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Interview with Claudia Classon

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With the advent of ebooks, the short story is enjoying a renaissance with adults and adolescents alike. One of the most prolific short story authors of late is the award winning writer Claudia Classon. Recently I caught up to with Ms. Classon and quizzed her about her background, influences and upcoming projects.

Where did you grow-up and where do you live now? How has your geography shaped your writing?

I was born a New Yawkuh. I spent my first six years in the Bronx (where my ancestors had lived for over 70 years), then my family moved to Westchester county and that’s where I lived for my childhood and most of my adult life. In 2005 my husband’s company sent us overseas to Paris for three years, and when we moved back, it was to Princeton, NJ. I’m definitely more comfortable writing about locations with which I’m most familiar, so my novel TREEHUGGER (not yet published) is set in a fictitious village in the Hudson Valley, and my short stories published in SUCKER Literary Magazine are set in and around New York and the suburbs.

What is a normal “writing” workday like for you?

I try to work most days, even if I’m only re-reading and thinking about how to approach a new or revised scene. When I’m in the middle of a revision, as I am now, or working on something new, I’ll fit in as much writing time as I can. I have a part-time job in publishing that I go to three days a week, so on those days I usually work in the evenings. In any case, I’m not an early riser, so I do better work at night.

You are a very successful author of short stories. How does crafting a short story differ from creating longer works?
Thank you for that “very.” ☺
It’s like the difference between writing a piano etude and a symphony. Most short stories focus on a limited number of characters and generally have only one main plot. A novel tells a larger story, has sub-plots, features a greater number of characters, and weaves together complex relationships between these various elements. A thing they have in common is the same rules of narrative structure: Beginning, rising action, conflict, climax, denouement. Breaking the rules in a short story is a bit easier, though, and is often done. You can also write a non-linear novel, but it’s probably not something I would attempt.

Who are your favorite writers and why?

I never know how to narrow down this list. Definitely Shakespeare and Tolkien (no “why” necessary). As for YA lit…I have to start with Laurie Halse Anderson, because Speak was an epiphany for me—the main character’s voice and her problem were like nothing I’d ever read in a teen book and it made me want to write for the kind of reader who could connect with that book. I adore Richard Peck’s books for their brilliant characters and sly social commentary. Lauren Oliver has taught me so much about wrenching emotions out of your characters, plus her prose is superb. Gary Schmidt, Jack Gantos, and Sherman Alexie have given me a better idea of boy-perspective, plus they know how to write funny. Neil Gaiman and Libba Bray can make the absurd seem real. I’ll stop here, but not because there aren’t others.

What advice would you give aspiring writers?

-You gotta be in it to win it: Don’t just picture yourself as an author. Write, often. Too many would-be writers are too scared or too self-conscious to start.
– Learn the rules so you can break them. There are rules for what constitutes good narrative writing. Some people can absorb and use them just by reading well-written books or books on writing technique. Others benefit from taking writing courses. Whatever way works for you, learn the rules before you try to break them.
– Start with a molehill, not a mountain. Practice plotting short stories before you try to tackle a novel. Work with a limited number of characters and subplots. Once you get the hang of it, you can tackle Mt. Everest. Many writers have a complete story arc in mind before they start writing (e.g., novice J.K. Rowling who had a SEVEN BOOK story arc planned before she started to write the Harry Potter series—jeesh).
– Open your mind to the world. Almost everyone writes about what they know, so learn as much as you can about things that interest you. Travel. Read. Let people share their stories with you.
– Read, read, read. Read everything. Then when you know what it is you like to write about, immerse yourself in that type of literature. I keep a list of all the books I’ve read—particularly children’s and YA fiction. In the past ten years, I have read over 750 YA and middle grade books—I just counted them, honest.

What are you working on now?

My main project right now is a full revision of my YA novel TREEHUGGER, a contemporary romance/thriller. I recently found a wonderful writing group in Princeton—I had been searching for one for over five years! I met two of the group’s members at a SCBWI function last fall, and they have been critiquing the revision as it goes along. I also have a couple of picture book ideas out with my agent, Erzsi Deàk of Hen & Ink. I’m exploring turning one of the ideas into a chapter book series. And I have a couple of novel fragments and short stories that may need to be revisited in the future.

What are you reading right now?

