Tuesday, August 30, 2016

August--#MSBookFest And #MGGetsReal!

Whew! August was a busy month. I attended the Mississippi Book Festival in Jackson.

Here I am on a panel moderated by Deborah Wiles. The other authors are John Claude Bemis, Augusta Scattergood, Esta Spalding, John David Anderson, me, and Kathi Appelt. My new claim to fame is that I rubbed elbows with Kathi--literally! It was a tight squeeze down on the end.

Lots of cool marketing opportunities came my way with #MGGetsReal. Mr. Schu debuted the #MGGetsReal video. You can watch it on his blog, Watch. Connect. Read.

I grabbed the chance to blog for the Nerdy Book Club. You can read my post, "Middle Grade Books Serve As Windows and Mirrors," here.

Patricia Toht interviewed me about RUBY LEE & ME and the #MGGetsReal initiative. You can read it on the GROG.

And as part of the #MGGetsReal campaign, Kerry O'Malley Cerra compiled a list of 164 books that tackle tough topics for a Middle Grade Audience. You can view the list on The Pragmatic Mom blog.

A busy summer is winding down. Happy Fall, Y'all!

Monday, August 29, 2016

#MGGetsReal--A Conversation With Joyce Moyer Hostetter

I first read Joyce Moyer Hostetter's book, BLUE in 2006. I was especially drawn to BLUE because of its setting--rural North Carolina, near where I grew up. In BLUE, Ann Fay's daddy has gone off to fight Hitler during WWII, and while he's gone, Ann Fay is stricken with polio.

When I heard Joyce was writing a sequel, I couldn't wait to read it. COMFORT is one of those books that stays with you for a long time. Ann Fay was lucky enough to survive polio, but her recovery was a struggle. And while her daddy was lucky enough to live through WWII, he came back home a changed man, suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome.

Joyce's books have become perennial favorites among North Carolina school children, and now, nearly ten years after BLUE, Joyce has written a prequel. AIM is told from the viewpoint of Ann Fay's neighbor, Junior Bledsoe.

If you loved Joyce's prior two novels, I recommend pre-ordering AIM. And if you haven't read BLUE and COMFORT, then I recommend starting with AIM, and moving on to them. To celebrate Joyce's new book, I asked her a couple of questions that she's answered for my blog.

Hi Joyce, what book or books from your childhood left a lasting impression and why?

Blue Willow by Doris Gates  - This story of Janey Larkin, a migrant child, gave me a window into a world of poverty that I knew nothing about. The blue willow china plate which symbolized hope for Janey’s family captured my imagination and my sense of romance. For decades, I’ve collected blue willow dishes.

Elsie Dinsmore by Martha Finley –  The Elsie books are set on a southern plantation during The Civil War era.  Even as a child I had a love/hate affair with those books. I loved Elsie herself but I also thought she was impossibly perfect and that her moral standards were way too adult and unrealistic. But that did not stop me from devouring the books and I feel certain they had much to do with instilling in me a love of historical novels and a desire for authentic characters.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank - From Anne, I learned about life during one of the world’s darkest periods in history.  I recognized in her an authenticity that I wanted for myself.  She was petty at times, feisty, earthy, and truth telling.  Maybe I learned from her that I could have a tender conscience as Elsie did while still being true to myself.  And while Anne was a Jew, I like to think she gave me insights into being an authentic Christian.

What book or books served as mentor texts when you were writing your own book?

I know that I was influenced by Sheri Reynold’s writing. The Rapture of Canaan and Bitteroot Landing are two novels (adult)  that come quickly to mind.  I love them for their spiritual themes and especially for their imagery and symbolism.

And then there are Sudie and Alice – two southern novels by Sara Flanigan. I love their heartfelt first person narratives and I wanted to tell a story by a compelling character who reached into readers’ hearts the way those narrators reached into mine.  Sadly, those books appear to be out-of-print and little known. But they represent some powerful storytelling and they deal with important themes of compassion, ignorance, abuse, and racism.  Those things are important to me also.

Thanks, Joyce, for sharing books that have influenced who you are as a writer! You can enter to win a copy of Joyce's book COMFORT and four other Middle Grade Novels by following this link and scrolling to the bottom of the page. #MGGetsReal

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

#MGGetsReal--A Conversation With Kerry O'Malley Cerra

Hi Kerry, Thanks for answering my questions about middle grade novels in general, and your own book, JUST A DROP OF WATER in particular!

Thanks for inviting me.

What book or books from your childhood left a lasting impression and why?
This is a wonderfully easy question for me to answer. Hands down, the book that changed me, has stayed with me to this day, made me a life-long lover of books, and inspired me to become a writer myself is Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, by Judy Blume. I can’t say it showed me the world in some profound way, yet it allowed me to love and appreciate the gift of story.

