A Holiday Tradition: #holidaybookaday and #kidnesscalendar

If you’ve been following our blog since the very beginning you may remember that I posted around this time last year about starting a holiday tradition with my boys called #holidaybookaday and the #kindness calendar.

The premise is instead of opening a small gift every day in December to count down the holidays we open a holiday book (it could be about any of the December holidays including Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah and New Year’s Eve) and we also open a small piece of paper with an activity that promotes kindness. For example some of the kindness activities we did last year were, ‘candy cane bombing’ a parking lot, bringing teachers coffee, holding open the door for others, drawing a picture for someone, making a list of polite words to use, etc. We had such a wonderful time reading holiday books and being kind to others that I can’t wait to continue these traditions this year. With so many great new books to add to our list I know this month is going to be just as special as last years!

Here is a list of some of the books we will be reading:

CHRISTMAS

The 12 Days of Christmas by Greg Pizzoli

Pig the Elf by Aaron Blabey

Christmas Makes Me Think by Tony Medina illustrated by Chandra Cox

 

Fly Guy’s Ninja Christmas by Tedd Arnold

Pick a Pine Tree by Patricia Toht illustrated by Jarvis

Gingerbread Man Loose at Christmas by Laura Murray illustrated by Mike Lowery

Olive the Other Reindeer by Vivian Walsh and J. Otto Siebold

A Piñata in a Pine Tree by Pat Mora illustrated by Magaly Morales

HANUKKAH

The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming by Lemony Snicket illustrated by Lisa Brown

Sammy Spider’s First Hanukkah by Sylvia Rouss illustrated by Katherine Kahn

How Do Dinosaurs Say Happy Chanukah? by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague

Bright Baby Touch and Feel Hanukkah by Roger Priddy

KWANZAA

Seven Spools of Thread by Angela Shelf Medearis illustrated by Daniel Minter

K is for Kwanzaa by Juwanda G. Ford and Ken Wilson-Max

Here are a few others that I still need to wrap…

 

Stayed tuned for more wonderful holiday books in the month of December including some great ones to celebrate New Year’s Eve and the coming of a new year!

 

All the Answers: Guest Blogger

Today we have 11 year old guest blogger, Leila Deal. Leila is one of my nieces and an avid reader. I have 5 nieces and 3 nephews and ever since they were babies I bought them each a book for every birthday and Christmas gift. Since the day each of them were born I’ve stressed to each of my three siblings the importance of reading to a child from the very beginning. Out of the 8 of them my sisters two daughters are the only ones who are book lovers. They come to my house and scour our library for a new book or even to reread an old favorite, they ask only for books from me whenever it’s time to get them a gift…these two girls love reading! Unfortunately my other nieces and nephews, no matter how hard I’ve tried, have never been excited about reading. Thankfully my sister has always been a reader and loves to share her book love with her daughters. When I asked Leila to write up a review for a book she recently loved reading she sent me a text with a picture as we were face-timing! That’s how often she reads and can chat about a book because she always has another one she can’t wait to chat about! As a sixth grader herself, currently experiencing middle school, she connected to this book. Here is her review of All The Answers by Kate Messner

I love this story because it is magical. It is about a girl named Ava and Sophie and find a magical pencil that tells her the answers she o every question she asks… but the pencil has a rule that you can’t ask a free will question. She learns that a magic pencil can help you through the ups and downs of middle school.

This or That…

The Storymamas have enjoyed sharing so many books with our readers and we wanted to start a new once-a-month tradition of sharing with you connections we make between books. As readers we know you do this too before, during and after reading a book; you think of another book you’ve read that reminds you of that book or an experience you’ve had. When you’re helping a child pick out the next book they will devour, maybe you will find this helpful to have some direction and ideas. So take a look at our latest book connections:

Bee & Bird by Craig Frazier and Zoom by Istvan Banyai are wordless picture books that take you on a journey through close up illustrations. As you turn the pages the illustrations pan out to be something new to discover. We’ve had a great time playing the guessing game with the bright and cheery illustrations in both books. These two are also wonderful to ask inferring questions using the clues in the picture.