I’m often reading old-and-new at the same time. Since I am not that familiar with chapter books, I’ve been coming home from the library with armfuls of classic chapter books to consult (Ivy and Bean, Junie B. Jones, etc.). As for YA, I just finished Lauren Oliver’s new book Panic, which I loved. I recently read both of Rainbow Rowell’s books (Fangirl, Eleanor & Park). Red Rising is the impressive first book in a new SF series by Pierce Brown, and I devoured the first two books in Michelle Gagnon’s PERSEFONE trilogy (Don’t Turn Around, Don’t Look Now)—I can’t wait for the third book. All these authors were “upcoming” in the not-so-distant past.

Check-out more about Claudia’s work at her blog, http://wordprowler.blogspot.com/ and discover her short stories and much more in the literary magazine, Sucker Literary available at http://www.suckerliterary.com/.

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Interview with Alayne Kay Christian

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Everyone’s creative spark can be lit at different times and places. For example, Alayne Kay Christian was a writer all of her life, but it wasn’t until the birth of her granddaughter that she was inspired to create a picture book. Recently Alayne took time out of her busy schedule to chat with me about her creative process, the ins and outs of publishing and also her amazing agent (and mine!) Erzsi Deak.

How did you decide to become a writer and a publisher?

I have written most of my life. When my long-distance granddaughter was born, I wanted her to always feel close to Grandma and Grandpa even across the miles. So, for her second birthday, I wrote and illustrated a book for her. The book was titled CLOSE TO YOU. Each person at the birthday party who read the book, ended up with tears welling in their eyes and saying, “You have to publish this.”
Their reactions and comments were wonderful compliments. An even bigger compliment was my husband pushing me to try to get the book published. My husband was really the one who decided to become a publisher – that’s just the kind of guy he is. After a year of pushing me to try to get my book published, I told him that I didn’t know the first thing about getting a picture book published. He said, “I’ll publish it.” He up and started a publishing company because that’s the kind of guy he is 😉 Last year, he did a guest post on my blog titled WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BE A PUBLISHER? He didn’t cover everything, but he painted a pretty good picture of what it took for him to achieve this challenge.
By the time the editors, illustrator, and book designer were done, my book was quite different from my original handmade book, and the title had changed to BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA.
As for me, once the book arrived and the impressive reviews and awards starting pouring in, I was hooked. I had to learn more about the kid lit industry, and I was driven to write, and write, and write some more.

Where did you grow up and how did where you grew up shape your writing?

I grew up in the city of Chicago, Illinois. Although, I have some stories in the back of my mind that are inspired by where and how I grew up, I don’t think, so far, that the actual place has shaped my writing. I do think growing up in the city shaped me as a person, and my writing comes from me, so there is that. However, I believe that spending time in the country as a child shaped me equally. Each summer, as a child, my family went to stay on my grandparents’ farm in Minnesota. I tend to think that my experiences in the country shape my writing most. Exploring the countryside, fishing the lakes, playing in the river, smelling the barn . . . I could go on for days. These experiences filled me with a love for nature and a sense of freedom that remains with me. I think the last line of the bio on my book jacket sums it up pretty well. “Alayne’s writing shares the creative spirit and kinship with nature that organically resides in her heart.” I think I was born with that creative spirit and kinship with nature, but I believe my days in the country as a child brought them to life. They organically reside in my heart. As an adult, being in the country or having any opportunity to be with nature or in wide-open spaces feeds my soul and renews my creative spirit.
What has changed in your life since your picture book Butterfly Kisses for Grandma and Grandpa was published?
Because my book has been quite successful, by independently published standards, I am much more confident in my knowledge and ability to write, submit, and publish. Also the experience lead me down a path of taking classes, reading books, and learning from other’s in the writing/publishing industry. I now know how to go about submitting my work to agents and editors. I also know how to publish a high quality book, market a book, and work with distributors. I know what it feels like to read my words to a group of children and see their excitement and joy. I know what it feels like to have my mother call and tell me that my book is in her library system. I know what it feels like when my book shows up in my own library system, and my granddaughter thinks I’m famous because of it. I know what it’s like to hear an excited granddaughter tell me her library now has her grandma’s book on the shelf, and BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA will be featured in her neighborhood’s bookmobile. I’ll step away from the hearts and flowers and move on to some other ways things have changed for me. I now have an agent. I signed with the fabulous Erzsi Deak, Hen&ink Literary Studio, late last year. I belong to a huge and supportive writing community, which includes SCBWI and 12 x 12. I belong to critique groups. I’m branching out from picture books into early chapter books. I have a blog, and I have founded groups to support other writers. I do everything I can to help other writers, so that they never have to say, “I don’t know the first thing about getting a picture book published.”