Prior to fourth grade, I honestly don’t recall books in my life. I’m sure I read them. I vaguely remember cozying up in the quaint reading nook of a daycare while my mom cleaned it after hours. But I don’t remember a book. Or books. Not until I was lucky enough to be assigned to room 4B with Mrs. Strelauski in fourth grade. She didn’t just preach about reading, she embraced it fully and read aloud to us at the end of each day. When she began reading Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing—her voice inflections and expressions are still vivid in my memory—I laughed throughout chapter one and every chapter thereafter. I can still hear her interpretation of Fudge calling for Peter…Pee-tah! Loud and clear.

Yes! Read aloud time is so important. My fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Barbara Hutchens read CHARLOTTE'S WEB to my class, and I can still hear her voice.

Exactly. I lived for read-aloud time each day. When she finished that book, and I learned it was the first in a series, I checked out every single one of them, locked myself in my bedroom for days, and cracked-up silly with every scene. Who knew books could be so funny? So real? I felt Peter’s triumphs and cried when he lost Dribble. I wanted to live in New York City, play in Central Park, have a dog named Turtle. Secretly, I rejoiced that Peter had no feelings for Sheila Tubman and may have wished for teen librarian, Isobel—AKA Peter’s crush in Fudge-A-Mania—to stumble through poison ivy and get off the pages of my book so my friend Peter and I could hang out some more. This series was like one great movie in my head, playing on repeat for months. I could picture everything. I wanted that life, even if it included a pain-in-the-butt brother named Fudge. Ultimately, these stories were a great escape. And that’s what I’ve come to love most about books!

What book or books served as mentor texts when you were writing JUST A DROP OF WATER?

Historical fiction, as you well know, Shannon, takes a lot of serious research—which means much time is spent with my nose in a book/newspaper before I even begin to write. Luckily, I love research! I love history! But also, my story, though based on an event now considered history, was not, in fact, before my time. I have vivid recollections of that fateful day, September 11, 2001.

Though I was living at the time this terrorist attack occurred, I’m especially glad that I took the time to go back and scour newspapers while I was writing. It allowed me to include what may essentially seem like unimportant details, and yet those minute additions to the book allow young readers—who didn’t experience the events of that day first-hand—to grasp the enormity of the events. For example, I’d forgotten that the NFL canceled all football games the weekend following the attacks. Of course, once I read that in the newspapers, I remembered, but I would never have included it in the book without the reference to it from the Sun-Sentinel and Miami Herald. That one small detail is often brought up by kids when I do school visits. It helps them put in perspective just how far and wide the tragedy struck. It makes it real for them.

I’m a real hard-nose when it comes to getting facts correct. Kids are smart and they know when we’re trying to pull one over on them. For that reason, and for the fact that I fully believe kids learn more about a time period by immersing themselves in a good book rather than a teacher lecturing, I’m especially particular about details. In my book, I have a tropical storm blowing through town three days after the terrorist attacks. That really did happen, just like so many other scenes and events that take place in my book. Details are important to me.

To answer your question then, for me, newspapers were my main go-to source in writing Just a Drop of Water. Here is a list of the resources I consulted.

Reference Books
Mecca and Main Street: Muslim Life in America After 9/11 by Geneive Abdo
The 9/11 Report A Graphic Adaptation by Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón
Islam for Dummies by Malcom Clark
Muslims in America After The Catastrophic Tragedy of 9/11 by Edwin Ali
The American Muslim Teenager’s Handbook by Dilara Hafiz, Yasmine Hafiz, and Imran Hafiz
With Their Eyes first-hand accounts of the 9/11 tragedy from students at Stuyvesant High School. Edited by Annie Thoms
Growing Up Muslim by Sumbul Ali-Karamali
Sun-Sentinel Newspaper Broward County, Florida Issues September 12 through October 16
Miami Herald Newspaper Issues September 12 through October 16

Happy reading, my friends! And thanks for having me here, Shannon.

Thank you for answering my questions and being a part of #MGGetsReal!

Monday, August 15, 2016

#MGGetsReal--A Chat With Author Kathleen Burkinshaw

Hi Kathleen! Thanks for stopping by to chat about the books that influenced you as a child and books that served as mentor texts when you were writing, THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM.

Thanks for inviting me!

Kathleen, what book or books from your childhood made a lasting impression?

The first is A LITTLE PRINCESS by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  As an only child in my awkward early teen years I spent a lot of time in my room reading.  Sara Crewe stood out to me because no matter what situation she was in-whether she was a rich student with a doting father, or a suddenly orphaned scullery maid she had a kind soul.  She had the ability to put people at ease and to know when someone needed help.  When things took a turn and she was forced to give up her education and live in the attic as a servant, she mourned, but was determined to make it somehow.  But her imagination and ability to whisk people away when she told a story so they could forget their worries or sadness for a while, stuck with me. 