The Bad Guys series by Aaron Blabey is about Mr. Wolf who recruits other ‘bad guys’ like a Mr. Shark, Mr. Snake and Mr. Piranha to finally change and be good guys and help others. In the first book the plan is to make their very first ‘good guy’ impression by breaking out two hundred dogs from the Maximum Security Dog Pound. Carnivores by Aaron Reynolds, illustrations by Dan Santat is a hilarious picture book about some more ‘bad guys’, carnivores who just want to be seen in the world as loving and friendly animals. They try and change their ways of tearing through other animals as meals and become vegetarians. Both books have characters that try and battle between the good ol’ good vs. evil debate. Will these seemingly terrifying animals change and be seen as the heroes they so desperately want to be? A great connection between picture book and chapter book, kids will love these hilarious stories!

A triple connection between three books, Todd’s TV by James Proimos, Tek: The Modern Cave Boy by Patrick McDonnell and Doug Unplugged by Dan Yaccarino, are all about technology. A TV, a cave boy and a robot who are always plugged in remind us that sometimes we need to turn off the technology and experience the world. These three funny books give us some direction when our own children are too plugged in and need a break (and even us as adults too).

Breakfast food…who doesn’t love silly stories about breakfast food?! Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast by Josh Funk, illustrated by Brendan Kearney and Everyone Loves Bacon by Kelly DiPucchio are hilarious stories about some very boastful breakfast foods: bacon, Sir French Toast and Lady Pancake. Will these breakfast foods realize that they aren’t all that and friendship and kindness are more important than being the best?

Meet The Bobs and Tweets series by Pepper Springfield, illustrated by Kristy Caldwell and Gaston by Kelly DiPuccio, illustrated by Christian Robinson both have characters who are different from their families. Both books explore the relationships the characters have with the families they’ve been born into but each of the characters, even in their differences, are able to find a connection to a character in the family that is completely opposite then them, showing how even if you feel so very different from others you can always find your connection and your place somewhere in the world.

What connections can you make to books you’ve read recently? Feel free to comment below or post to our Twitter or Instagram to add to our list!

Open If You Dare-Interview with Dana Middleton

If you’ve been following our blog for awhile, you’ve read about Dana Middleton’s first book, The Infinity Year of Avalon James (and if not take a look at the link). Even though Open If You Dare takes on a whole different genre it was just as good and couldn’t keep us from turning the pages. Dana graciously agreed to another interview with us and once again after the interview we decided that yes, in fact, we want to be friends with Dana and the characters she writes. Open If You Dare comes out tomorrow so pre-order today so you can read this awesome mystery, the perfect fall book!

3 ?s about Open If You Dare

What three words would you use to describe your book?

Mysterious, suspenseful, nostalgic. Not that nostalgia even exists for my target readers, but it was nostalgic for me.

Which character do you relate most to Birdie, Ally or Rose and why?

I relate most to Birdie, some to Ally, and not at all to Rose! Birdie is most like me. We like mysteries, we’re weirdly brave sometimes, and also sometimes selfish. And we’re very loyal friends. I played fast pitch softball so I was a little bit of a jock like Ally but definitely not as tough. Rose is an alien life-form to me. I have no idea where she came from and I think I’d be a little scared of her if we met in person!

This book is a mystery, was your writing process different than when you wrote The Infinity Year of Avalon James?

Yes! Because it was a mystery how it was going to happen! And I mean that on many levels. First, I wrote The Infinity Year of Avalon James without the pressure of a publisher waiting for it. Open If You Dare was different because I’d never written on a deadline before. I figured out quite quickly that I had to show up to the page almost every day or I might fail completely and never do it. Also, I’d never written a mystery before (and it turned into quite a strange mystery) so I hope readers will go down that path with me. Afterwards, I swore I’d never try a mystery again but lately, I’ve begun to think it might be fun to attempt another one. Funny how time lets us see things differently!

3 ?s about You

What is your “go-to” kidlit book to give as a gift and why?

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. I love time travel. I love mystery. I love strong girl characters. This book is challenging to the reader and it’s real in a way that makes you want to read it again and again.