How has being a mother and grandmother changed you as a writer?

As I mentioned above, my writing career really started with the birth of my long-distance granddaughter. The same week we agreed to leave Chicago and move to North Carolina, we also learned our daughter was pregnant. The emotions I felt lead me to writing my first picture book. I’ve carried numerous picture book ideas with me for many years, but I’m not sure that I would have ever written a picture book if not for my granddaughter. I’m pretty excited about writing chapter books that she can read now that she’s older. It is a perfect next step.
On my website for BUTTERFLY KISSES FOR GRANDMA AND GRANDPA, I offer my story MAKING PEACE WITH BEING A LONG-DISTANCE GRANDPARENT. I share my experience and the thought process that inspired the book.
What is a normal “writing” workday like for you?
One of my favorite parts of my writing workday is to lie in bed in the morning and think. I get story ideas. I solve story problems. I fill in story plots. I believe that is when I’m most connected to my creative spirit. After fifteen to thirty minutes of connecting time, I am ready to go. I spend several hours writing, revising, reading, studying, or whatever is on my agenda for that day. I take a break to exercise, run errands, and have lunch. I write a couple more hours in the afternoon and take a break to do a little around the house. If there is time, I do writing related tasks for a few more hours before dinner.

Describe some of the books and authors who have influenced you as a writer.

Tammi Sauer has influenced me because of her rapid success. I’m sure it doesn’t feel rapid to her, but in my eyes, it’s like boom, boom, boom – book, book, book. Tammi first caught my attention at the 2011 SCBWI North Texas conference where I heard her speak. I took her breakout sessions, and I sat with her at lunch. She never failed to impress. I believe three of her picture books were released that year. Since the conference, another seven Tammi Sauer picture books have been released. She reads and speaks to massive crowds of children year round. It is just plain fun to watch her career. She inspires me, and I think there is much to be learned from her and her works.
I am also impressed with Kathryn Otoshi and her successful, independent published books: ONE; ZERO; and soon to be released TWO. She and her books are proof that quality independent published books and their authors and illustrators warrant respect and recognition.
Up and coming picture book authors that influence me are:
Corey Rosen Schwartz –
THREE NINJA PIGS
Newly released GOLDI ROCKS AND THE THREE BEARS
Soon to be released NINJA RED RIDING HOOD.
Tara Lazar – THE MONSTORE and her upcoming book (2015) I THOUGHT THIS WAS A BEAR BOOK.
Studying the books and the journeys of each of the above authors offer a different learning experience. They are all great inspirations to me.
Believe me, there are many other authors who inspire or influence me than those I mentioned above. And there are far too many books to even begin trying to mention them all. I limited my answer to the first several authors or books that popped into my mind.
I wanted to talk about chapter books and books on writing, but I think I already took up too much space with the above. Maybe another day.

What are you working on now?

My top priority is to convert some picture books to early chapter books. In addition, I have a goal to get some sellable picture book manuscripts in Erzsi’s hands, so she can start getting some of my work out there. I am also brewing new picture books and polishing old manuscripts. I’m working on taking advantage of a couple unused rooms in my home and making one room my writing space and the other my brainstorming, thinking, and meditating space. And just to shake up my creativity, I’m also planning on doing a few character sketches and going back to some old-fashioned handwritten manuscripts.

You can learn more about Alayne Kay Christian on her website
http://www.alaynekaychristian.com and purchase her wonderful picture book online or at your favorite local bookstore

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Interview with Caryn Caldwell

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Caryn Caldwell is a pre-published, award-winning author who like many of us (me included) are sandwiching our writing life between children, husbands, day-jobs and the occasional cat. Recently I got to chat with the delightful Ms. Caldwell about writing, time management and the drive to create.

Where did you grow up and where do you live now?

I am a child of the Ohio suburbs, but I always dreamed of moving west. I now live in Utah (by way of Colorado), with easy access to both the desert and the mountains — just the way I like it.

