Wednesday, August 31, 2011

SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Conference Local Author Panel

Just in case you aren't excited enough about this year's SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Fall Conference, check out these local authors--all of whom are guaranteed to keep you in stitches--who will be participating in a panel discussion.

Author Panel: Publishing Postpartum: Highs, lows and expectations after your book is released
Meg Medina has written for adults and children for over fifteen years. Her stories and poems have appeared in numerous literary magazines. Milagros: Girl from Away is her first novel for young readers. Meg is also the author of the picture book Tía Isa Wants a Car and the forthcoming young adult novel The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind.

Anne Marie Pace is the author of Never Ever Talk to Strangers and A Teacher for Bear, both published by Scholastic Book Clubs. Her third book, Vampirina Ballerina, illustrated by LeUyen Pham, will be published by Disney-Hyperion in 2012. With other children’s writers, she publishes The 4:00 Book Hook, a free monthly enewsletter for adults who share books with kids.

Wendy Shang is the author of The Great Wall of Lucy Wu. An earlier version of Lucy received an SCBWI Work-in-Progress grant. Wendy is currently at work on a second book while running writing workshops at Title I schools as a Strauss Fellow, funded by the Arts Council of Fairfax County.

Amy Brecount White has played with words for most of her life. Her novel, Forget-Her-Nots, is about the language of flowers come magically to life. She has appeared at the Philadelphia Flower Show and the U.S. Botanic Garden. More than 80 of her essays and articles have been published in The Washington Post, and she also writes for the new Arlington magazine.

Tami Lewis Brown (moderator) left a career as a trial lawyer to pursue an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts and write books for young people. She grew up in Kentucky, the setting for her new middle grade novel, The Map of Me, and now lives with her family in one of the oldest houses in Washington, DC. Tami blogs at and

So join us Oct. 22 at the Holiday Inn Dulles in Sterling, Virginia. It will be an event you don't want to miss!

If you haven't gotten the information in the mail, here's a link to the registration form and another for the full conference flyer. If you would like to post the widget for the conference on your blog or website, let me know and I'll email you the html code.

Find out more about the conference's featured speakers here. You can also see what publishing professionals will be at the conference here.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Bonjour, amazing action-packed adventure

Au Revoir, Crazy European ChickAu Revoir, Crazy European Chick by Joe Schreiber

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For some reason, people like to compare this book to two movies: Ferris Bueller's Day Off meets La Femme Nikita. And while that description might be apt, it does this novel a total disservice. Never has a literary mash-up so understated the value of a YA novel. Even saying it's Stormbreaker meets Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist doesn't come close to describing the depth and adventure of this wild ride of a novel.

Perry Stormaire makes a lot of sacrifices to keep other people (mostly his father) happy, so when his mother asks him to ditch his band's first big gig in NYC to take their socially inept exchange student Gobija Zaksauskas to the prom...that is where he draws the line. Yet his parents--and even more surprisingly, Gobi herself--won't take no for an answer. But with the help of his father's beloved Jaguar and a little push from the school bully, Perry just might be able to make an appearance at prom and still show up at his gig. Unfortunately, Gobi has her own ideas for the evening. Ideas that involve scary thugs with even scarier tattoos. Ideas that involve car chases and fiery explosions. Ideas that involve sexy tangos and bear fights and getting shot and international slave trade and corporate espionage and even making out with a real-life femme fatale. This is going to be a date Perry will never forget.

First-time YA author Joe Schreiber explores the complexities of the father/son relationship and how sometimes being your own person means you have to adjust your dreams. He challenges your view of good and evil and asks you what you would be willing to do for the people you love. By opening each chapter with an real college application essay prompt, he connects you to what Perry is experiencing and makes you think about your own answers. And the best part? It isn't over yet. While this book easily stands on its own, I can't wait to get my hands on the sequel.

SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Conference Information

I can officially give details on the SCBWI Mid-Atlantic Fall Conference 2011! If you haven't gotten the information in the mail, here's a link to the registration form and another for the full conference flyer. If you would like to post the widget for the conference on your blog or website, let me know and I'll email you the html code.