Now that you’ve written a mystery and realistic fiction/fantasy (depending on the reader) books, is there another book genre you’d like to explore and possibly write next?

I’m working on that other book now. It’s steeped heavily in the realistic fantasy camp. And I’ve got a science fiction story up my sleeve that might come after that.

What does your workspace look like? 

My work space is everywhere. I share an office with my husband but I rarely write there. I’m often at our dining room table or at a local coffee shop tapping away among other writers. That’s one thing I love about writing. I can do it anywhere!

Thank you Dana for taking the time to answer our questions! To learn more about Dana Middleton visit her website.  Or follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

Sparkle Boy Shines Bright

Author Lesléa Newman contacted Storymamas about her newest book, Sparkle Boy. We were so excited to get this one in the mail and share it with our own kiddos as well as the students we teach. A little boy, Casey, loves all the sparkly things his sister is wearing: her skirt, her bracelet, her nail polish and he wants to wear sparkly things too. But her sister doesn’t agree and claims that boys can’t wear sparkly things. We love the adults in the book who fully support Casey’s interests. Eventually once Casey’s sister hears other kids making fun of him she sticks up for him and believes he can be whoever he wants to be and wear whatever he feels comfortable wearing. It’s a story of acceptance, kindness, sibling love and the freedom to be who you want to be! We love the beautiful, textured illustrations and know that this book will be one that makes children believe they can also be themselves and free to break the gender stereotypes. Lesléa was so kind to answer some questions for us about her book, read on to hear about her writing process and a little bit about her as a person!

3 Questions about Sparkle Boy

What was your inspiration for writing Sparkle Boy?

All the “sparkle boys” in my life, young and old! I have a good friend who loves to dress up in silky nightgowns and matching peignoirs. He only feels safe to do so in the privacy of his home. I have thought a lot about that. Then one year, I attended family week in Provincetown and met many little boys who love to wear tutus. One boy’s father said, “I wish he could dress like this all year instead of just for one week.” I thought a lot about that, too. I wrote SPARKLE BOY in hopes of expanding these “safety zones.” The entire world should be a safe place for any one of us to dress as we please without fear of ridicule or harm.

What do you hope children take away after reading this book?

I hope children will take away the idea that we all deserve to be who we are, and that skirts, nail polish, and glittery jewelry have no gender. They are for everyone who wants to wear them. I hope the book relays the message that everyone deserves acceptance and respect, and that diversity enriches our world.

What was your process for writing Sparkle Boy?

I wrote SPARKLE BOY the way I write all my books: by longhand in a spiral notebook. I wrote the first draft quickly, without looking back. Then I read it over and revised it. Then I read the new second draft and revised it. After I did this about twenty times (really!) I showed it to my spouse, who is an excellent reader, to my writer’s group which is made up of extremely smart women, and my wonderful agent. After I got their feedback, I revised and revised and revised. Then when the book was ready, my agent sent it out and I was lucky enough to have it accepted by Lee & Low, which is a fabulous children’s book press whose mission is to fill the world with diverse children’s books. Then my editor gave me notes and I revised once more. And then the text of the book was done and ready to be illustrated by the fantastically talented Maria Mola.

3 Questions about You

If you weren’t a writer, what would you want to be and why?

Ooh, this is a hard question. I would want to work with animals because I am such an animal lover. But I can’t stand the sight of blood (I pass our easily!) so I could never be a veterinarian. I would love to be an animal therapist and bring dogs and cats to nursing homes and hospitals. When my dad was recently in the hospital, he was visited by a collie named Alfie and it cheered him up so much. But I think I will stick to being a writer (and continue to write books about animals, such as Ketzel, The Cat Who Composed and The Best Cat in The World).

What is one book that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?

Oh, there are just so many, it’s hard to pick just one. But if I had to, it would be Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl which taught me more about human nature than any other book I have ever read.

What is one item in your fridge that tells us about you?

There is always some form of dark chocolate in my refrigerator. My beloved grandmother, who lived to be 99 years old always ate a tiny bit of chocolate every night so “life shouldn’t be bitter.” I am proud to carry on this tradition!