What were your favorite books as a child? What was the first book that you fell in love with?

It’s almost impossible for me to list favorite childhood books because I read everything I could, and I loved everything I read. It wasn’t until I grew up that I became much pickier. If I HAD to narrow it down, though, I’d say that I loved books by Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, and Christopher Pike and was a big fan of anything that won the Newbery. My brother and I also spent many wonderful hours listening to my mom read The Boxcar Children series aloud to us.

What happened that made you decide to become a writer?

I knew I could never be a writer when I grew up. Authors were these amazing creatures, completely untouchable and hallowed. Still, I always enjoyed writing and did it consistently until, one day, I wondered if I actually could write a whole book. Not a publishable book. Not even a good one. Just a book. As soon as I typed THE END on that first one, I was hooked. I wrote several more for practice before I even began to look for an agent.

What inspires you to write?

I am inspired to write by so many things. Sometimes it’s just the sheer fun of figuring out a puzzling plot piece or finding just the right word. Sometimes I have ideas I want to explore or characters to play with, and writing is one way to do that. When things are very hard and I’m having trouble finding the motivation, I remind myself how far I’ve come. I don’t want all that work to be in vain. Plus there’s no high like the one that comes from a successful day at the keyboard — except reading those words again later and realizing that, hey, they aren’t too bad!

How have your various day (and night) jobs (mom, librarian, teacher) shaped your writing?

It’s tough to find the time to write while also being a mom and having a day job, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. If I didn’t have the other stuff to pull me away, I would probably become a hermit, and I’d quickly run out of things to write about. Having other activities also gives me structure and helps me manage my time better. I can’t put off my writing because I don’t have the flexibility to do so; as a result, I am better about focusing during my allotted time than I probably would be otherwise. That said, whenever I have long breaks I love to dive into the world of my story, and it can be very difficult to surface again.

Describe your creative process – early mornings? late nights? Coffee? Tea? Whiskey?

My daughter goes to a full-time preschool/daycare, and I work in the afternoons/evenings, so morning has become my writing time. That works well since I’m freshest in the mornings. When I’m trying to get the words down, though, it can be fun to write very late at night when I’m too tired for my internal editor to surface. Some of my favorite lines have come out when I’ve been falling asleep at the keyboard, just letting the words pour out. Thank goodness I have mornings to revise with a wide-awake brain!

When writing, I always have water beside me, and I frequently have music — usually songs I’ve heard so many times that I barely notice them, but that I still enjoy. Eating gets in the way of my writing, so I’m not much of a snacker. Cats interfere, too, but they make good company, and mine needy so I let them stay. When sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram call to me, I use a special program that bans me from the internet. I work extra hard so I can earn that social networking time.

What books and/or authors have shaped you as a writer?

Honestly, I think every book I’ve ever read has shaped me in some way. They’ve widened my vocabulary and reinforced my school lessons on grammar and punctuation. The ones I enjoyed also taught me about story structure, voice, character-building, etc. The ones I didn’t enjoy taught me what not to do (or, at least, what doesn’t work for me). Reading has been especially helpful now that I’ve become a writer, since I read with a more analytical eye, trying to figure out what works, what doesn’t, and why.

How did you find your agent?

I had just begun querying my previous book when a popular writers’ blog mentioned an open call for Hen & Ink. I visited the website and liked what I found there, so I queried. I loved Erzsi’s enthusiasm during our email correspondence, and when she offered representation I was impressed by what her clients had to say about her, so I happily signed on.

What are you working on now?

I’m currently revising a young adult contemporary romance. The premise is under wraps for now, but I can say that I’ve enjoyed the book immensely and am looking forward to sharing it when the time is right.

If people are interested in learning more about your work, where can they find you?

I have a website at http://www.caryncaldwell.com. It has more information on my books, as well as a blog. I can also be found on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, among other sites (all of which are linked to on my website). I love to connect and hope to see you online!

Twitter: https://twitter.com/caryncaldwell

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/authorcaryncaldwell

Instagram: http://instagram.com/caryncaldwell

Interview with Jessica Lee Anderson

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When I last visited with Jessica Lee Anderson, she was celebrating her first novel, Trudy, being plucked from the slush pile and winning the Milkweed Prize for Children’s Literature. Four years later, Jessica is celebrating another creation – the birth of her beautiful daughter. Recently I caught up with Jessica and chatted with her about motherhood, creativity and managing your time.