Speaker: Sell Your Book without Selling Your Soul
Brian Lies is the author/illustrator of Bats at the Ballgame. He received his degree from Brown University and studied drawing and painting at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. In 1989, he illustrated his first book, Flatfoot Fox and the Case of the Missing Eye. Since then, he’s illustrated over twenty books—including five he also wrote. Brian lives in Massachusetts with his wife, daughter, two cats and a hamster.

Speaker: The Hook for Your Book
Chelsea Eberly is an assistant editor with Random House Books for Young Readers. An alum of the Columbia Publishing Course, she is the editor of The Project by Brian Falkner, the Fairy Godmother Academy series by Jan Bozarth and It’s Milking Time by Phyllis Alsdurf. She also edits the paperback line of the Magic Tree House series and is working on the graphic novel adaptation of Tamora Pierce’s First Test.

Speaker: Keynote Address
Han Nolan is the award-winning author of eight young adult novels, including National Book Award winner Dancing on the Edge and National Book Award finalist Send Me Down a Miracle. She completed an MFA in dance from Ohio State University but returned to writing full time after she and her husband adopted three children. She also has taught in the graduate program in children’s literature at Hollins University. Born in Alabama, Han lives on Cape Cod with her husband. Her newest book, Pregnant Pause, comes out this fall.

So join us Oct. 22 at the Holiday Inn Dulles in Sterling, Virginia. It will be an event you don't want to miss!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Saying Goodbye to Summer: Mini Writers' Retreat

I spent a lot of childhood summers having adventures on lakes--it's kind of a way of life in the Midwest. Summer camp and family vacations and trips with friends. So this past weekend I finally took my friend up on her offer to spend a few days with her at her lake house writing and talking and having adventures.

We spent at least three hours every day writing and revising. While we each had individual goals for the extended weekend (a goal that I changed the first day when I realized I had been way over ambitious), we'd decide what we wanted to accomplish by the end of each day and then get to work.

Taking breaks to walk the dog, we'd talk about problems we were having, make suggestions to each other on how to make our writing stronger, and discuss books that we hoped to emulate. It also helped to have such an inspiring view along the tree-lined streets and peaceful lake.

We spent time critiquing when we'd reach a milestone goal--like rewriting a chapter or getting an important scene nailed down or outlining a subplot. These sessions weren't as detailed as our usually writers' group critiques, but we'd talk about what worked well and what still needed work.

It wasn't all intense writing sessions. We spent the evenings watching movies and playing cards and talking. We did a lot of talking, and not just about writing. Julie's husband got in on the action and made us laugh and remember that life exists outside the page.

Most importantly, we rewarded ourselves on the last day by taking the kayaks out for a spin. It's been a long time since I've held a paddle, but I managed not to tip over.

It was just what I needed to re-energize and remind myself that I love what I do. Not a lot of people get to do what they love for a living, and quite a few people still haven't found out exactly what they love. But me? I'm one of the lucky few, but sometimes the stress of work and responsibilities and life in general makes me forget just how lucky I am.

So thanks, Jack and Julie, for welcoming me into your home and letting me write at your kitchen table for a few days. It's nice to know I have such good, supportive and loving friends.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Virginia Earthquake Update

Yes, there was an earthquake in Virginia today. Yes, I'm fine. No, there wasn't any damage. I was walking back from lunch and did a duck-and-cover because I thought there had been a gas explosion in the building next to me. Police came out of the station across the street and asked me if I had felt anything outside. Otherwise, life returned to normal in less than an hour.

My apartment only sustained minor damage. There were a few cracked walls (this is the worst of them) and my books got a good jostling (my Harry Potter shelf most of all), but nothing too major. Thank heaven no one was hurt and there was no major damage anywhere in the city. With such a dense population, the potential for disaster...well, I'm glad I don't have to think about that.

Want a good book for kids about earthquakes? Try DK Eyewitness Books' Volcano & Earthquake.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Saying Goodbye to Summer: Boarding School Books

We all want people to see us as more than we are. We hope the cute guy who sits next to us in geometry finds us more beautiful than we find ourselves. We hope that a teacher or friend or stranger will discover our darkest secrets and see potential in us anyway. We hope that a magical envelope will appear to whisk us away to a life better than the one we have. Maybe that's why so many books involve boarding school--a specialized school allows us to be rich/smart/talented in a way we never saw ourselves before.

