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ALA Media Awards

We’re so close to the awards now! And I know I haven’t done a proper “Top ____ List” of books I read last year, which will hopefully happen soon. Last year was a good year for reading.

I’m sadly not very good at predicting Newberys, but I do always hope it’s a book I’ve read (and enjoyed!), so I hope that this year it’s WEST OF THE MOON or UNDER THE EGG or BROWN GIRL DREAMING. (If EL DEAFO wins, that will be exciting too, but I think the Newbery committee will likely adhere to the rules. :\ )

As for the Printz, I have no idea. Maybe GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE? I read that last year. I think it’d be great if OTHERBOUND got at least an honor. Same deal for STRANGE SWEET SONG and LIKE WATER ON STONE. And since graphic novels can win the Printz, wouldn’t it be awesome if THROUGH THE WOODS got some recognition?

Not sure if WE WERE LIARS will end up on the list. There was a lot of buzz when it first came out, but I feel the buzz has died down since. It’s a very divisive book. (For the record, I thoroughly enjoyed it!)

Aaaaaand I don’t read enough picture books to even begin talking about the Caldecott.

However, as always, I’ll be live-tweeting the event, because it’s the most fun I have all year. Join me?

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An inspirational NaNoWriMo Post

I have some open tabs on my computer right now, both regarding the town of Melmond, which I needed to research for my current WIP, that YA novel I’m always yammering about. But I thought I’d take a quick break and talk about NaNoWriMo for a bit.

Back in 2005, after I’d been in college for a year, I decided to give NaNoWriMo a try. Though I’d heard about it many times before, this was the first year I was going to attempt it. (The lead-up to this was that I’d read a bunch of novels over the past year, most of them children’s and young adult, while waiting for the next Harry Potter book to come out. Reading those books made me realize that I wanted to be a writer.)

I wasn’t cocky. I didn’t know if I’d actually succeed. I DID think I was a really brilliant writer, though, and that I’d probably only need to do one draft of my book before I needed to sell it. (This is terrible thinking and no one should think this.) The book I ended up writing was an adult novel. Down the line this novel would eventually lead me to Star Mackie and Hope Is a Ferris Wheel—that’s right! This was the Sixth-Grade Delinquents book.

I did not win. I got about… 25-30 thousand words in before November was up, though in my defense, November is a terrible month to have to write a novel, especially if you’re a student. Anyway, I failed, but those 30,000 words were my first 30,000 words on the way to being a writer. And I didn’t give up on my book, which, at 30,000 words, was not even CLOSE to being done. I mean, I did finish the first part. One part of four. Four parts total.

(I eventually calculated that, had I finished that novel, it would have been around 130,000 words. Before I finally stopped writing it, I reached 102,759 words.)

A little too much to handle for my first NaNoWriMo.

After that, I took it easy. I didn’t enter NaNo again while I was in school. Actually, that’s a lie. I think I tried it again my final year of grad school and failed. I got about 12,000 words in on that novel, a legit YA.

It was the year AFTER that, then, I think, that I finally won National Novel Writing Month. I did the bulk of my writing on this book, an older-MG/younger-YA, in the final week of November that year, and won with about thirty minutes to spare. Kind of terrifying.

Sadly, that novel I wrote was TERRIBLE! I shelved it, and didn’t look at it until last week, when I was reminded of NaNoWriMo again. I was surprised to find that the book started out pretty well before dissolving into meaningless drivel about three-quarters of the way through. I began thinking, “Maybe I can fix this,” instead of, “I want to light my laptop on fire.”

Anyway, if you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, I wish you the best of luck! I am again attempting to use the month to finish my WIP, hence the Melmond tabs. I’ve got high hopes this year.

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Children and Poetry

Last Saturday, I went to Multnomah County Library’s used book sale to pick up some cheap books (while helping out the library!). I snagged some books I was missing from my collection, like LIAR & SPY and THE AMULET OF SAMARKAND. I also got a book of crockpot recipes, some animated movie soundtracks, and a book of urban legend comics.