 

What has changed in your life since the last time we chatted in 2010?

 

Forgive me for starting with a cliché, but wow, these years flew by! Since 2010, my young adult novel, Calli, released from Milkweed Editions, and I had the honor of presenting at several events like the Texas Book Festival, Austin Teen Book Festival, YAK Fest, and YAB Fest. I attended several writing retreats with an inspiring group of writers and worked on an assortment of manuscripts to include some work-for-hire projects. In 2013, I celebrated the most exciting of releases—my beautiful baby girl! 

 

Has being a mother changed you as a writer? If so, how?

 

My schedule has definitely changed the most. I write from home, so I revolve my writing around my daughter’s naps during the day and try to get some writing in after she goes to sleep in the evenings. Thirty minutes or an hour here or there can really add up. When I have childcare available, I head to a coffee shop for a short while. With time being so limited, it is easier to pass on watching those cute puppy videos on YouTube. One thing I’ve been trying to work on is eliminating that feeling of “writer’s guilt” (feeling guilty that I’m not writing when there is a down moment) so I can cherish this time with my little miracle. I also broke down and bought a smart phone to use technology to my advantage. 

 

What is a normal “writing” workday like for you?

 

My daughter usually takes her first nap around 9 a.m., so I try to get some plotting/brainstorming/goal setting time in and jump on the page for as long as I can (which can be as little as a twenty minutes or an hour plus). The same goes for the afternoon, and then I get about an hour or two of writing in after she falls asleep in the evening. Her nap schedule is constantly changing, so my “writing” workday changes too and consists of taking advantage of free moments when they’re available. While I haven’t been meeting my group regularly at coffee shops like I used to, I now periodically host writing workdays at my house. Fellow Coop-mate Carmen Oliver is coming over for a writing date this week!

 

You’ve written for all types of audiences. How does your writing process differ as your audience changes?

 

I enjoy writing for a variety of ages and like the challenge of writing sparse yet rich texts for younger readers as well as the challenge of developing characters, settings, plots, and dialogue in longer works for older readers. While I read my writing out loud when writing for older readers, I find this is critical when writing for younger readers. I agonize over word counts, vocabulary choices, and reading levels for this age group. This process can flow into how I write for older readers, so I often write longhand in a notebook to help avoid my internal editor from taking over.

 

What are you working on now?

 

I’m currently revising an early chapter book about a girl who experiences some surprises when she moves on a farm as well as working on a coming of age novel middle grade novel. 

 

Do you have any upcoming appearances or events?

 

I don’t know any specific details about my schedule yet, but I’ll be at the TLA annual conference this April and look forward to seeing many friends and making many new ones!

 

 

Please check-out Jessica’s website at http://jessicaleeanderson.com for more information. Jessica’s books are all available online or at your favorite indie bookseller!

 

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Four Tips to Improve Your Writing Life

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January is a time for resolutions and diets. I love resolutions. Diets, not so much. If one of your new year’s resolutions is to start a journal, complete a rough draft or begin a blog, I’ve put together four of the best pieces of writing advice that I’ve ever heard, read or stolen.

1. Feel the Fear and Create Anyway

Making art is scary. In fact it’s so frightening that most people aren’t able to muster the courage to begin. How many cocktail parties conversations have include the phrase “I would love write a book but I don’t have the time, talent etc…”?

Contrary to common belief, everyone has a creative capacity within them.  Yes, even you. And if that creativity goes unused for any reason, who know the masterpieces the world will unknowingly miss?

Once you accept that the art of creation comes with a wheelbarrow of fear and terror, somehow that nasty monster under the bed becomes a little less scary.

2. First Draft = Trash 

Or to quote the wonderful Anne Lamott, “the only way I can get anything written is to write really, really shitty first drafts.” No one sits down to the computer and writes anything that without revision and editing should see the light of day. Instead, sit with the fear and write whatever comes out. Don’t judge it. Just continue. Put one word down after the other. Turn off the inner critic or at least drown it out with loud music, prayer or your family’s pleas for attention. You have to teach yourself how to get down word after word on the page, screen or tablet until a sentence finally appears on the page. That’s the only way the next War and Peace or even 50 Shades of Grey will be written, one word, sentence, paragraph at a time.

