Favorite Books: What Did You Read as a Child

Children’s Book Week has me thinking about my own childhood favorites.  I’m not sure how many were gold medalists of one kind or another but their impact has been lasting.

The Boxcar Children.  I discovered this one when I was 11.  I had just moved to a new school but I was hardly alone.  A new area had been pulled into our district and the administration bussed us hither and yon.  I spent a lot of time in the library and I can’t even tell you how often I read this particular book.  Not the series.  I’m not even sure that I knew there was a series.  I read the first book again and again.  Wblack goldhat did I love about it?  That these kids took care of themselves without adult interference.  Yes, as an adult, I realize just how preposterous this was but as a kid I loved it.  They took care of each other without any of that Lord of the Flies nonsense.  They found the boxcar and they furnished it on their own. Take a look around my home and you’re going to see a host of found items.  My husband tries to be tolerant but he’s the only non-boxcar child in that particular sense.  This may be the book that I read the most but there were others as well . . .

Everything by Marguerite Henry.  The first book of hers that I owned was either Black Gold or Mustangs.  I was truly a horse crazy kid and I devoured these books.  I begged for these books.  I drove my mother a bit batty with these books (The only photo of my mother on horseback made it very clear that she was only tolerating the horse).  I loved that these books were often about real horses although the stories were made up.  My family has a strong Southern story telling tradition so even at a young age I got that link between fact on one hand and story on the other.

Jared's island

Jared’s Island by Marguerite De Angeli.  Yep. Another kid surviving without pesky adults book.  How much did I love this one?  Look at the title and you’re going to find my son’s name.

The crazy thing is that as I write this post, I think of book after book.  And as I think of each one, I think — ooo, that’s my favorite.  What else have I remembered?  The Little House books, The Tarzan books (yes the adult fantasy novels), Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, Meg Mysteries, my grandfather’s Foxfire books, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, several books by Tom Sawyer.

Just as these books shaped me, they shape my writing in subtle ways.  I still love stories about kids who do for themselves (where are their parents ask my critique partners). And I love the subtly offbeat (Foxfire? Really?).

Now it’s your turn. What were your favorite books?


Read Now, Read Forever: Children’s Book Week

This is Children’s Book Week.  This years slogan – Read Now, Read Forever.

In my heart of hearts, I hope that they mean “read whatever now, read forever,” because getting my son to read actual books has been a 20 year slog.  When he was little, he loved to be read to.  I think we read every night until he was about 10.  I suspect that is when he realized that not everyone 4th grader had story time with Mom and Dad each night.

At one point, I asked him why he wanted us to read to him when he could read to himself.  He was afraid if he read himself, we would quit.  Not a chance!

I was a voracious reader from the moment that I sounded out my first word.  There’s a rather infamous family story about me yelling out from the bathtub, “Hey Mom, what does sh@t mean?”  Apparently I had sounded it off the sidewalk on the way home from kindergarten and wanted to trot out my new vocabulary.

Sidewalk, book, whatever.  My kiddo always prefered audio books to print and when it came time for print a graphic novel was much better than a novel.  I’m a huge audio book fan so that didn’t faze me.  We listen to them when we travel. I listen while I wash dishes.  Sometimes I get out my knitting just so I have an excuse to listen.  But I still love to read.

The kiddo towers over me now and is wrapping up his second year of college.  Cooking, history, and tech.  If he wants to know about it, he looks for a video.  Every now and again through the years a book has made the cut.  Wierd facts.  Fantasy activities and crafts.  Zombie survival.  How to make jerky.

But just last week, I walked through the living room and . . . what?  What the heck?  Stretched out on the sofa was the 20 year-old with a cat (not surprising) and a novel.

He’s always been a lover of media but only recently has he started to read fiction in print form.  Be still my heart.

The moral?  Patience.  Give them what they love be it video, audio, or graphic novel.  Encourage variety.  And when they pick up what you love?  Make sure you’re all the way around the corner and out of sight before you start the happy dance.


Write a Novel: My Opening Scene

I’m trying to coerce myself into doing a bit of writing this week.  Just a little.  After all, the rewrite was turned in early in the week and I’m always happier when I’m writing.

Way back when I had jury duty, I read a bit of Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody.  I read about Beat #1: The Opening Image.

In this single scene or chapter, you set up your character’s problem.  In my case, what inner problem is Clara struggling with throughout the novel?  In the first book of Send in the Sopranos (because I’m a glutton for punishment and I’m imagining doing this again and again), Clara is struggling to rediscover who she is.  An empty nester who lived for her kids, she may actually have been a bit of a helicopter parent.  Without her kids there to obsess about, she’s at a loss.