But I also picked up a couple of poetry books, and one of them was the exact same book I used to read to my students, back when I worked in after-school programs.

The tough thing about the after-school program I used to work in was that we had kids ranging from age 5 to age 10 and 11. That’s a big range. While the older kids spent the bulk of their after school time doing homework, I had to have activities that would appeal to all these ages. (It was really hard.) One thing I did with the kids was read to them during snack time, when their mouths were full and they were most likely to be listening and attentive.

For a while, I read them Louis Sachar’s SIDEWAYS STORIES FROM WAYSIDE SCHOOL. (Which was ALSO at the library sale, but I already own the series.) We went through all three books, and the kids really liked them! But I couldn’t just read the same three books over and over again, no matter how popular they were. I began searching for other books I could read aloud, and that’s when I happened upon this book in the school library:

random house poetry

I had a great idea upon seeing the cover. I checked out the book and brought it to the snack table the next day. To my surprise, the kids did not seem very excited about the poems, until I began asking them to pick a page number from the book (I gave them a range of numbers). After that, I’d count up the poems on the page and have another kid pick a number between, say, 1 and 6. Then I’d read that poem.

Doing that, I think, made the kids who picked the numbers more invested in the poem. They wanted to see if the page or poem that they picked would be good.

We never did get through all 572 poems. After a few weeks the kids wanted something more structured and fictional, so I read them MATILDA. But hey – it did work for a few weeks. In any case, I look forward to reading all the poems in this book. Maybe randomly, or maybe in order. Who knows?

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New for September

There’s not a whole lot that is new in September!

I feel like I should do craft-related posts here, but at the same time I also feel like maybe those are posts that are more helpful when I have more than one book available for people to read.

It would be nice to post the doodles and assorted drawings I do, but my tumblr is already a handy dumping ground for that.

Maybe I could post book reviews? Except I kind of do that at Goodreads already.

So… I will spend the next month thinking of things to go on this blog.


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Writing Process

I don’t actually have a writing process.

When I talk to other authors, I don’t feel like I’m a good representative of the writing life. I don’t even write every day! I’d like to, but some days I’m too beat or tired, and I need to sit on my couch and eat chocolate. Or, go to the grocery store and buy chocolate, then take it back to my apartment to eat it.

You get the idea.

Lately, I’ve been a lot better about writing. I’ve been coming home, turning on my laptop, setting my iPad up to play a Pandora playlist called “80s Pop Radio,” and banging out words. But my laptop, which I’ve been joking is “at death’s door” for the last two years, has an annoying habit of randomly freezing.

It’s time for a new computer.

I’ve had my MacBook Pro since 2006, when I transferred to Mills College. It’s been a big part of my life. I’ve edited movies on it (including the HOPE IS A FERRIS WHEEL book trailer), recorded songs on it (yes, I am an amateur songwriter), written novels on it (plural! novels plural!), and bookmarked tons of websites I’d be sad to lose but never visit anymore.

Anyway, it’s time for a new computer and a new writing process. My process is kind of in flux in these dangerous, computer-freezing times, so it’s a good time to change up my routine. Maybe face my desk in another direction. Maybe do free writing in a notebook before I start typing. Maybe buy Scrivner and play around with that.

Whatever happens, I’m excited for a change of pace.

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March Books!

Getting back into the swing of things! Hopefully, anyway.

Sadly, I did not read very many books in March! Mostly due to how hectic launch month turned out to be. But I wanted to comment briefly on what I did manage to read.

17341550Trust Me, I’m Lying by Mary Elizabeth Summer

I’ve been excited to read this book ever since I got the chance to meet Mary Elizabeth last year. (So, a while.) There are four debut 2014 authors from Oregon that I know of, and (since I just finished Hook’s Revenge by Heidi Schulz) I’ve now read all four! Mary Elizabeth’s debut is exciting and page-turning, with a knock-out voice and a great use of language. (I love it when books are seeped in language relating to the main character’s world. In this case, cons!)