3. Regular Practice with Small Goals

I used to fantasize about living in a writers’ colony. In my mind it would be a cross between a spa and a meditation center, where meals would be delivered to my door and my living quarters scoured daily by invisible elves.  But the truth is that art is made by ordinary people and our writing lives are not lived in writers’ colonies, no matter how pleasant the fantasy. We live amongst loud telephone calls, banging pots and quarreling children.

With chaos as a constant, you must set a time everyday to write. I like to work early in the morning before everyone wakes up. Others work late at night. Whatever time you choose, make your daily goal small. If you miss a day, forgive yourself and restart the next day. Don’t try to make up your lost time, it won’t happen. Instead you will find yourself frustrated and even more afraid of the double word count in front of you. Shrug off your missed time and continue. Remember, if you write only 150 words a day you will have written a novel in one year. Small efforts daily add up to much more than the occasional Herculean effort.

4. Finish Your Project

It is easy to give up. You say to yourself, “if this project was really meant to be then it would be easier to write…” In fact, nothing is further from the truth. To quote the award winning author Neil Gaiman, “Whatever it takes to finish things, finish. You will learn more from a glorious failure than you ever will from something you never finished.” Sometimes it is right after things get tough, that things get right.

Wishing you all a new year full of projects completed and dreams realized!

Last Minute Gift Ideas for Everyone on Your List…..

There is no better time than the holidays to give books. Ten times better than a gift card, a well-chosen book is a gift that entertains, inspires and can even change a life.

Here are my favorite books to give:

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The True Adventures of Charlotte Doyle by Avi

If you have a middle school girl in your family, this is the perfect girl for her. Charlotte starts off as prim and proper young lady and ends the novel as a kick-butt wonder woman.

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Waiting for the Magic by Patricia MacLachan

MacLachan’s sparse and eloquent prose makes this short novel a perfect choice for readers from grade second through fifth. It would also make a wonderful read-aloud as long as you aren’t prone to weeping during MacLachan’s many poignant passages.

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Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

Although published almost over twenty years ago, this Newbery winner is a favorite I re-read every year. Creech weaves together two separate stories which unite for a surprises and satisfying ending. Be sure to have a box of tissues near-by while reading this treasure.

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Bird by Bird by Anne Lament

One of the best books about writing I have ever had the luck to read, Bird by Bird offers no nonsense common sense to those of us (aka everyone) who struggle with the fear and anguish of writing. Lamott’s self-depreciating voice guarantees many laugh out-loud as well as inspirational moments.

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Kiss, Kiss by Margaret Wild and illustrated by Bridget Strevens-Marzo

Baby Hippo is dismayed to discover that he has forgotten to kiss his mother good-bye! The simple text and adorable illustrations make this board book an important part of any young child’s library.

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Fire and Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones

I love all of Diana Wynne Jones’ books, but I have to admit this is my favorite. A fantastical story set in modern day London, Polly has two sets of memories. In one set, she has a strictly normal and boring life. In her second set of memories, she is entangled in the life of the eccentric Thomas Lynn. Only when she begins to forget her second set of memories does she realize that magic, which endangers the life of Thomas, is the reason for her memory loss. A wonderful story for grades sixth through adult.

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Half-Magic by Edgar Eager

I was beyond happy to discover this book a few years ago. Originally published in 1954, the novel is a surprisingly modern read. When four siblings discover a magic coin that grants half-wishes, adventures and hilarity ensue. Perfect for boys and girls from 8-12 years old.

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The Chocolat Series by Joanne Harris

Three books follow the adventures of chocolate and magic maker Vianne through battles with priests, radicals and small minded people. A wonderful gift who anyone who loves France, magic and especially chocolate!

All of these books can be purchased online or at your favorite indie bookstore. Wishing you  all a new year full of happiness, good health and many, many books!

Interview with Ann Jacobus

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If author Ann Jacobus wasn’t such a nice person, it would be really easy to dislike her. Talented and beautiful, Ann is not only an award-winning writer, she is also at the helm of one of the most popular and successful children’s book blogs, Readerkidz. Recently I caught up with Ann and we got to chat about her influences and inspiration.

