Meet Margaret Dilloway!

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3 ?s about Momotaro Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters

What three words would you use to describe your book?

Imagination, friendship, adventure

What made you decide to change gears and write middle grade books?

I guess it wasn’t so much as I decided to write middle grade books as it was that I had a specific idea, and the best way to execute that idea was through writing a middle grade book. It was a pretty big learning curve for me, with many drafts over several years, but a lot of fun! I worked on it in between other projects.

How did you get the ideas for Momotaro?  I know you visited Japan for your research, but how did you arrive at the Japanese fantasy genre?

I’m half Japanese and I had a Japanese board book about Momotaro that my mom would read (translate) to me. I thought the story could be compelling for Western audiences and I wanted to find a way to present it to them.

Xander’s biracial because I am, and I didn’t read about any biracial characters while I was growing up.  I also thought it’d be a way for a Western audience to relate to the Japanese cultural stuff– Xander’s a bit of an outsider and raised in the West, as well. I was also raised in San Diego, with only my mother as the link to the entire Japanese culture.

Additionally, I wanted to explore some ideas about being mixed race, and also what that would mean for a mythological hero that was always the same race. Will his powers be weaker? Stronger? Different? How does his mother’s heritage affect him?  It parallels ideas and fears people have in the real world about races and cultures intermingling. And, I wanted to leave open the possibility that Xander’s mother’s myths would cross-pollinate with the Japanese myths.

 

3 ?s about You

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

A detective, because I observe things and make connections other people commonly do not, and I am extremely nosy!

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

That is like the #1 Impossible Question for writers! I will say THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN by Sherman Alexie because after I read it, I had a breakthrough about Momotaro.

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

The big ol’ jar of coffee.

 

Follow Margaret Dilloway on Twitter @mdilloway or on Instagram @margaretdilloway.

You can learn more about her and her other books by visiting www.margaretdilloway.com

 

Week in Review…

This was a busy week!  We wrapped up our first series of giveaways and shared a lot of great titles.  Click on the links below to learn more about the authors and illustrators from this week.

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7 Ate 9 by Tara Lazar

Illustrated by Ross MacDonald

 

 

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Super Narwhal and the Jelly Jolt by Ben Clanton

Chalk by Bill Thomson

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

 

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You Can’t Take a Ballon Into the Metropolitan Museum by Jacqueline Preiss Weitzman

Illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser

 

 

 

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When Life Gives you OJ by Erica S. Perl

Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner

Olga and the Smelly Thing From Nowhere by Elise Gravel

 

 

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The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig

Illustrated by Patrice Barton

 

 

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Red Car, Red Bus by Susan Steggall

 

 

 

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The Gingerbread Man series by Laura Murray

Illustrated by Mike Lowery

 

 

 

Giant Squids in the Library

Last spring I was able to attend the School Library Journal’s Day of Dialogue.  img_5133The book nerd inside of me jumped for joy when I was approved to go to the conference with my librarian friend.  It was a day spent listening to authors, filling my bags with their latest ARCs, and having a chance to meet and chat with some of them.  Many of these books have found their way to my classroom library bookshelves, including the book Giant Squid.  Written by Candace Fleming, or better known as “The Muncha! Muncha! lady in our house, Giant Squid is a wonderful narrative non-fiction text.  My students love reading about “gross” things, and this book presents the facts in an engaging, accessible picture book with dark, realistic pictures by Eric Rohmann, which only add to the mysterious feel of the giant squid.  Books like this should be on the shelves of classroom libraries in every school.

And lucky for me, I work in an amazing school district that values the importance of rich literature in the classroom. While finishing up the tail end of my maternity leave, I noticed a small blurb at the end of an email about book purchases, make a list, get a P.O., etc., etc., etc.  I found myself rereading the email…money for books?  Sign me up!  As it turns out, each teacher was given a generous amount of money that we can spend as we choose to purchase books for our classroom libraries.  I love shopping for books and have been scouring websites over the past few weeks and have found some amazing titles to add to my already plentiful library.

Building up and maintaining a classroom library is a labor of love, and can easily put you in some serious debt. However, over the course of my fourteen years of teaching, I’ve found that having a well-stocked, relevant library makes a world of difference.  In some areas that I taught, the books taken home from my library were the only books in that child’s household.  I had one student that would bring home picture books so his younger, non-school aged sibling could have books to read. I also spend a lot of my free time reading the books that I have in my collection so I can talk the books up to students, make appropriate recommendations, and have meaningful conversations about books. I recently turned a student onto a series that was screaming his name and by doing so, I helped a reluctant reader become a child that couldn’t put his book down.

I’m proud of my library. Just this year, another staff member walked into my room and commented on what an impressive classroom library I have. Another teacher used to send one of her students over to borrow a book. If I expect my students to become voracious readers, then I have to provide them with the means to get there. As my newest selections arrive in the mail, I plan on reading as many as I can so I can recommend them to my students with confidence.  And so I can enjoy them, too.