Sizzle by Lee McClain10564957

Read for the 2014 Latin@s in Kidlit Challenge! This was one of those books I kept yelling at. You know, where some of the characters are so mean and despicable to the main character that you just want to reach your hands through the pages and strangle them?



Strange Sweet Song by Adi Rule

Adi was a classmate of mine at VCFA, so I’ve been a fan of her writing for a long time. I knew I would love Strange Sweet Song before I even started reading it, but something about the cover kept me from picking it up right away. There are a lot of covers with girls in dresses on them, so I had to fight against what my brain was trying to tell me, which was that this book would be just like the others. Cover judgement can be terrible. Anyway, I’m only saying this because I don’t want anyone else to fall into the same trap I did. Adi’s book is gorgeously written, fantastically realized, and positively infectious. Honestly, the less you know about it going in, the better. Just pick it up, all right? (It’s out now! Because Adi and I shared a book birthday.)

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ALA Awards

I used to get really excited about the Oscars. One year, my then-boyfriend (now-fiancé) won 2nd or 3rd place in an Oscar contest for guessing a lot of the winners, and his prize was a gift certificate to a fancy restaurant (which he then took me to). So I’ve always associated great things with the Oscars.

Over the last few years, though, I’ve gotten really into the ALA Youth Media Awards.

It’s odd. I never guess who wins, and I often haven’t read a lot of the books that end up with awards or honors. But I care a lot more about them than the Oscars.

Part of it is the no-nonsense way in which the awards are presented. Hey, look! A librarian is at the podium, announcing a bunch of awards. Next librarian! Pause for applause. More awards. Bing, bam, boom.

The Oscars have always been a little cheesy, but the ALAs retain a sense of dignity. There’s no crying authors giving too-long speeches, and no one cares what anyone is wearing. (Probably because all the people watching are likely wearing their pajamas!)

Anyway, if you want to join me and watch the awards this year, they’re happening on January 27th at 8:00 AM EST. (Which means I’ll have to get up at 5:00 AM to watch them… alas!) And you can tune in HERE. I’ll probably live-tweet the event like I did last year. Twitter! Bringing together the weirdos who wake up at 5 AM to watch children’s book awards.


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Hope Is a Ferris Wheel Giveaway on Goodreads!

Taking a quick break from a majorly busy day to announce that ARCs of Hope Is a Ferris Wheel are being given away by Abrams on Goodreads! The link (if you have a goodreads account) to enter is HERE. And there are TEN COPIES up for grabs, which is awesome!

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Cover Love! Part Two

In my last post, I talked about middle grade covers that drew me in and made me want to see what was inside. This time, I’m sharing books whose covers I simply love, even though I read the book for different reasons (good review, VCFA-related, highly recommended, etc.).


Operation Redwood

Operation Redwood by S. Terrell French

I’m a native northern-Californian. So I was really excited when I heard there was a middle grade novel that takes place there! (Seriously, it’s rare.) And heck yes, it involves redwoods. My only critique on this cover is that the title treatment makes the tree trunks look flat.

Compare with this cover, for example:

London Eye Mystery

The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd

Because the title and author name are curved, they keep the shape looking somewhat more three-dimensional. (I know it’s still two-dimensional. YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN.) Anyway, this is another cover I like because of the interesting angle, but I read this book because I’d heard it was one of the greatest MG mysteries ever. (Might be considered YA, but whatever.)


Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

One of my favorite middle grade novels! And a case in which the cover tells you almost explicitly what will be on the inside. The fantasy, the whimsy, of that cover represents the novel so, so well. And look at all the textural details! From the sky swirls to the borders to the dragon’s scales.

(I read this because Riane, one of my former students, told me I should. Riane had excellent taste in books for a second-grader.)