 

BONUS Question

What does your workspace look like? 

I actually have two work spaces, one at home, and one away from home. At home, I have a big room with a couch and a desk and chair and lots of bookshelves. My desk faces a wall and on the wall, among my awards is the only painting I have ever done: a portrait of my dog, Angus who came to live with my family when I was 12. Outside of my home, I work at a writer’s collective called The Writers Mill where I share a room with 3 other women. Our motto is “Industry Loves Company.” I have also been known to write in coffee shops and hotel rooms, and on planes, trains, and buses. That’s the beauty of writing: all you need is a pen and notebook and an open heart and mind and you can do it anywhere.

The wall of awards and her first painting!

 

Thank you Lesléa for writing such an important book and making it entertaining, adorable and one that all kids can connect to in some way.

How Will You Make Your Mark?

33 days until…

A book and a day dedicated to discussing with kids how to make their mark on the world…one of our favorite days to celebrate as educator moms! This year Dot Day is on September 15, 2017, are you celebrating? If you’re either an educator or a parent, or both, celebrating this day is important, it’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s international. So if you are planning on celebrating share with us your ideas in the comments below and take a look at some of our ideas too! Parents and educators are great at “stealing ideas”, well maybe let’s say getting inspiration from others, that seems less negative and after all Dot Day is all about positivity!

To get started on Dot Day you have to find a copy of the book by the infamous Peter H. Reynolds, The Dot. Did you know that the book has been published in so many different languages, even the website about International Dot Day doesn’t quite know the number of languages! (The book is that good!)

After acquiring the book (I suggest buying because you’re going to want a copy for yourself) we have some ideas that would work in a classroom or at home or even both. As our readers we know you are very creative and could adapt any of the activities below to something that will work for you and the children you are around.

VIDEOS/OTHER MEDIA:

We like to show the following video of “The Dot” song by the famous children’s book singer, Emily Arrow and author/illustrator, Peter Reynolds. Be warned though it’s pretty catchy so you may be singing it way beyond Dot Day! 😉

And here’s another version of the song without the book images and Emily’s smiling face

Something that children are often intrigued by (and let’s be honest, adults too) is learning the story behind the creation and idea of a book. So here Peter Reynolds talks about the beginnings of The Dot. It’s about 2 minutes and 45 seconds long so short and sweet.

ACTIVITIES:

  • Wonderopolis

If you haven’t used Wonderopolis in your classroom or at home, it’s time to start! It’s an informative and interesting collection of wonders from science to history to How Do You Connect the Dots, which is perfect for Dot Day!

  • The 30 Dot Challenge

Using this sheet create a collaborative piece of dot art. First make sure children have a variety of writing utensils (pencils, crayons, markers). Give each artist 3 minutes to fill in as many dots as they can by drawing something different in each circle. Some ideas are patterns, doodles, shapes, animals, plants, words, or create something using more than one circle. This is really for the artist to challenge him/herself to draw using the dot as the guide. Anything goes, but try not to give too much direction and let the children be creative. After the three minutes is up you can have the kids share their favorite, the most challenging, the one that took the most time, whichever dot they would like. To make it collaborative you can cut all or a few circles out and glue onto one big sheet of paper so everyone’s dot is represented, everyone has put their mark on the art piece.

USING TECHNOLOGY:

  • Watch Your Dot Come to Life…

This activity takes a little pre-work as you need to make sure you’ve downloaded the free app Quiver3D on a device.Then you need to make sure you have enough copies of this Dot Day free download of the specific paper you will need. Then let the kiddos create their own special dot using the paper. The app will make the dot come to life and you and the kids will be enthralled and amazed at what you will see. If you’re in a classroom setting or at home you can take a screenshot of the alive dot to save it. Here’s one that I did a few years back when the app was called ColAR but it’s the same idea.

