Being Yourself -Upside Down…

Happy Almost Book Birthday Beatrice Zinker!  We are so excited that tomorrow you are being showcased into the world. We had the pleasure of meeting Beatrice prior to release from an ARC. Shelley Johannes, author and illustrator has done a great job capturing what it’s like to be an unique individual. Beatrice has heart, is a good friend, but is often misunderstood because, well, she thinks upside down. This early middle grade novel is perfect for a read aloud promoting individuality in all elementary grades. We can see Beatrice having a line of independent readers waiting to read her book, (while sitting upside down). We thank Shelley for spending time thinking about our interview questions. We learned so much about her and the book from the answers. We hope you enjoy them as much as we did!

3 Questions about Beatrice Zinker Upside Down Thinker

What three words would you use to describe your book?

Beatrice is always a bright spot for me. She makes me laugh, reminds me to have fun, and motivates me to look for the good in everything. I hope she does the same for readers—so I’m going to say:  funny, fun, and sunny-side-up.

We loved reading about this free-thinking, be-your-own-person-character; who is she modeled after?

Thank you! When Beatrice first showed up in my brain—dressed in a ninja suit, hanging from the ceiling—she was a manifestation of my own guilty conscience. She amused me endlessly, and eventually became her own person, with her own story.

If you were to pick a character from another book to be Beatrice’s friend, who would you say?

There are so many possible answers! Carter Higgins recently joked about writing some Beatrice/Dory fan fiction. Now I really want to arrange a friendship! I think Beatrice and Dory Fantasmagory would get into lots of fabulous, unintended trouble together, and have a ridiculous amount of fun.

3 Questions about You

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

My first career was architecture— but at this point, if I weren’t a writer, I’d want to be a school librarian. Watching kids get excited about books, and helping them find one they love, is a magical experience.

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

The “one book” condition is almost impossible! I’m going to cheat and fit in two. As a child, Anne of Green Gables was that book. As an adult, Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen wrapped itself around my heart.  Both Anne and Annabelle represent my favorite type of hero—the girl who refuses to become jaded. Deliberate optimism is a form of bravery I cherish.

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

There are several pizza boxes and lots of Mountain Dew. Read into that at will.  =)

To learn more about Shelley Johannes please visit her website or feel free to follow her on Twitter and/or Instagram.

Homerun Derby

There is a lot going on in our communities today;  A lot of remembering, a lot of sorrow, a lot of looking forward, a lot of unknown, and a lot of rebuilding.  It’s during our hardships that we tend to lean on people we love, and embrace our families.  Whether thinking about our country sixteen years ago, or those displaced by the recent hurricanes, it’s reassuring to know that we have friends and family to help us through.  

This holds true in the wonderfully written book by Carter Higgins, A Rambler Steals Home.  Derby Clark finds herself unsettled in the place that is the closest she gets to a permanent home.  It’s through friendship and family that she’s able to help those she cares about most while learning lessons about herself, as well.  

Here’s what Carter had to say when we asked her three questions about the book, three questions about her.

3 Questions about A Rambler Steals Home

What three words would you use to describe your book?

Sweet, simple, heartfelt

What traits about Derby are most similar to you? Which traits are not like you at all?

Derby and I both have general cheery outlooks and look for the best in people. We’re both empathetic, thoughtful, and a little stubborn. She’s much more comfortable with constant change than I am, and she’s so even keel and adaptable. I love those things about her, and wish I had some of them!

Rambler had a lot of characters with backstories involving sorrow.  Did you base any of the events in their lives on experiences you’ve had?  

It’s true! Though I hope the sorrow reads as connective tissue of our human experience–that contentment feels more robust when you’ve tasted a little sadness. I think a lot of experiencing life involves sorrow. Kids and grownups feel this with an equal amount of fragility and the fortitude it requires. Nothing is directly related to any of my own experiences, and yet I have a lot in common with these characters. Wouldn’t we all?

3 Questions about You

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

I’d love to drive a bookmobile. That also maybe serves coffee? That sounds amazing.