Nice and Mean

Nice and Mean by Jessica Leader

More details! Okay, so they’re moreso in the “Nice” half of the title than in the “Mean” half. But I really love when covers play with typography. Also, the colors! This book is by a friend, fellow VCFA-alum and agent-sister Jess Leader, so that’s why I originally read it, but now I still occasionally take it off the shelf to stare at the cover.


Girl with Silver Eyes 3

The Girl With the Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts

This was the cover of the copy that I picked up from the library to read. Like Alana, Cimorene, and Caddie in my last post, I like that this girl has attitude. Seriously, I could read about kids with psychic powers intimidating the adults in their lives all day.

However, this book also has two other equally awesome covers:

Girl with Silver Eyes 2

Hope you like toast, sucker

Girl with Silver Eyes 1

More like the girl with the creepy eyes, am I right?

Seriously, this book. Here’s some advice: if your book features someone with awesome super powers, try and get your publisher to showcase that on the cover. PS – Fun fact: Willo Davis Roberts lived in my home county for a while, which I only found out when I came upon a cache of her books in my hometown library’s Humboldt Room (a room devoted to books about Humboldt County or by Humboldt authors). Okay, that wasn’t that fun of a fact.

I read this book because Betsy Bird said it was great.


Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

I think there’s a bit of backlash against silhouetted covers, especially when they’re used for books featuring non-white protagonists. So, I get that, and I agree with that. And I still like this cover because I think it represents the novel pretty well. Mostly because it looks like a political cartoon from the 1700s, what with the posing and the birds and the scroll-type title.

That being said, the UK cover is worth looking at for actually putting a face to Isabel, the main character:


Also for the flowers

I read CHAINS because Laurie Halse Anderson was doing a tour through my city and I wanted to be caught up on her most recent books. (Then I ended up having to work and not getting to see Laurie Halse Anderson. A shame.)


Keeper by Kathi Appelt

I like this cover for very simplistic reasons: mainly, the colors. The way the red boat matches the red of the title. The suggestion of gray on the seagull’s wings. The shimmering of the mermaid’s tail. And that sea of blue is so eye-catching!

I read this book because Kathi Appelt teaches at VCFA, but more than that, because I’d read KISSING TENNESSEE and THE UNDERNEATH and loved them both.


One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

Warm colors, reflecting the heat of an Oakland summer. Actual faces. Bold linework and shading. The insinuation that this is a book about discovery that is ultimately hopeful.

Fun fact: I have a shirt with the sketch of this cover on it! Gifted to me by Rita Williams-Garcia when I was her student at VCFA.

Another fun fact: it took me quite a while to find this cover. Most of the covers you see of this book are PRACTICALLY COVERED IN AWARDS. (Four, to be exact!)


When this book first came out, it got so much buzz it was hard to believe there were any other novels out that year. Anyway, that’s why I read it. But as I was reading, I found myself flipping back to the cover over and over again, looking at that striking image of Hazel glancing back to her home before she departs into the forest. (With wolves!)

Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan

Back in college, I wrote a paper about Latinas/os in Children’s Literature. I talked about ESPERANZA RISING extensively, as it was (and still is) very popular, but I’d never read it. So before I turned the paper in, I read it so I could talk about it with confidence.

Anyway, I probably don’t have to tell you that the image of Esperanza floating in her flowing yellow dress and black curls has become somewhat iconic. It’s an image that sticks in your mind.


When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

Sometimes after you read a book, you say to yourself, “Holy Cats. I need to read that again.” Here is one of my very favorite covers, because by itself it’s very soft, clean, quietly beautiful. But after you finish the book, the cover makes a whole new heap of sense. And you marvel at it.

I read this because, you know. Newbery.

Okay, that ends my spiel on Middle Grade covers. Last fun fact of the day? Over the weekend, my cover quietly went up on Amazon and Goodreads. (Possibly elsewhere, but those are the only two places I’ve seen it so far.) So if you’re so inclined, and you don’t want to wait for me to post my cover (waiting on a good, hi-res image!), you can go take a look.

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