Be Better…

She makes you want to be a better…

… friend

…citizen

…teacher

…parent

…stranger

…everything

She’s Amy Krouse Rosenthal (AKR). An amazing leader of kindness, a creative writer, a filmmaker, an exceptional thinker. Yesterday I visited the Carrie Secrist Gallery in Chicago to see the Amy Krouse Rosenthal: A Beauty Salon exhibit. It was moving, magical, thoughtful, creative, heartfelt; I could go on and on about how unbelievable it was. The beautiful gallery was filled with a huge yellow wall with words of truth and kindness, beanbags, coffee, AKR’s work, movies and of course books, lots of her gorgeous books. I love her books, I love her word play, I love her out-the-box thinking. She has so many wonderful books and you’re missing out if you haven’t read one, or let’s be honest, every single one of them.

If you’re around the city in the next few days, definitely stop in the gallery, the exhibit closes on August 12th.  

If you’re not in the city and aren’t able to make it before then, here are a few highlights from my day today:

Her work and her ideas…

The amazing “I Was Here” wall…

It is meant to be interactive. A place you can share your thoughts, drawings, sign your name or respond to a prompt. Some of my favorites were:

While the prompt changed a few times throughout the exhibit, yesterday it said, “Think about what ATM stands for in your mind, grab one of these pens, and write it.”

To Amy, ATM stood for Always Trust Magic. Here are some ATM’s. Mine is up there somewhere. What would you write?

The movie that made me tear up…

The Money Tree

I leave you with this (even though it wasn’t in the exhibit) but because you’re a reader of our blog, which most likely means you’re a booklover like us, just marvel at a video AKR made of her Book-Filled House (you can find more of her videos on her blog).

Inspired? Exhilarated? Want to do something kind? You can…you can read her books to children, you can participate in acts of kindness, you can donate to the AKR Yellow Umbrella Foundation, you can do something, anything that shares happiness, love and kindness with others.

What’s an Infinity Year?


3 ?s  about The Infinity Year of Avalon James

What are three words you use to describe your book?

Real, Magical, Exciting (I hope…)

How did you come up with the idea behind the infinity year? Is your book fantasy, and the infinity year a real thing that actually happens?  Or is it realistic fiction and the infinity year was something made up by his grandfather?

Well, that all depends on the reader.  I’ve been very pleased that kids completely buy into the magic of the Infinity Year. It doesn’t even occur to them that it might be something made up by the grandfather. Adults are usually more on the fence about it. And I’m happy to leave them there!

Where it came from – here’s the truth. The Infinity Year originally came to me from the thought that an infinity sign is really a sideways eight — and Avalon and Atticus were eight years old in the first draft. Then, my perceptive agent, Susan Hawk, broke the news to me that Avalon was not an eight year old (in her voice and manner) but a ten year old. So, I had to rework the Infinity Year completely. Of course, that completely freaked me out but after all this time, I like it better the way it is now.

What thoughts about friendship do you want kids to walk away with when they are done reading?

That friendship is fragile and friendship is strong. Avalon and Atticus are not alike but they care deeply for each other and their differences end up being part of the glue that holds them together. I want kids to know it’s important to choose friends who are loyal, brave, kind, and fun and that it’s also important to be that kind of friend.

3 ?s about You

If you weren’t a writer, what would you want to be and why?

A photographer. A singer. A tightrope walker. But it’s probably a good idea I stick with writer.

What is one book that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?

I recently finished Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley and that stuck with me. I’m a sucker for a magical world and I loved how Cassie created a beautiful and challenging story about a grandson and grandfather. And she’s from Georgia, like me, so that’s cool, too.

What is one item in your fridge that tells us about you?

Can it be from my freezer? There’s a cookie in there from the book launch of The Infinity Year of Avalon James, frozen since October. It’s not a regular cookie, mind. It’s a cookie  with a picture of the book on top and it’s the greatest cookie I’ve ever seen in my entire life!

Happy Book Birthday to…Refugee!!

Refugee is amazing…Refugee is significant…Refugee is thought-provoking…Refugee is unbelievable but surprisingly historical fiction!

Alan Gratz, author and creator of Refugee, was kind enough to step away from his very busy schedule of moving, writing his new book, getting ready for the launch of Refugee, raising his 14 year old daughter and hosting the last local pub trivia game after 7 years to hangout with Storymamas for an hour to discuss Refugee.