Fast forward to my early 30s- I had spent a month in the hospital followed by a few more visits over the next fifteen months.  I nearly died from a deep vein thrombosis, and as a result from nerve damage, I had been diagnosed with Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, a neurological chronic pain disease.  I could not really walk much and was pretty weak.  However, my four-year-old daughter would sit on the bed with me where we played with her dolls and I read to her. I found the copy of THE LITTLE PRINCESS I bought for her when she was born.  I’d read a few chapters on my own and then would give her a summary each day. It helped take my mind off of some of my pain and I spent time with my daughter who had missed me so much while I was away.  Telling the story to my daughter, reminded me of the joy of using one’s imagination. This revelation led me to pick up my pen (Yup, I’m old school) and create through my pain. Oh! I should mention, my daughter’s name is Sara.

The second book is one I read as an adult, THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer.  It was the pick for our library book club.  This was a wonderful historical fiction novel that because of the title I probably wouldn’t have picked up on my own.  Not only was it a good read, but in the Acknowledgements the author thanked her agent and she also thanked Anna Olswanger.  It happened to be a few months since Anna had done a critique of my manuscript for the SCBWI Carolinas Conference.  When I saw Anna’s name it nudged me to contact her again to ask if she might look at my revisions.  After several months of more revisions, she offered me representation and began to submit THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM to publishing houses.  I will always be grateful that we read that book in book club!

What book or books served as mentor texts when you were writing about Hiroshima and the last days of WWII?

ELEANOR HILL by Lisa Williams Kline.  This historical fiction is based on letters that were written by her grandmother. My own inspiration was a treasured photo of my mother and her papa.

Another mentor text was BLUE by Joyce Moyer Hostetter. It's historical fiction that also took place during WWII, and is written in first person. I chose first person for THE LAST CHERRY BLOSSOM because I wanted the reader to feel in the moment, just as I had with BLUE.

Reading books by Holly Thompson helped me to write the Japanese conversation true to the time frame and culture, but not be stilted.  In addition, I read books describing what life was like for the Japanese children and their families during the war. Books such as, A BOY NAMED H, by Kappa Senoh and LEAVES FROM AN AUTUMN OF EMERGENCIES, SELECTIONS FROM THE WARTIME DIARIES OF ORDINARY JAPANESE compiled by Samuel Hideo Yamashita.   I, of course, also included books that had other accounts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki survivors, such as THE LAST TRAIN FROM HIROSHIMA: THE SURVIVORS LOOK BACK by Charles Pellegrino.  Lastly, during my revisions I researched internet sources for various newspaper headlines, propaganda posters, and radio slogans during the war in Japan. (Please note that not all these books would be suitable for middle grade students.  I listed sources appropriate for them in the back of my book). 

Thanks, Kathleen for stopping by and being a part of #MGGetsReal!

Kathleen will be blogging on the NCTE blog on August 16th and conducting a giveaway of all five books pictured above!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

#MGGetsReal A Chat With Shannon Wiersbitzky

Hi Shannon! Thanks for chatting with me about Middle Grade books in general and your novels in particular. 

Thank you! Happy to be here.

What book or books from your childhood left a lasting impression and why?

I was always a reader. One of those kids who spent hours in the library and poured over the Scholastic Book Club list hoping my parents would buy me all the titles I marked. My bedroom was always riddled with books. There were a few that really stuck with me from childhood.

The first is The Tripods series by John Christopher. Probably the first sci-fi I remember reading. About these walking machines who controlled humans and prevented creativity and curiosity.

The second is Z is for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien. A teacher read this to us in elementary school and it practically seared into my brain. It is about the aftermath of a nuclear war and a young girl who believes she may be the only person left on earth. Looking back, it seems like an intense topic for an elementary read-aloud, but I’m so glad she did.

Why did these books stick with me? Perhaps because they were absolutely about life and death. I’m not sure I’d thought much about my own death before reading these books. They made me think about what I would do in such dire circumstances. And they made me root for the main character.

Years ago, without recalling the titles, I went into a bookstore and described them. Kudos to the knowledgeable librarian who knew exactly what they were. I bought them and reread them again. They were just as powerful. That says something about great writing.  

What book or books served as mentor texts when you were writing your own book?

WHAT FLOWERS REMEMBER is a companion novel to my debut title, THE SUMMER OF HAMMERS AND ANGELS. As I wrote FLOWERS, I did have to refer back to the first book more than a few times. I had to ensure I didn’t inadvertently give characters some different trait or physical feature. And I wanted to ensure I kept the same tone to my writing.

FLOWERS also deals with the topic of Alzheimer’s. While I’d had my own experiences with the disease through my Grandfather, I wanted to be certain that what I’d seen with him was typical. So I did research online to determine signs and symptoms and typical behaviors.

A few of the sites that were helpful:

I definitely learned a lot more about the disease that I wasn’t aware of through that process. I tried to incorporate some of that in the book so that hopefully anyone dealing with Alzheimer’s could relate their own experience to Delia's.