 

Need help building your library up without spending your entire paycheck?  Here’s some frugal tips.

1.  Your local library.  Most public libraries have a section where donated books are for sale, and in most cases, you can buy them used for a quarter. We typically go to the library every week, and it’s become our routine to look for books for “mommy’s classroom”. Just today I found a Minecraft book. A quarter well spent.

2.  Annual public library book sales. My library has a huge fundraiser every year where they have a book sale for a couple of days. Same great 25 cent price, just a much bigger selection.  I’ve checked out ones in neighboring towns, as well, and found one that would probably rival any other sale. My very pregnant self waddled out of there this past fall with as much as I could carry. I’ll have a better plan of attack this coming year.

3.  Garage sales.  I scour garage sales over the summer. Most books are inexpensive and they are in great shape because, chances are, their kid read them only once. I also look on a lot of the Facebook virtual yard sale sites. Almost every town has them. I look at what people have posted, and I also specifically ask for books that I’m looking for. Last year I scored about ten “Who Was…” books for less than a dollar per book.

4.  Scholastic warehouse sales. Twice a year, typically around the winter holidays and as school is getting out in June, Scholastic will have its warehouse sale.  All books are on sale for 50% off, minus a handful of exceptions. If that’s not enough, there are coupons, and perks if you sign up to volunteer. A $10 gift certificate for each hour you volunteer can really help.

Building up a classroom library doesn’t have to happen overnight and it doesn’t have to cost you a fortune.  If you have any other tips on how your have filled your shelves with books, I’d love to hear!

Little Babymouse and the Christmas Cupcakes

Right before the holidays, I was fortunate enough to win a book giveaway from @readbrightly on Instagram. Christmas came early when the box arrived with seven holiday themed books, ranging from board books to chapter books. There was one that squeaked past the others as a favorite by the young people in my life, and I strongly recommend adding it to your holiday book list for next year.

“Little Baby Mouse and the Christmas Cupcakes” by Jennifer and Matt Holm, was an instant hit. After I read it to my daughter for the first time, she put it back in the pile of books we were reading so that we could read it again. The pictures are bright and colorful, and the graphic novel style helps to tell the story. I often find graphic novels difficult to follow, but my daughter and her two elementary-aged cousins loved it. Clearly the Holms know their target audience. Baby Mouse is an independent character that marches to the beat of her own drum, which is demonstrated by her actions throughout the story. The book celebrates her uniqueness and the story is easily relatable by children. It was a well-loved story that had the kids laughing and smiling.

I plan on adding this book to our collection of holiday books. And speaking of such, as the holidays came to a close, so did our book advent calendar. While my daughter is only three (almost four), I know I have done a good job so far when she got just as excited to open her wrapped book each night as she was her chocolate. This is the second year I’ve done the book advent, and will continue to do it for years to come. I’d love to think of another time or theme to do this at a different point in the year, and would welcome any suggestions!

A Child of Books

With a new baby comes a lot of quiet time at all hours of the night. It’s a time for me to think, a time to snuggle, a time to troll the internet, and a time for me to binge watch Netflix on my iPad. Sorry books, but I’ve fallen asleep on more than one occasion. When I’m not glued to watching the entire series of Gilmore girls, I’ll often peruse Facebook and Twitter, catching up on the latest scoop. The other night I saw a tweet by Candlewick Press, asking, “What made you a child of books?”. Where do I begin?

The question itself elicits so many thoughts in my head. I love the idea that my own children will be surround by and raised on books. I love it so much, I have a poster promoting Oliver Jeffers latest book, (signed by him and Sam Winston, which makes it even cooler) in my son’s room. My son doesn’t know it yet, but he too will be a child of books. My three year old is surrounded by stories, whether from books or simply ones from our imaginations. “Tell me a story”, she often says. And we abide. When she isn’t behaving, we threaten to take away a book before bed. We’ve only had to follow through once, and I’ve never seen her little heart so broken. When we go to a restaurant or a doctors appointment, there is always a book in the toy bag. My favorite is when she brings the Frozen chapter book that she took from my classroom over the summer, solely because Anna and Elsa were on the cover. She “reads” the book cover to cover, using intonation and voices for the characters, retelling the plot of the movie. It makes her teacher mama proud. We have books scattered around our house; they are in every room. My children are literally children of books.

Then I started thinking about myself as a reader. I don’t remember actually learning to read, it was just a natural hobby in our house. Growing up, my dad and my sister were wonderful role models of what voracious readers look like. Still to this day, there hasn’t been a single Christmas where books weren’t wrapped beneath the tree.