According to Alan, in three words, Refugee is:

  1. Action-packed (he decided to make it a hyphenated one-word word)

“I write books I don’t want kids to put down.”

  1. Important

He really didn’t want to use this word to describe his own book, he’s very humble, but he said it’s  because supporting refugee children is important to him, important for kids to know what is happening today and what has happened in the past, important to bring attention to refugees. So important, in fact, that Alan has tried to volunteer his home to host refugee families, but he lives in the ‘boonies’ and it’s better for refugees to live in bigger cities where there are more opportunities and a larger support system. So instead he gives money to causes like Save the Children and UNICEF. He’s such an amazing author and person he’s even giving a portion of the proceeds made from the book sales of Refugee to UNICEF to support refugee children around the world. Is that not enough reason to buy the book and read it, if not for our words of love for this wonderful book?! 😉

  1. Harrowing

This book focuses on some pretty scary stuff. When Alan does school visits he asks thought-provoking questions to help kids imagine life as a refugee child, and the answers to these questions are harrowing:

-Who of the three characters would you be?

-When you leave your house, where do you go?

-If you leave your country, can you get out, will other countries let you in, where would you go?

-What will you put in your backpack?

-What 10 things that fit in your backpack would you take with?

-When you get to the new place you’ll live, are you going to walk into the same grade level classroom or will you have to go back to 4th grade at the age of 14 because you don’t speak the language?

Harrowing!

The Birth of Refugee

Interestingly enough Alan wasn’t planning on writing this book, he was planning to write a story about the youngest kid who joined the navy, but when presented to the sales department he was told this book was already being written. WHAT?! Can you imagine being an author, having an idea, doing preliminary research and being told your idea is already being written?! But nonetheless, he’s a dedicated author and this didn’t deter him. He had to come up with a new idea, a new book. He thought the story of the MS. St Louis, a boat carrying Jewish refugees from Germany during WWII heading to Cuba, was an interesting one but that there wasn’t enough there for an entire book. Then during the late winter of 2015, he went on vacation with his family to the Florida Keys. One morning he went for a walk on the beach and saw sitting there in the sand, a raft. Not the raft you are probably imagining, a life raft full of air, but this raft was made of metal roofing from a shed wrapped around sideways, 2 by 4’s, a motorcycle engine and inside were sitting wet clothes, 2 liter bottles of water and candy they had used on their journey.  Alan and his family were changed from that moment on thinking about how when they were sleeping in their comfy hotel, refugees came to America. While they were sitting by the pool reading books, this family was trying to survive on a makeshift raft. Alan went home, but he couldn’t stop thinking about the scene on the beach.

Then walking his dog one day, back from vacation, a story, a novella as he called it, started to be born based on his knowledge of the MS St. Louis, the visions of the raft in the Keys, most likely from Cuba, and the constant, terrifying news stories about Syria. It left him feeling like he needed to do something, something needed to be written, and so once he ended his travel he outlined, researched and began to write Refugee.

Alan admitted when writing, he works the hardest on creating characters, writing interesting, impactful characters. The plot, no problem, he loves writing the plot, he’s a “plot junky”, but when he needs to create characters he writes more than just an outline, he writes a character sheet for each one. He knows how imperative it is to write characters who the reader can connect with, characters who the reader understands. So with Refugee he knew he needed to create the three characters: Mahmoud, Josef and Isabel on and off the page. He needed to share their background stories, those ‘behind-the-scenes’ stories, answer the question who are they now but really, what made them that way?

He wants readers to wonder and think deeply about his characters. He wants readers to think about:

*Why is Mahmoud invisible? Why does he want to be invisible? Why does he embrace that?

*Why does Josef want to grow up to be an adult all of the sudden?

*What are Isabel’s hopes and dreams? Why is she scared of the water? What happened with her grandmother, how does that haunt her and maybe hold her back from what she needs to do?