This realization about my character brought another realization.  My current opening scene did not set this up.  It brought her back to town where the mystery takes place, but that’s the outter problem.  Or, as I originally mistyped it, the otter problem.  Clara’s inner problem is one of identity.  I may not entirely get rid of the opening scene I wrote, after all, she is going to have to return to town.  But while this scene might make a great transition it was not a great introduction.

This meant that I needed both a new scene but also a new setting.  Recently I read a novel set in a modern minimalist house.  While, in the abstract, I understand the appeal of this type of architecture and decor, I don’t feel it.  All those straight lines and stark white would suck the life out of me.

Hey, wait a minute.  I still need a setting for my new opening scene.  A stark, heartless, soul numbing setting.  Yep.  Modern minimalism at its worst.  Icy-chilling-bwa-ha-ha.  Once I had the setting in place, the scene itself started to come together.  I’m going to get this scene drafted and then I’m going to start making plans for the Beat #2: Theme Stated.


The Care and Keeping of a Writer

It seemed to make sense at the time.  At the beginning of the week, I was working on a requested rewrite with a deadline and helping my sister out as her husband is in the hospital after a bad accident.  Stress, stress and more stress.  What do you do to stay positive?

What do you do?  Naturally, a nonfiction author looks for facts.  So when I found the Coursera offering of Yale’s The Science of Well-Being, I signed up.  What better way to be happy than to add things into a busy schedule.

But a funny thing happened.  I couldn’t work on the class until after I turned in the book.  This first week, the video lectures only total about 15 minutes.  And I had to make the time to take a psycho profile quiz to help determine my strengths.  Although they weren’t shocking, I was a little surprised at the order.  My top four include:  Creativity, Love of Learning, Judgment, and Gratitude.  Once you figure out what they are, you are charged to actual use these strengths each day for a week.

What to do . . . what to do?  One of the suggestions for Love of Learning was to sign up for another Coursera class in an area you know nothing about.  That’s not super easy for me because I’ve already taken a number of classes.  But I found MOMA’s Seeing Through Photographs.  

I like to take photos and I use photos in my research but I don’t know next to nothing about the art of photography.  I am having so  much fun!  Honestly, I’m feeling more positive and happier already although I’m still having to ferry my niece from the high school to work and from work to home.

As so often happens in my life, this class will likely have unexpected applications.  The professor is already stressing visual literacy, an important area of knowledge since I’m contemplating graphic novels.

Creativity and Love of Learning.  Not exactly surprising traits for a nonfiction author but it didn’t hurt to have the reminder to do something fun that involves these characteristics.


Children’s Book Week

This year is the 100th anniversary of Children’s Book Week.  100 Years of encouraging every child to read.  The celebration is going on all year-long but the actual week is next week, April 29 – May 5, 2019.

This is from Every Child A Reader’s web site:

“Children’s Book Week originated in the belief that children’s books and literacy are life-changers. In 1913, Franklin K. Matthiews, the librarian of the Boy Scouts of America, began touring the country to promote higher standards in children’s books. He proposed creating a Children’s Book Week, which would be supported by all interested groups: publishers, booksellers, and librarians.”

In 1944, the week came to be sponsored by the Children’s Book Council. Starting in 2008, responsiblity was shifted over to the group’s charitable arm, Every Child a Reader.

Click through on the link above for the official poster by Yuyi Morales.  It is gorgeous and highlights this year’s slogan READ NOW * READ FOREVER.

You can also use the link above to find a wide variety of book related activities including an awesome comics kit.  It is oh so tempting.

As an author, what can you do?  Here are some suggestions.

Suggestion 1.  Visit your local library and check out some children’s books.  Go with tried and true favorites as well as new titles.

Suggestion 2.  Read.  You can read on your own or you can read aloud to young readers and prereaders.  Imagine the joy of turning someone else on to a great book.

Suggestion 3.  Now have some book-based fun.  This could mean doing a craft inspired by the book, writing a poem based on the book, or acting it out.  Discussions, songs, plays and more.  There’s no end to what you can do.  And then?

Suggestion 4.  Read some more.

Obviously, I’ve kind of got a thing for children’s books but what good is it if we don’t share that love and develop new readers? Let’s celebrate!



Rewrites: What to do When Your Requested Rewrite Seems Enormous

Bite by bite.

Just over a week ago, I was finishing up a young adult nonfiction manuscript when my inbox pinged at me.  “Requested Rewrite.”

I quickly popped it open to see how many comments I was dealing with because instead of a letter my editor comments throughout the Word Document.  There were 133 comments.

Question: How do you tackle 133 comments?

Answer:  One bite at a time.

There’s only one way to do this and that’s one comment at a time. The tricky thing is that until you read them all, you don’t really know how much work each will be.  Sometimes the head editor and assistant editor discuss something for two or more comments so that’s numerous comments for a single change.  Other times one comment may mean replacing a source to the tune of 25 changes.