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

I love the sign on Rosie’s Door by Maurice Sendak. It holds so many kid truths, like dress up wholly turns you into somebody else, days with nothing to do are the best days, and that home is a  wonderful place to curl up at night. Recently, I purchased a new copy because I hadn’t had one for so long, and I was so stunned at how much had truly gotten stuck into me. I love that about books.

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

I have more than one variety of cold brew coffee stacked up inside the door. You never know!

 

Thank you Carter for taking the time to chat with us! We are so excited for your new picture book, This is Not A Valentine!

If you’d like to learn more about Carter please visit her website or follow her on Twitter and/or Instagram.

Where Oliver Fits – A New Cale Atkinson Picture Book

The Storymamas fell in love with Cale’s work even before we actually read any of his books! How you ask? Cale released a book trailer prior to the release of his book To The Sea. After watching, we were eager to get our hands on the book and it did not disappoint. He has since released two more books that he both wrote and illustrated, Explorers of the Wild and Maxwell the Barber.

Where Oliver Fits is his new picture book released today. Cale was kind enough to answer our 3 questions about the book and 3 questions about himself. He also provided us with pictures to give you an inside look into his process.

Style test for Oliver

3 Questions about Where Oliver Fits

Who did you dedicate the book to and why?

In many ways I wrote Where Oliver Fits for anyone out there who at some point, (future, present or past) felt they didn’t really fit in. I think we all relate to that feeling at some point or another in our lives, myself included, so decided to dedicate it to ‘Anyone trying to find where they fit’. Hopefully those reading can see they’re not the only ones going through the trials and tribulations of trying to fit in, we all do, including Oliver!

What does your workspace look like? 

Funny enough, you can actually see more workspace in the Where Oliver Fits book trailer!

Link to trailer: https://vimeo.com/226057089

I have to admit my workspace doesn’t usually look quite as tidy as in the trailer. Generally there are papers, pencils, and pens strewn around! Also a good chance you’ll find a mug of coffee or tea.I usually have various things that inspire me or fun mementos on the magnet boards above my desk as well as different toys and things on my shelves.

My FAVORITE things at my workspace would probably have to be the statues a great friend of mine made for me as a surprise of each of my book characters (including Tim from To the Sea, The Explorer from Explorers of the Wild, and Oliver from Where Oliver Fits)!

What was your process for writing Where Oliver Fits?

The process writing this book all began with the initial idea: “We are all puzzle pieces, running around, trying to find our fit”.

A lot of the book’s main set up and progression came to me pretty easy after the idea. Like writing any book, it did have it’s many shifts, pivots and rewrites along the way!

Initially the book was written with only narration and the main puzzle piece character didn’t speak or even have a name! Later on it became clear that the story worked much better by giving the main character a larger role and personality in the story.

 

I also hummed and hawed for quite a long time on what the puzzles should be that Oliver dreams of being part of. For a long time there was going to be a big bearded pirate, a robot riding a unicorn and a cat wearing a suit. Later on there was also dinosaur scene and underwater scene. I’m happy with my final choices, but it definitely took some thinking and playing around to get there!

**Above are photos Cale provided us to see his process. They are both concept and style tests.

3 Questions about You

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

Whewf, that’s a tough one! (I’m going to assume you also mean if I wasn’t an artist too).

It’s hard for me to not jump to another creative ship, such as filmmaking or music. I could see working with animals. Let’s say either working to help rescue/protect animals, or opening my own pug puppy cafe, where they all wear little top hats and bowties.

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

I really thought ‘The Journey’ by Francesca Sanna was a recent beautifully done picture book.  The story and artwork did an amazing job of showcasing the refugee experience. It has stuck with me for it’s powerful story, as well as inspirational artwork!

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

Hmmm what’s in there…?

In the summer heat gotta have some watermelon in there!

Probably a craft beverage of some variety and definitely lots of the local fruits and veg that grow around where we live. Delicious cherries and peaches abound!

 

Thank you Cale for taking the time to answer our questions and send us these amazing behind the scene photos! Where Oliver Fits comes out today, so be sure to check it out.