But developing these stories took a lot of work, research and thought. Because Alan was writing a book about three different characters, in three different time periods, his research was different. The research about Josef, the Jewish refugee, was done in a more traditional research method of checking out books and taking notes. But the stories about Isabel, the Cuban refugee, and Mahmoud, the Syrian refugee, he explained, were much more difficult since these two stories are more recent. While the characters are fictional, everything that happens to his characters were real accounts taken from current reporting resources like magazine and newspaper articles, so finding those stories took a lot more time and effort.

One quote Alan goes back to often when talking about this book is by Eglantyne Jebb, founder of Save the Children,  “Every war is a war against the child.” Children are the ones paying the price for war, whether it’s war or famine. His book is less about why they had to leave and more about what they do to survive and thus he developed characters who showed bravery even in a time of huge sacrifice and challenge. He also wanted to give each character ownership over their journey because in a time of tragedy, a time of suffering, kids are the ones who suffer the most since they are unable take action, unlike adults. Once you meet his characters and hear their stories, you will be forever changed, forever empathetic, and maybe like us you will wonder if you were in these situations what you would have done, could you have survived all they endure?

The Process of Writing

Alan, like many authors, has a system for writing and it goes something like this; a month of researching, a month of outlining, a month for his first draft and then a long process of drafting and editing, drafting and editing and finally publishing. He usually takes every three months off from traveling to do author visits and such so he can do the actual writing of his books.

The way Alan outlines his books is very interesting. Here’s a sneak peak of his ‘book board’.

Screen Shot 2017-07-25 at 11.01.51 AM

Each notecard is a chapter in the book. We were curious about where the notecards and outlines go once he is done with the writing. He is too much of a sentimentalist to throw them away and what’s really cool is that a lot of universities collect author’s work. He gives his work to the University of Central Florida in honor of one of his beloved professors who taught him to use YA in the classroom, Tedd Hipple. So if you’re curious you can head to the university, read his book and look at his process for Refugee as well as his other books and those of other authors.

Who is Alan Gratz?

A new career…Interestingly enough if Alan wasn’t an author he would be a game show host because he loves game shows. He grew up watching them and with his trivia hosting gig he probably would make an amazing game show host!

An influential book….One book that has stuck with Alan through the years is Tuck Everlasting because it tackled the topic of death as being a natural part of the cycle of life. As a kid he was so afraid to die, he was preoccupied with his own death. He hadn’t read about death in this context before and so in 7th grade this book had a large impact on him. While he doesn’t reread books often, this one has been reread many times and he even read it to his daughter.

The fridge….Something very interesting we learned about Alan was that he has very little in his fridge. If you looked inside every day would be the same. You would find a round glass bowl with pizza dough in it, because every night for dinner, since 8th grade, he eats a cheese pizza. According to his math he has eaten about 30,000 pizzas in his life. Sounds delicious! So if you ever invite Alan to eat with you, make sure there is pizza at the restaurant!

Storymamas were changed by Refugee and we highly recommend picking up a copy today!

To learn more Alan Gratz checkout his website or follow him on twitter & instagram

Perfection in Finding Perfect

We had the Opportunity to meet with Elly Swartz, creator and author of the book Finding Perfect, and the not yet released Smart Cookie, coming out January 2018. All three storymamas agree Finding Perfect is a book that will stick with us forever. Elly chatted about her book, her journey as an author and what you might expect to find in her refrigerator.

THE BOOK


Finding Perfect is a story about Molly who has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It is a story about her difficult and emotional journey trying to navigate through middle school with this disease no one knows she has, including herself.

One of the many reasons we fell in love with Finding Perfect was because it’s a book filled with  emotion through Elly’s words and her development of characters. Elly describes her book using three words: heartfelt, authentic and informative. As non-writers we can only imagine how difficult it must be to write a book with such feeling and emotion, but Elly explained that it wasn’t really an easy or hard book to write, just that it was emotional. Many times she would be writing through tears because the emotions her characters were experiencing were her own. While she doesn’t have OCD, she has friends and friend’s children who do have OCD, and she explained in order to create authentic characters it is important to allow the emotions in your own life to guide your writing. While writing this book she would go back to the places in her own life where her heart was hurting. She went to the difficult or dark places in order to create authenticity.