So I read through them all and then I pick one and get to work.  Sometimes I do them in order.  Sometimes I do all of the easy ones first.

This time around, I got to work through a real test of my methodology.  Friday, my brother-in-law fell off a roof.  It was only a one story building but he landed on concrete.  The good news is that there is no head injury and his legs are fine.  The bad news is that he has a lot of skeletal damage and has already had three surgeries with at least one more to go.

Since he’s been in the ICU. we haven’t been able to really visit him.  But I’m the on-call person for my niece who is in school.  She can visit her dad so I’m her ride. And my sister’s breaks are giving her trouble so I’ll be taking her home from the shop.

Run out and help.  Come home and work through one, two, three comments.  I got the last one done at 8:00 pm last night.  Now I just have to read through it all and turn it in.  How will I do it?  One page at a time.


Crystal Kite: Vote in the Second Round!

Round 2 voting for SCBWI’s Crystal Kite awards has begun and will continue through April 30, 5pm PDT. 
If you are an SCBWI member, go to www.scbwi.org and log in.  Then go to your Member Home page. See the left navigation bar? Scroll to the bottom and click “Vote in the Crystal Kite Awards.”  Check out the books in your division and click “VOTE FOR THIS BOOK.”
We want as many members as possible to participate so be sure to blog, tweet and post on Instagram with the tags #SCBWI19CK and #scbwicrystalkites.  Remind people to vote and use the “I VOTED” badge.
But remember that you an encourage people to vote but not to vote for a specific book.  Check out the rules here .
Now, go vote!

Excellence in Graphic Literature Awards: Finalists Announced

Pop Culture Classroom just announced the finalists for the Excellence in Graphic Literature Awards.  Haven’t heard of this one before?  This is only the second year for the award. It was established to help the public become more aware of graphic literature as a legitimate form of literature as well as specific quality titles.

Finalists: Best in Children’s Graphic Literature


  • Dog Man: Lord of the Fleas (Dog Man #5) by Dav Pilkey (Graphix)
  • Dragon Slayer: Folktales from Latin America by Jaime Hernandez (TOON Graphics)
  • Petals by Cris Peter & Gustavo Borges (KaBOOM!)
  • Small Things by Mel Tregonning (Pajama Press)
  • Tiger vs. Nightmare by Emily Tetri (First Second)


  • Little Tails Under the Sea by Frédéric Brrémaud, Federico Bertolucci (Lion Forge)
  • Mushroom Fan Club by Elise Gravel (Enfant)
  • Snails Are Just My Speed by Kevin McCloskey (TOON Books).  I really enjoyed this one because it broadened my idea of what a graphic novel is.
  • The Eye That Never Sleeps: How Detective Pinkerton Saved President Lincoln by Marissa Moss and Jeremy Holmes(Abrams)
  • We Are All Me: TOON Level 1 by Jordan Crane (TOON Books)

Finalists: Best in Middle-Grade Graphic Literature


  • Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol (First Second)
  • Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell (Knopf Books for Young Readers)
  • Crush by Svetlana Chmakova (Yen Press)
  • Hidden Witch by Molly Knox Ostertag (Graphix)
  • Sheets by Brenna Thummler (Lion Forge)


  • Action Presidents #1: George Washington! by Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey (Harper Collins)
  • Lafayette! (Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales #8): A Revolutionary War Tale by Nathan Hale (Harry N. Abrams/Amulet)
  • Ocean Renegades! (Earth Before Us #2): Journey through the Paleozoic Era by Abby Howard (Harry N Abrams/Amulet)
  • Stinky Cecil in Mudslide Mayhem! by Paige Braddock (Andrews McMeel Publishing)
  • The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler by John Hendrix (Harry N. Abrams/Amulet)

Finalists: Best in Young Adult Graphic Literature


  • Illegal by Eoin Colfer (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky)
  • Manga Classics: Macbeth by Crystal S. Chan (UDON Entertainment)
  • Monstress, Volume 3 by Marjorie Liu (Image Comics)
  • On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden (First Second)
  • The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang (First Second)


  • Anne Frank’s Diary by Ari Folman (Pantheon)
  • Grand Theft Horse by G. Neri (Lee and Low Books). Read this one just last week.  Need to read all of the nonfiction titles since I have an idea…
  • Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka (Graphix)
  • Strange Fruit, Volume II: More Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History by Joel Christian Gill (Fulcrum Publishing)
  • The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown (HMH Books for Young Readers)

Finalists: Best in Adult Graphic Literature


  • A Sea of Love by Wilfrid Lupano and Gregory Panaccione (Lion Forge)
  • Berlin by Jason Lutes (Drawn and Quarterly)
  • Exit Stage Left: The Snagglepuss Chronicles by Mark Russell and Mike Feehan (DC Comics)
  • Infidel by Pornsak Pichetshote and Others (Image Comics).  Hmm. I’m 90% certain that this is on my “checked-out-from-the-library shelf.  I thought it was YA?  
  • Upgrade Soul by Ezra Claytan Daniels (Lion Forge)