To learn more about Cale, you can visit him on his website or follow him on Twitter and/or Instragram

Why’d the Chicken Cross the Road?…

Exit Strategy by Lauren Allbright

I really wanted to start this blog with a joke, since this book is about a boy, Ross, who researches different ways to be funny after accidentally making a humorous exit from a school before he and his mom moved to another place. But even after reading the book, I realized I am not funny and any attempts might make you stop reading this post now. So I will tell about how I had an opportunity to meet the lovely author of the book, Exit Strategy at Second Star to the Right Books a few weeks ago. Lauren Allbright came into the Rumpus Room (back garage of the store where they hold events) with her three adorable and enthusiastic children, all wearing t-shirts with the book cover on them and the #justshowupbooktour. Lauren was so sweet talking to all the other girls who attended and then came over to me to introduce herself. She told me the whole family was traveling in an RV during the summer for her book tour, so cool! Once I arrived it started to rain, something that rarely happens in Denver, but when it does, you are usually guaranteed sun in a few hours. Go figure it started to rain harder as more people showed up. Once the wet fans arrived Lauren talked to the crowd about her book and read an excerpt.

 

While Lauren signed books I asked her a few interview questions, I later emailed her some of them and others.

Please read what she had to say when asked, 3 questions about the book and 3 questions about her…

3 Questions about Exit Strategy

What three words would you use to describe your book?

Funny, sincere, and redeeming.

We love how there is a layer of the book that can teach/reinforce graphs and charts!  When making the book, what was the process for picking which graph/chart would fit appropriately?

After I researched how to be funny and what people perceived to be funny, I put it all in a flow chart. When I first started my research, I was doing it for me son and I wanted to give him a graphic with the info. Then I thought, “This is helpful to me!” which led to thinking about all the time I could have used a handy-dandy chart to tell me to tell the joke or keep it to myself. (I STILL need the chart sometimes!) Somewhere in there, the idea for EXIT STRATEGY got planted. Since I knew I wanted to use the flowchart at the end of the book, it made sense for there to be graphics throughout. I browsed science fair projects (thank you, Pinterest!)  to see which ones I liked and which ones supported the story. Making the charts and graphs were my favorite part of writing this book! They also helped me really understand the main character and how he sees the world.

What research did you do to learn more about how to be funny?

This was overwhelming at first! “Funny” is such an abstract concept (and changes based on the situation and setting). I started out reading websites and interviews by comedians and took a bunch of notes. After that I watched TV shows with laugh tracks and paid a lot of attention to when the laugh tracks were played–that is where the producers WANT you to laugh. When I heard them, I’d ask, “Was that funny to me?” and “Why did I think that was funny or not funny.” I also watched people as they watched TV or chatted with others and noted what made them literally laugh out loud. And, of course, I have my own field research–years of trying to be funny (and often failing!).

3 Questions about You

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

I’d love to be a dancer for a famous singer. I am not that talented, but I LOVE to dance and move and work hard at a physical goal.

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

I just finished THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas. It is very timely, of course, but Angie is so good at creating a story and showing (rather than telling) how people can react and how the same situation can be viewed very differently. THE HATE U GIVE is so textured and layered, there is so much to absorb and think about.

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

*Goes to put a random/non-food item in the fridge to make this easy to answer*

Just kidding.

A loaf of Udi’s gluten-free bread. My middle son and I have Celiac Disease, so we buy Udi’s in bulk. We always have multiple loaves in the deep freeze and one in the fridge. I wasn’t diagnosed until I was an adult (my son actually got diagnosed first and that’s how we knew how to look at Celiac for me). I was so sick as a kid. And tired. Eating gluten free doesn’t feel like a burden because I’m just so happy to be healthy now! (Though sometimes people can make me feel like I’m a burden for needing to eat sans gluten!)

But that ends on a bummer note, so how about a mom joke from the book?

Question: What do you call of firefly that backs into a fan?

Answer: De-lighted!