So without further ado, here are a list of some of my recently read boarding school books:

The Princess Academy by Shannon Hale: In the small village of Mt. Eskel, ordinary girls leaning how to be a princesses in hope to marry the prince of Danland.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling: Hogwarts teaches special children about the importance of friendship, the continuous battle between good and evil, and the exciting possibilities of the wizarding world.

Alanna: The First Adventure by Tamora Pierce: Born a lady of the realm, Alanna disguises herself as a boy to learn the royal palace of Corus disguises herself as a boy to train as a knight.

I'd Tell You I Love You, But Then I'd Have to Kill You by Ally Carter: The Gallagher Academy has a long history of teaching talented girls the art of being a spy.

Curse of the Blue Tattoo by L.A. Meyer: Only the Lawson Peabody School for Young Girls can turn a pirate into a lady.

Oh. My. Gods. by Tera Lynn Childs: From ordinary to extraordinary, the Academy caters to the modern decedents of the Greek god.

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins: Attending boarding school in Paris means exploring the City of Lights, discovering foreign cinema and finding a boy to share a real French kiss with.

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray: Gemma Doyle soon discovers there's more than meets the eye at the Spence Academy for Young Ladies.

Looking for Alaska by John Green: Miles Halter goes to Culver Creek Preparatory School hoping to find the Great Perhaps.

Inside the Mind of Gideon Rayburn by Sarah Miller: Something unexpected is going on at Midvale Academy when a girl is able to see into the mind of one Gideon Rayburn.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Saying Goodbye to Summer: The First Day of School

School starts in the next few weeks, which signals the ultimate end of summer. I've survived a lot of first days of school: two elementary schools, two middle schools, two high schools and three colleges. I got good at making new friends and settling in really fast. But each first day at a new school brought it's own unique challenges, and I'd like to think I brought each school unique experiences all my own.

The first day of school changes everything. It doesn't matter what grade you're going into--from the very first day of kindergarten to leaving for college, boy or girl, smart or not, new or retuning--we all try to reinvent ourselves for that very first day. So here are some books for different age groups crossing a lot of genres that take place on (or close to) the first day of school:

Picture Books

Kissing Hands by Audrey Penn
Sea Monster's First Day by Kate Messner
David Goes To School by David Shannon
Arthur's Teacher Trouble by Marc Brown

Early Reader/Chapter Books

Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus by Barbara Park
Muggie Maggie by Beverly Cleary
Allie Finkle's Rules for Girls #2: The New Girl by Meg Cabot
Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

Middle Grade

The Austere Academy by Lemony Snicket
Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
Bobby Vs. Girls (Accidentally) by Lisa Yee
Love That Dog by Sharon Creech


Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie by David Lubar
Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Cryer's Cross by Lisa McMann
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Upper YA

Jake, Reinvented by Gordon Korman
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sheman Alexie
Deadline by Chris Crutcher
The Goddess Test by Aimee Carter

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Saying Goodbye to Summer: Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah

I loved going to camp when I was a kid. An entire week without my parents or siblings, building camp fires and singing songs. I loved swimming and kayaking, and I didn't even mind the tents and bugs. Between throwing up in the camp fire after a game of Chubby Bunny went a little too far and surviving a tornado will camping in the woods, my summers were filled with archery contests and first aid clinics and compass scavenger hunts and botany lessons and adventures of all kinds. And when summer faded into winter, there were plenty of books to read about camp, so the next summer camp never seemed far away.

Even before I was old enough for roughing it, there were picture books like The Berenstain Bears Go to Camp by Stan and Jan Berenstain and Little Critter Goes at Scout Camp by Mercer Mayer about day-camp. And when I got a little older, a few of the Baby-Sitters Club books by Ann M. Martin took place at summer camp, plus I probably read Runaway Ralph by Beverly Cleary and Holes by Louis Sachar half a dozen times each.

