Tuesday, March 30, 2010


For readers interested in "boy books" let me introduce you to the novels of author Will Hobbs. He's published seventeen of them and I just finished his latest GO BIG OR GO HOME.
The action starts when a meteorite crashes through the roof of Brady's house, tears through his mattress and lands underneath his bed. Brady can't wait to share the excitement with his cousin Quinn.
Quinn comes for a visit and the boys show the rock to a professor at a nearby museum. He wants to study the rock, hoping to prove that there is life on Mars.In the meantime, Brady and Quinn go mountain biking, camping, and caving. The boys are stunned when Brady is suddenly able to perform athletic feats that he's never been able to do before. But Brady also develops symptoms of a terrible illness. He wonders if the meteorite is responsible for both his new athletic abilites and his sickness.
GO BIG OR GO HOME is chock full of action as the boys race to save Brady's life.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


I'm always curious about an author's background and what led him/her to write a particular story. Ms. Jaramillo's husband is a lawyer who focuses on helping migrant workers, and Ms. Jaramillo is a teacher with students of Mexican origin. She says, "La Linea is fiction, but it is based on real events."

Of course I've watched lots of news reports about Mexicans crossing the border illegally, but until reading this book, I didn't realize the grave danger they face to do so. When fifteen-year-old Miguel and his sister leave Mexico, they are robbed, cling to the roof of a train, trek across the desert, and traumatized when their guide is shot by vigilantes. I'm disturbed that this story is based on actual events.

Ms. Jaramillo includes lots of facts about illegal immigration at the end of her book. Many immigrants lose their lives trying to cross the border. They die from dehydration, hypothermia and violence. Still the number of undocumented people in the United States is estimated to be over 10 million.

Kirkus Reviews calls La Linea, "A nail-biting real-life adventure." I agree and it's thought provoking as well.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Carolyn Yoder's Alumni Retreat

For the past three winters, I've attended Carolyn Yoder's alumni retreat at Boyds Mill. That's me standing in front of my cabin...the perfect place to write when snow is coming down.
I've learned so much from Carolyn, especially about historical picture books. We worked together on a manuscript, HENRIETTA'S PASTEL TREASURES, about the first professional female artist in the American colonies. Prior to working with Carolyn, I'd been told that it read like a magazine piece. Here's how Carolyn helped me turn it into a picture book.
1. Picture books have rhythm when read aloud. I read my manuscript over and over, cutting excess words until I found the beat.
2. Picture book are written in scenes. I took scissors and cut my manuscript into distinct scenes, making sure that each spread gave the illustrator something to draw.
3. Lots of picture books come full circle. I worked on my last spread so that the ending was reminiscent of the beginning.
4. I wrote it again and again and again. Great writing is all about revising.
What makes the Highlights Foundation Workshops so special is the amount of individual attention given to each writer -- that's why I'm a regular.


I love historical fiction and always turn to the back matter first, hoping to learn from the author's process. Alison Hart says in her bibliographical note that to research and write GABRIEL'S HORSES, she read more than two hundred books. The novel also contains a wonderful section on the actual history behind the story.

GABRIEL'S HORSES is set in 1864, and Gabriel is a slave boy, born to a free black father and a slave mother. His father, Issac, is one of the best horse trainers in Kentucky, and that's what Gabriel wants to do when he grows up.

The war complicates Gabriel's life because Confederate raiders are terrorizing local farms, especially looking for thoroughbred horses. To make matters even worse, Gabriel's father joins the Union army, and is replaced by a cruel horse trainer. Now Gabriel must find a way to keep the beloved horses safe, not only from the raiders, but from his white boss.

I would recommend GABRIEL'S HORSES to animal lovers, Civil War buffs, and readers interested in African American stories. The book is part of a trilogy and the other two are GABRIEL'S TRIUMPH and GABRIEL'S JOURNEY.