 

Frazzled: Definitely Not a Disaster

It happens every time I walk by the “new books” section of the library…I grab every book that catches my eye, even though I have about thirty books at home waiting to be read.  I just can’t help myself!  That is exactly what happened when I walked past Frazzled for the first time.  The cover just sucked me in, and when I flipped through the pages, I knew that I both needed to read it, and pick up a copy at the bookstore for my classroom.  Trust me, you’ll feel the same.  I thought this book was spot-on to what middle grade readers would like and can relate to, with the combination of words and illustrations making it fun and enjoyable to read.  While at the ALA conference, I was able to get an advance copy of the next book in the Frazzled series, coming out September 26th.  It didn’t disappoint!  Enjoy our interview with the talented author and illustrator of Frazzled: Everyday Disasters and Impending Doom, and Frazzled: Ordinary Mishaps and Inevitable Catastrophes, Booki Vivat!  

 

3 Questions about Frazzled

What three words would you use to describe your books?

Funny – Abbie is a very expressive, dramatic character. That combined with all the complications of middle school life makes for some pretty hilarious moments. Plus, it’s full of lots of entertaining doodles that help get readers into Abbie’s head!

Honest – Writing Frazzled was a very personal experience for me. I wanted to capture the middle school experience as honestly as I could. Because of this, many aspects of Abbie’s story are rooted in my own experiences at that age. Even though Abbie is a fictional character, so much of her personality and feelings are influenced by who I was when I was younger and the memories I have from middle school!

Empowering – Abbie goes into middle school feeling overwhelmed and underprepared. At first, she really just wants to survive, but what she learns is that even in her angst and uncertainty, she has power and a voice and the ability to change the world around her. I hope readers will read this book and feel empowered in whatever they’re dealing with in their own lives!

 

When writing a hybrid book like this, what is the process to figuring out what the pages will look like?

My process for each page is a little different—and that’s actually what makes it so exciting and fun to write! When I first started the Frazzled series, I’d never written an illustrated novel like this before, so I spent a lot of time trying to figure out my writing process. It wasn’t until I began writing and drawing simultaneously that the whole process began to flow naturally. Sometimes I’d write a scene and figure out what I wanted to draw later, other times I had an image in my head and would write around that. Frazzled is heavily illustrated, but it’s much less structured than a comic or graphic novel. The layout and structure varies from page to page, so my creative process is constantly adapting and evolving as I tell the story.

Being in the publishing world, you’ve been around books quite a lot! What inspired you to take your doodles and turn them into something more?  

The idea for Frazzled actually came from a pretty dramatic drawing of me that said “I live my life in a constant state of impending doom.” It made me think about when I first started feeling that way, and I realized it all went back to middle school.

I knew that there were a lot of stories about the middle school experience, but growing up, I never really saw many characters who looked like me. I think, to some extent, that lack of representation and visibility was always at the back of my mind, so when it came to telling this story, it felt like Abbie Wu was the right character to help me do it. Through Abbie, I was inspired to not just explore those frazzled middle school feelings, but to write my younger self into a literary landscape where I hadn’t really existed before.

 

3 Questions about You

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

Is it cheating to say that I would still want to do something with books and kids? I can’t imagine doing anything else! I’d actually love to be a children’s librarian. A good librarian can make such a huge difference for young readers. Growing up, I was really lucky to know some amazing librarians. They hosted book clubs, organized fun reading events, and always had a great new recommendation waiting for me when I finished a book. Plus, it would be really fun talking to kids and getting them excited about books!

 

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

The most recent book I’ve read that I can’t stop thinking about is Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder. It perfectly captures everything I felt (and sometimes still feel) about growing up and not knowing what that means and having to do it anyway. It’s one of those books that asks all the right questions, but doesn’t necessarily prescribe answers. It lets readers figure those out for themselves, and I love that. It’s been a while, but I’m still thinking about how I felt when I read Orphan Island. Honestly, I want everyone to read it so we can talk about it!

Laurel Snyder talks a little bit about her book on The Nerdy Book Club blog here: https://nerdybookclub.wordpress.com/2017/05/24/what-i-was-thinking-about-by-laurel-snyder/.

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

I always have some ice cream in my fridge… even though I live next door to an ice cream shop. (Really, I do!) I don’t know what that says about me, though. Maybe that means I like to be prepared. Or maybe it just tells you that I really like ice cream.

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!