When I think back to what made me a child of books, it wasn’t just having good role models, or a mother that would take me to the library whenever she could, but it was the actual books themselves. I don’t remember how old I was, but one year for my birthday my aunt and uncle had bought me my first chapter book series, the original “The Kids of the Polk Street School.” I had crossed over from picture books and I was in the big league with my new chapter book series. They started my love affair with books, and to this day, they are proudly displayed on my bookshelf at home. There was something about these books that fulfilled my infatuation. They were a series, they were just right, they had actual plots and continuation, and they were sparkly and new. I was hooked. Other books have come and gone, other series became the “it” books of the time, and other favorites have emerged. But I’ll never forget those kids of The Polk Street School. They’re forever in my heart.

Recommended: “Book Scavenger” by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

I have to say, I genuinely enjoyed reading “Book Scavenger”. Typically with kid lit, I have my students’ reading interests in the back of my minbook-scavengerd, and I often read the story through the eyes of a third grader. Often I find both the characters and plot overly predictable. This was not the case in this debut novel by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman. Instead, the characters were well developed and the plot was believable.

This novel follows the main character, Emily, as she recently moves to San Francisco and has to navigate not only a new town, but a new school and new peers, as well. She befriends James, the boy in the apartment upstairs, with a love of puzzles instantly bonding them. After discovering a book  that was left in the BART station, they soon learn that the book is in fact a puzzle left behind by the creator of the infamous Book Scavenger, Garrison Griswold. It’s then that their adventures begin. The strong continues as Emily and James try to piece together the clues, while also navigating the ups and downs of their personal lives.

“Book Scavenger” was a well-written adventure that kept me wanting to stay up late and read. I strongly recommend this book for intermediate classrooms, as it would appeal to a variety of readers. Just make sure you read it and enjoy it for yourself first!

 

A Return to the Land of Reading…

It had been a little while since I’d read kid lit.  It had actually be a long while since I had read much of anything.  Over the summer I was seven months pregnant, taking two classes for graduate credit, all while entertaining my third year old at the pool and around town. At the end of the day, I didn’t have energy for anything except brushing my teeth and going to bed, let alone reading a book.  I went for long stretches of the summer not having a book to read for pleasure.  My nightstand, which usually has stacks and stacks of books, was bare. Even my husband noticed and sounded the alarm. I didn’t have my nose stuck in a book. 

When school finally started up again in the fall and the draining heat of the summer began to subside, I scoured the shelves of my library and different websites, finding books that motivated me to rejoin the land of readers. All my reads happened to fall into the adult literature category, and even then, my reading was sparse.  That all changed early one Saturday morning when Kim and I were on FaceTime. Clad in our pjs, I introduced her to my newest addition, she showed me some new toys, and then we got on the subject of books. Surprise, surprise. “You loved the Westing Game, didn’t you?” That led us into our discussion on new books and her recommendation of Book Scavenger.  And now, thanks to Kim, I’m out of my rut and back on track. Happy reading, everyone!

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My Happy Place

Bookstores are my happy place. Always have been, always will be. I fantasize about opening my own little bookstore when I retire from teaching, hoping that by then, books will not be obsolete. That in itself is a whole other post. Have you ever seen the movie You’ve Got Mail ? It’s cheesy, yes, but the local bookstore? Oh, how I long to have a shop around the corner. My town is lacking in a bookstore, but I don’t think I can quite convince my husband that I should be the solution.

Bookstores have a smell. You all know that new book smell. The smell is still there when the Amazon box arrives with books for my classroom, but it’s not same. However, the joy of getting new crisps books will never go away. I recently had a baby and have been given many generous, generous gifts. My sister, who shares the same passion for reading and books, gave me an amazing “welcome to the world, baby” present. An Amazon box arrived with three books I’ve been wanting to read. I guess after 36 years, she knows me pretty well.

Hidden Gems

I cannot remember the last time I bought myself a new book, or even stood perusing the shelves at the library, looking for my next treasure. My trips to the library are now spent primarily in the children’s section, where we pick a handful of books, convincing my three year old that no, we are not getting a Barbie movie for movie night, and lastly running past the new fiction section where I grab three or four books that look interesting based on the blur of the cover as I chase after a toddler with a hungry baby. I’ll have time to read the flaps at home and see if any of them sound interesting. It’s like playing the book lottery, so far with minimal success. But despite my failed attempts, this works wonders in the children’s department, so I’m not ready to give up on my strategy just yet.

On most visits, I push the stroller into the mural-covered room with a general idea of what to get based on which author has a new book out, which title I read about, a book that was previewed at school, etc. But my daughter wants nothing to do with my input, no surprise there. Instead she randomly pulls books from the shelf, not even bothering to give the cover a look, and throws them in the bottom of our stroller. These are the books we are taking home no matter how much I pitch an alternative. And you know what? We have found some real gems this way. Don’t get me wrong, it has also led us to some utter fails, but it has also provided a variety that perhaps even my guidance wouldn’t have given her. This week alone I’ve become an expert on hayrides, autumn, and bats. And If I’ve learned a thing or two, you can imagine that the sponge that exists between her ears has, as well.

So the next time you are looking for a book, have a little faith, and approach it like a three year old. You might just be surprised with what you find.

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