While I missed out on The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White when I was a kid, I finally read it for the first time this past week. This summer I also read Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief by Rick Riordan, which wasn't around when I was a kid. Both Summer Camp Secrets by Katy Grant and Camp Confidential by Melissa J. Morgan are newer series that I haven't read, but I'm sure I would have loved them as a pre-teen.

Of course I've gotten wiser with age and realized that I have running water and air conditioning for a reason, but those memories of summer camp haven't faded through the years.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Saying Goodbye to Summer: A Road Trip in Books

One of my most memorable summer vacations was the first time I went to Washington, D.C. I was going into middle school, and I had just read Mary Higgins Clark's Stillwatch, so I was obsessed with political journalism and Washington, D.C. Not only was that trip the first time I would visit my future home, it was also on that trip that my mother read us The Chronicles of Narnia. Yes, all seven books in one road trip.

For me, that road trip was a bit of a rite of passage, a journey of self-discovery on four wheels. Stillwatch played no small part in my decision to study journalism and later become a PR professional in D.C. And the Narnia books continue to shape my view of of children's literature and even my personal faith.

As this summer draws to a close, I'm dedicating this new reading list to that great summer tradition: The Road Trip.

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech: All journeys begin with a single step. For one girl, learning to deal with her mother's abandonment means retracing the steps of her spiritual quest.

The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex: Some road trips are out of this world. Well, maybe it stays on this world, but an 11-year-old girl from Pennsylvania managers to bring an extraterrestrial along for the ride.

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson: A trip around the world may be the only way to go. Thirteen messages from her deceased aunt will lead one teenager back to where it all began.

Paper Towns by John Green: Discovering yourself means looking beyond what's right in front of you. One boy and his loyal friends soon discover that you can't save someone unwilling to save herself.

Going Bovine by Libba Bray: "Our greatest foes, and whom we must chiefly combat, are within" (Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra). A sudden illness takes a boy and his hospital companion on a wild ride to find a cure.

Guyaholic by Carolyn Mackler: Putting your mistakes behind you takes more than distance. On a road trip to visit her absentee mother, the queen of meaningless hookups tries to avoid the future by outrunning her past.

I've logged many thousands of miles in road trips since that one 17 years ago, and each one still holds a certain magic. Even if you're studying a map or following that electronic voice on the GPS, you never really know where the road is going to take you. For me, it always seems to take me home.

Friday, August 12, 2011

More Novocaine, Please

I never understood why people hate the dentist. I love that clean feeling and knowing that all my teeth are healthy. The Cosby Show taught me early on that dentists were cool.

And there are tons of fun, clever books about teeth:
The Berenstain Bears Visit the Dentist by Stan and Jan Berenstain
Just Going to the Dentist by Mercer Mayer
Arthur's Tooth by Marc Brown
Tooth Fairy's First Night by Anne Bowen
Throw Your Tooth on the Roof: Tooth Traditions from Around the World by Selby Beeler

Although it kind of creeps me out when kids lose their teeth (all the wiggling and gaped-tooth smiling and wanting to put them under their pillow), but I understand it's a kind of rite of passage from childhood to adolescence. It's a sign that you're not the same person you once were, so in a way, it's even kind of amazing.

It also helped that I've never had a cavity, never got wisdom teeth (I'm already smart enough, thank you), always had perfect exams. But that all changed this week when I went to the dentist and he told me a baby tooth I had never lost needed to come out. Err...

So I sucked it up, got in the tooth shuttle and let the dentist go to work. After several near panic attacks (when the drill slipped I really did freak out), very loud heavy metal on my iPod and a lot of hand-holding from two very kind dental hygienists, I have gone from my usual 28 down to 27 teeth. The anesthetic (which was actually Lidocaine and not Novocaine) wore off long ago and I don't have stitches, and still no pain.

I really don't know what all the fuss is about.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Punctuation Conundrum, or
All It Takes Is a Dot of Ink

My writers' group goes round and round about punctuation. Seriously, I think it might be the bane of my existence within the group. (That and speaker tags, but I'll save my rantings on that for another post--or three.) So let me indoctrinate you on Kathryn's Punctuation Style Guide.