Where did you grow-up and where do you live now?

I was born in Midland, Texas and spent my formative childhood years in Little Rock, Arkansas. My mother’s family all lived in Texas, so it has been a constant throughout my peripatetic life. I live now in San Francisco with my family but spent many years overseas. A friend has a theory that a significant percentage of writers moved around a lot as kids or young adults. It makes you flexible and observational. You have to relearn how people think and operate in each new place to fit in. That’s excellent practice for a writer.

What is a normal “writing” workday like for you?

I’ll speak to ideal. As soon as I get family members off to school or work, I’m at my desk as early as 7:30 am, i.e. a comfy chair and a big old-fashioned atlas, on top of which rests my laptop. My best working hours are in the morning for producing awful first drafts of—or revising—manuscripts, blog posts, essays, proposals, etc. By early afternoon I read books, or the manuscripts I review for a fiction journal, my writing group, publishers or contests. I’ll do email and social media until grocery shopping and soccer games call.

You’ve written for all types of audiences. How does your writing process differ as your audience changes?

It’s true that in writing a middle grade novel aimed at eight- and nine-year-old boys, I can use more potty humor than in writing an adult essay. And fiction aimed at fifteen-year-olds again requires a different mindset and voice. I think it comes down to the same shift you use between talking to an eight-year-old (successfully), or a sixteen-year-old or a forty-five-year-old. So I’m aware of my audience as I compose. Right now I’m picturing you and a bunch of your readers.

Who are your favorite writers and why?

It’s hard to pick, but In Children’s literature I greatly admire: 

Dav Pilkey-his Captain Underpants series is responsible for turning all three of my sons into readers. He’s subversive and so hysterical (if you are a seven year-old boy) they thought they were getting away with something highly illicit by opening his books. I pretended I was outraged, and that really got them hooked.

Richard Peck (A Year Down Yonder, Secrets at Sea): He’s a prolific, classic children’s author whose books never disappoint and always contain something essential and amusing about the world between their covers.

Rita Williams Garcia (Jumped, One Crazy Summer, P.S. Be Eleven) always gets to the heart of things and usually with humor. Katherine Applegate’s The One and Only Ivan and Holly Goldberg Sloan’s Counting by 7s are two recent excellent additions to the middle grade canon.

Nancy Farmer, (The House of Scorpions, The Sea of Trolls) are two personal favorites, because of the brilliant storytelling, and in the latter, the humor. Olaf OneBrow makes me laugh whenever I think of him.

YA authors Laurie Halse Anderson (Speak, Chains, Winter Girls) and Walter Dean Meyers (Monster, Lockdown) are masters. They keep it real in the way YA readers demand, and do it so well.  Martine Leavitt’s books (Keturah and Lord Death, My Book of Life by Angel) are intense, beautiful, and brilliantly written.  

Some adult writers: I love Thorton Wilder’s ability to probe the ineffable universal through the particular and personal (The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Our Town). Ursula LeGuin writes so beautifully in her compelling fantasy stories. Never a word wasted. Annie Dillard does the same with nonfiction. I’m a Larry McMurtry and Cormac McCarthy fan. J.R.R.Tolkien, Jeffrey Eugenides, Jane Austen—

I’ll stop but I could go on and on.

Where did you get the idea/inspiration for your blog www.readerkidz.com?

Readerkidz was started by a group of us who graduated together from the Vermont College of Fine Arts Writing for Children and Young Adult graduate program. My co-bloggers have decades of experience with education and psychology for younger children (kindergarten through fifth grade) and they determined a need for more online reading and book recommendation information for this group. They kindly asked me to join them.

Who is the intended audience?

The blog is aimed at parents, teachers and librarians of K-5 kids, and provides book reviews and recommendations, as well as teacher’s guides, author interviews, and other ideas for promoting a love of reading in the classroom and at home.

What has been your favorite thing about the blog so far?

I love working with my co-bloggers. I get to read more delightful children’s literature than I might otherwise be doing, since my own kids can mostly drive, and/or drink. I’m introduced to outstanding authors and illustrators and can ask them personal questions. I edit the “Librarian’s Corner” and get to see dedicated children’s librarians in action. 

 

You can learn more about Ann Jacobus and her work at www.annjacobus.com or follow her blog at www.readerkidz.com.