a ton from studying what the greats have done before us.

And now a special treat. Act fast, my pretties, and be one of the first three people to send an e-mail to [email protected] with the name of A Fuse #8 Production in the subject heading. Tell Lisa that you saw her interview on this blog and IF you are one of the first three (which gives an unfair advantage to early birds and residents of Australia, I know) then you will be sent a complimentary copy of Graff's new book. Howzabout them apples, eh?

10 Comments on The Blog Tour Bus Makes a Pit Stop In Fuse Country, last added: 2/27/2007
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25. Lisa Graff Interview

The problem with being almost last on an author’s seven-day blog tour is that all the good questions are taken. As the week went by, I saw all my questions posted here and there and here again. Big A, little a hit most closely to home using two questions specific to the book that were also on my thought list. I was glad to see that I was on the same page as the fantastic Kelly by wondering about (a) how did she mangage to make the book mostly about regular life problems, while having a character with such personal issues of being a dwarf, and (b) while other books make adults stupid, silly or useless, why did she have her book make them kind, well-meaning and supportive? I also may have said, in my head, “son of a bitch.” (Kidding, Kelly.)

However, the problem of interviewing after everyone else — with the additional issue of being asked to interview another author within the same time period — led me to a breakthrough. I now have a standard interview. It’s back-to-the-basics kind of questioning, but I like it because it is open to interpretation and should work for everyone.

Now, as a bonus for the book tour, the first three people to email [email protected] (it should say “Georgie Giveaway” in the subject line) with their name, address, and the blog where they saw my interview that day (i.e., MotherReader) will get a copy of The Thing About Georgie. Yay!

Let me present the lovely and talented Lisa Graff.

When did you start writing?

I’ve written just for fun since I was in elementary school, and I attempted to write my first novel when I was 14. But I guess I started taking myself seriously as a writer my junior year of college. I was studying in Italy, and for a year-long language project one of my professors helped me translate a children’s novel I’d written into Italian. It worked wonders for my Italian vocabulary, but it also gave me a unique in-depth look at my process of stringing words together and telling a story. That project made me realize that I had a very long way to go before my books would be something other people would want to read, but it also made me realize how much I loved telling stories, and how important it was to me to get better at it.
Where do you do your best thinking?
I get a lot of ideas when I’m on the subway or walking around the city. I think my subconscious is always chugging away at things, and it just takes a small spark of something to give me an idea. Living in New York is perfect for that, because there are interesting things going on everywhere you look. When I was in the midst of revising The Thing About Georgie two summers ago, I had been desperately trying to come up with a way to demonstrate Georgie and Andy’s strong friendship, while simultaneously thinking up some catalyst for their big fight, but I couldn’t find anything that worked. Then one evening I left my apartment to do laundry, and I passed a woman walking five Bichon Frises — and just like that, I knew that Andy and Georgie should run a dog walking business. (Who knows how the book would have turned out if I’d seen someone making balloon animals or training monkeys to roller skate or something…)
Who inspires you personally and/or professionally?
At my day job (I work as an editorial assistant at a children’s book publisher) I get to interact with a lot of writers on a regular basis. When I first starting working there, I was always hesitant when I had to call authors on the phone, because they seemed like these unapproachable geniuses to me, and how would they respond to me, the lowly assistant/wannabe writer? But they’re all so nice and friendly... it almost makes you forget they really are geniuses. It’s great to be around people like that, whose work you admire, and whom you really enjoy talking to as well.
Why did you need to write this book?
I have no idea, honestly. People often ask what inspired me to write Georgie, and the truth of the matter is that writing about a boy with dwarfism just sounded interesting at the time. It wasn’t until a few months ago that I realized that what I had actually written about was a topic that has interested me my whole life. Really, I think Georgie is about perception — the way others perceive us and if that affects how we perceive ourselves. The book was a way for me mull over topics that had been on my mind me for a long while.
How does this book reflect your own life experience?
Well, my life is very different from Georgie’s in a lot of obvious ways. For one thing, he’s a dwarf and I’m very tall. I often got teased or stared at because of my height, but not nearly to the extent that Georgie is singled out for his dwarfism. I’ve also never had a dog walking business or been in a play about the U.S. presidents. But some things are based on experience. Andy’s Italian family, for instance, is loosely based on the host family I lived with when I first began studying in Italy. And I think Jeanie the Meanie is the girl I would have been if I hadn’t been so shy when I was little. I was always bursting with opinions to tell people — some of them quite mean — but I was too much of a coward to let any of it out. Writing Jeanie’s character was a lot of fun (and a little bit cathartic) for me, because I could have her say and do anything at all.
What’s next for you?
My next novel is called The Life and Crimes of Bernetta Wallflower, and it’s in the midst of copyediting and design right now. Those are nice stages for me as an author because it’s mostly sit-back-and-relax on my part. The book is about a twelve-year-old girl who, after having been framed by her ex-best friend for running a school-wide cheating ring at her private school, takes up conning shoppers at the local mall to earn back her lost scholarship money. It’s very heisty, in the tradition of The Sting or Ocean’s Eleven, and it should be a lot of fun. It comes out in January 2008.
I’ll actually have to review The Thing about Georgie later today or tomorrow, because I have to get to work — as in my actual job. I slept until 10:00 a.m. this morning, putting a serious dent in my blogging time, but I must have really needed the rest to have slept so long. You can read reviews at just about any other site on the blog tour, and I will give the book my personal thumbs-up as an enjoyable read for boys and girls (and grown-up bloggers).

3 Comments on Lisa Graff Interview, last added: 2/18/2007
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