Comma: Indicates and interruption or change in phrasing to prevent ambiguity. This is a real hot-button issue among writers, especially when even Oxford University's PR department doesn't use what is known as the Oxford (or Serial) Comma. Some people swear by using a comma before an "and" while others insist it's superfluous. I'm not saying anyone is right or wrong, but there should be a balance in the usage of commas in general. Every time you use a comma, it's like saying to your reader, "Look here! This is important!" So if you're using them in a list or for dramatic pauses, pretty soon they go from clarifying choices to pacing nightmares. But wherever you fall on this issue, make sure you use consistency with your format.

Semicolon: Connects two related ideas, often used in place of a period or conjunction but also with a listing where a comma is not a clear enough indicator. Semicolons are becoming an antiquated form of a conjunction as they are awkward to read and are often misused. In fact, I was reading a book the other day that used a semicolon so well I had to read the sentence twice just to reassure myself that people still know how to use them.

Question Mark: Used instead of a period in cases of an interrogative. Because all questions in writing are rhetorical, interrogatives should be used sparingly and only as a stylistic choice for emphasis or to establish an informal voice. Most languages don't even have variations on a period but instead use verbal indicators to punctuate a question, such as ka in Japanese.

Exclamation Mark: Used instead of a period in cases of an exclamatory remark. Because word choice should carry the power in writing, exclamations should be used sparingly or not at all--choose a better verb instead.

Double-Spaced Period: There should be a single space after a period. Always. This has been the commonly accepted formatting principle for the past 10 years when workers trained to type on computers became more common than those attached to typewriters. If you're still hitting the space bar twice after a period, you're showing your age. Either brake the habit or use "Find" and "Replace".

The moral of this story: Don't waste your ink.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Billy Goats Gruff

Remember that old story Three Billy Goats Gruff? I discovered their bridge this weekend. I think they told people a troll was living under it to discourage visitors. But I know better. It's really surrounded by amazing waterfalls and inspiring forests. Those billy goats just didn't want to share. Selfish billy goats!

My friend Josie and I decided to go on a hike at Great Falls along the Patomac River. Less than an hour from our nation's capitol, you can find yourself in the middle of nowhere with only the most spectacular views to keep you company.

After seeing the main falls, we decided to take a chance on the Billy Goat Trail. What started out as a nice stroll through the woods along a lazy river soon turned into more of a climbing expedition. I guess they call it the Billy Goat Trail because it wasn't really designed for human traffic. It was pretty hot, sweaty work in 95-degree weather with 90 percent humidity.

But reaching the top is always worth the climb.

I believe this answers Carmela LaVigna Coyle's question once and for all. Do Princesses Wearing Hiking Boots? Why yes, indeed we do.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

When Old Becomes New, or
Two Must-Read Picture Books

I've been reading a lot of picture books this year as I've fallen a bit behind with the new releases, and there are two in particular I can't get out of my head. I give them as baby-shower gifts and birthday presents at every opportunity, and I recommend them to everyone I talk to. These two books couldn't be more different, but for some reason, their differences will indelibly link them in my mind.

This book of verse kicks it old school with quilting blocks of stories. With influences from collage and found-art mediums, this is anything but your grandma's favorite past time. Though the stories are familiar, the quality of the work makes this a true treasury of rhymes. My personal favorite, "A wise old owl," made me want to reach through the pages and touch the original work.

A Book of Sleep by Il Sung Na

Graphically oriented and richly dark, Na utilizes modern technology to give this book a surreal flare. A lot of people describe this book as "quiet," yet it has the potential to completely change how we look at bedtime stories. Where Margaret Wise Brown's Goodnight Moon introduced a rhythmic lull to night-time traditions, this book proves that art doesn't have to be simple to help get kids ready for bed.

Both of these authors take their genre to another level. They are the epitome of artistic expression yet still make their work accessible to the youngest generation of art enthusiasts. Honestly, Mavor and Na could probably make a lot of money selling their art to the highest bidder, but instead they're making picture books for children who can't even read them on their own. Now that is dedication to craft.