  • Algeria is Beautiful Like America by Olivia Burton and Mahi Grand (Lion Forge)
  • All the Answers by Michael Kupperman (Gallery 13)
  • Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Pénélope Bagieu (First Second)
  • Escaping Wars and Waves: Encounters with Syrian Refugees by Olivier Kugler (Penn State University Press)
  • Monk!: Thelonious, Pannonica, and the Friendship Behind a Musical Revolution by Youssef Daoudi (First Second)

Winners for books published in 2018 will be announced at the ceremony on June 1.  The finalists were not announced for several other categories but you can read the complete story here.

Don’t think of graphic novels as comic books – super hero, pulp fiction with weak characterization and no plot.  Heck, I’d challenge that assumption even for a super hero book. These are books with strong stories and characters that can help broaden the range of people who consider themselves readers.


Disappointment . . . When You Don’t Like A Breakaway Best Seller

Last night, I finished a book that’s been getting all kinds of press.  And by all kinds I mean an awful lot of good press.  Praise and accolades and more. Not only are reviewers covering it but the publisher also believed in it enough to take out advertising.  I have no clue what advertising costs but the vast majority of books don’t get it.  Not a dime.

And all I could think was . . . meh.  That’s it.  One sad, deflated syllable.  Not even the three drawn out syllables of whatever. I didn’t hate it.  Hate is far too strong a feeling.  And I did laugh at some of the funny parts.  But overall I was deeply unimpressed.

So why then did I finish it?  For one thing, it wasn’t especially long so I knew it wouldn’t be a massive time commitment.  Yeah, I’m like that about my reading time.  The longer the book the better it has to be for me to keep going.

But the main reason that I finished it was because I want to know why it is popular. Long ago, a writing buddy picked up a review copy of an upcoming novel.  She hated it and didn’t hesitate to say so.  Finally I asked her, why do you think the publisher picked up this title?  They had to have a reason.

And I asked myself the same question.  What is it that so many people see in this book that I didn’t?  Why did an editor take it to an acquisitions meeting where enough people said “let’s do it” to actually get the book into people’s hands.

  1. It is unique.  This book offers a perspective on hauntings that I have never seen before.
  2. There is humor.  Editors frequently ask for humor especially humor folded into dark topics.  This book managed to do that.
  3. The ending.  And it did have an uplifting ending.  The main character overcame one of her primary problems and it tugged at the heart-strings.

I am also forced to admit that I may not be in the right place for this book.  Haven’t you experienced that before?  You try to get into a book or movie, even a book or movie that you know that you love, and if you are in the wrong mental place it just isn’t going to happen.  And that may have been the problem with this particular book. Maybe, someday, I’ll check it out again.

In the meantime, I’ll try to make sure that my own work is unique with a touch of humor and a compelling ending.


Super Heroes: Brainstorming Super Powers

Last week, I saw a write-up for Quest to Be the Best, Volume 1 of the graphic novel series Quincredible by Rodney Barnes.  Quinton West only weighs 100 lbs so after he gets caught in a meteor shower it takes a bit to realize that his super power is invulnerability. After all, what 100 lb guy goes out of his way to be beaten?

This got me thinking about superheroes and their powers. What super powers would be almost useless or really hard to figure out for . . .

. . . a desert dweller?  How would she learn that she can breathe underwater?  Under what situation would this benefit her?

. . . a lumberjack?  How would he learn that by smelling a piece of wood, he knows what tree species of tree it came from and where it lives?  How would this be useful?

. . . someone who lives in the Arctic?  How would she learn she can absorb high amounts of energy without damage?

. . . a butcher?  He can hear the thoughts of animals but only prey animals?

I don’t think any of these work but I want them to be so absurd that they are funny. I’m not sure how many people remember the cartoon The Tick.  The Tick is an enormous, muscled, not particularly bright Super Hero.  At one point he ends up teaching Superhero Classes and his students have a bizarre array of nigh on useless abilities.  There’s Sarcastro who is sarcastic and dresses like Castro and Baby-Boomerangutang who wears an orang utan suit and throws baby dolls like boomerangs.

None of the ideas that I’ve brainstormed here are nearly that good.  But what if I took one of these as the beginning and just kept nudging here and there to make it more warped and funny?

I’d like to think I could make something as awesome as The Tick but it sure wouldn’t be easy.  Even the regular characters are awesome.  El Cid is a villain with the head of a sunflower who rules over the plant kingdom.  And one of The Tick’s fellow superheroes is Urchin who wears a prickly costume and lives in the sewers.

I’m not sure why, but a tag line for a character just popped into my head.  Now who on earth would go around saying that?