Elly’s hope after writing this book was for it to become universally relatable, and in our opinion, it completely is. As readers, teachers, and mothers, we were able to connect and feel for Molly throughout the book. This is one of those books that makes you gain a better understanding of not only someone struggling with OCD, but also feel empathy for those struggling with any type of anxiety or stress, which is a part of everyone’s life. Children and adults are constantly looking for how to connect with others and when there is a disconnect it can be very scary. Elly explained that there are moments when we all think, ‘What’s going on with me? I’m so scared to find out, scared to actually know and scared to tell anyone there is something going on.’ We all have to overcome hard and difficult things that can feel scary and Elly wants to make sure kids know they aren’t alone in that journey. She wants kids to know nobody’s perfect and no one’s life is untainted by difficult moments.

THE AUTHOR

When Elly writes she usually has a morning routine that goes something like this…

  1. Walk the dog
  2. Workout
  3. Shower
  4. Get dressed
  5. “Put her brain on”

But when she’s really in it, there are times she doesn’t get out of her pajamas, has her coffee, and the next thing she knows she has missed lunch because she’s in the zone.

However, just like other writers, Elly can sometimes get stuck. When she does, her trick is to go somewhere she usually doesn’t associate with her writing, like a coffee shop or to head to the doctor’s office an hour early. This way she says no one sees her and no one sees what she’s doing and there is no pressure.

After talking with Elly for over an hour we learned she is a very dedicated and persistent person, in all the best ways possible. Fifteen years ago her writing journey began, she had read Mick Harte was Here by Barbara Park with her then 4th grade son, and while reading, she felt so many emotions; she was so moved that she decided she wanted to be a storyteller. She started writing, writing, writing. Young writers would be very surprised to know that her journey to getting Finding Perfect published was a long and hard one. Finding Perfect wasn’t her first book, it was actually the 5th book she wrote and it took 8 years to write. Talk about persistence! Even after getting the book sold she spent four years working with a pediatric specialist to make sure her story was authentic and relatable. She wanted to get it right and it was imperative to do so out of respect for the OCD community.

Interestingly though Elly has had many other jobs as well as being a writer. She’s a lawyer and for twenty years she wrote and edited law books with her father-in-law and her husband. Six years ago she started a business to help families navigate the college entrance process. She has a love for helping kids in such a pivotal time in their lives. But she’s been writing all along.

ADVICE

One would think with the very long, and what sounds like a difficult, journey to publish her first book, she would give up, but no. Like we said, she’s extremely persistent. She has a very strong support system and that helped when she wasn’t getting published. Even with the rejection she said, “I love writing more than I hate rejection.” She would give herself 48 hours to be mad or sad but every time she’d end up back in her chair writing. Elly compares writing to the switchback trails in hiking saying, “you see a lot of gems along the way that you wouldn’t have seen if you went straight down”. During the fifteen year journey of writing this book she was fortunate enough to be a part of a writing community where she learned a lot about herself and met some of her closest friends who helped her writing along the way.

When we speak to our students during their own writing, some advice Elly gives is to use your senses in your writing because it helps create authenticity. How does something taste, feel, smell, etc. But they don’t have to be huge moments, they can be “the little slivers in life.” Use what you have; the emotions you’ve experienced to write. Even as simple as the best pizza ever!

THE FRIDGE

Inside of Elly’s fridge you can find:

  • Vanilla Coffee-mate because she always starts her day with a humongous cup of coffee
  • In the summer a bottle of white wine because that is how she ends her day
  • Lots of green vegetables, salads
  • Something yummy that she will cook that night because she likes to cook
  • Twizzlers (not in the fridge but around the house all over) because she love them and so does Molly, and she can eat them because of her allergies.

Storymamas highly recommends Finding Perfect and we hope you will pick up a copy because it is truly amazing. It will make you feel so many emotions while reading. It will make you want to hug Molly, the main character. It will make you want to read her next book too Smart Cookie.

Check out Elly’s website http://ellyswartz.com/ to learn even more about her.