3D Printed Miracle

The storymamas had the opportunity to “meet” Deborah Lee Rose and Jane Veltkamp, the authors of the new non-fiction book Beauty and the Beak: How Science, Technology, and a 3D Printed Beak Rescued a Bald Eagle.  They collaborated to tell the story of Beauty, a bald eagle that lost part of her beak to a gunshot wound.  Her injuries healed, but her beak did not.  When Janie, a raptor biologist, met Beauty, she felt compelled to help.  Her compassion for the eagle was relentless, and she worked with others to help create a prosthetic beak for Beauty using a 3D printer.  Janie worked with Deborah, an accomplished science writer, to share Beauty’s story with the world through an engaging narrative format and vivid photographs.

Beauty and the Beak would be a wonderful narrative nonfiction text as a read aloud and an addition to your classroom library.  It provides a concrete example of design thinking and perseverance.  By thinking through different ideas, Janie and her team were able to come up with a solution that allowed Beauty to regain the use of a beak.

The end of the book is full of additional resources and an educator’s guide can be found several places; on Deborah’s website, www.deborahleerose.com, Janie’s website at www.birdsofpreynorthwest.org and from the Cornell Lab Publishing Group’s Educators page https://cornelllabpublishinggroup.com/educators-2/?v=7516fd43adaa
We can’t wait for the world to hear Beauty’s story!

3 Questions about Beauty and the Beak

What three words would you use to describe this book?

Deborah: uplifting, inspiring, eye-opening

Janie: labor of love

How did you hear about Beauty/get hooked up together to create this story?

Deborah: I had read about Beauty in several articles on animal prosthetics—the story of her pioneering prosthetic beak was reported worldwide. I wanted to know much more about Beauty herself, about Janie’s work to help her, and about bald eagles, so I called Janie at Birds of Prey Northwest, the raptor center she founded and directs in Idaho. From that first conversation grew a fantastic, ongoing collaboration to coauthor Beauty and the Beak. I ended up learning so much, thanks to Janie’s encyclopedic knowledge about bald eagles and her long experience in speaking about Beauty and other raptors to public audiences.

Janie: I had wanted to work with a science writer on Beauty’s story. When Deborah called me, and I learned that she was both a national science writer and award winning children’s author, I knew together we could capture Beauty’s powerful story in a children’s book. I already had lots of photos from Beauty’s beak surgery, by amazing photographer Glen Hush; once we found the incredible bald eagle photos available from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service National Digital Library, we knew we could tell kids about Beauty beginning with her life in the wild, all the way up to what her life is like today at Birds of Prey Northwest.

What was the process you used to create the story together?

Deborah: There were so many wonderful steps to the process—including my meeting Beauty face to face in Idaho!—which happened over the course of the last three years. We spent countless hours by phone and email finding out the best way to tell Beauty’s story through both text and photos. Janie and I wanted children (and adults) to understand how critical Beauty’s beak was even from the time she was born, and how disastrous losing her beak really was.

Janie: We reached out to many people for insight and help including other raptor biologists, wildlife experts, engineers, 3D printing specialists, STEM educators, and wildlife photographers. The Idaho STEM Action Center helped us with 3D printing, to make life-size replicas of Beauty’s prosthetic beak that we can share with public audiences. And even beyond Beauty’s story, we wanted to tell about the natural history of bald eagle populations in the United States—how bald eagles nearly went extinct on the U.S. mainland, how scientists worked to reintroduce bald eagles to areas where they had nearly disappeared, and what risks bald eagles still face today. We were very lucky, thanks to our publisher, to have Cornell Lab of Ornithology add special content to the book about bald eagle conservation.

 

3 Questions About You

If you weren’t able to do your current job, what would you want to be and why?

Deborah: I have been a science writer for a long time, and would always want to  work in some way to communicate science to public audiences.

Janie: My dream is to open a raptor education center that millions of people could visit from all over the country and the world.

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

Janie: A book that has stayed with me since I was growing up is Aesop’s Fables. I especially love the story about the wisdom of the crow, because it’s about problem solving and the intelligence of birds. Science continues to prove how intelligent birds are across their many species. After all the years I have worked with raptors, I continue to be amazed by their intelligence.

Deborah: The book that affected my whole career was Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. I adored it as a child, because I could fully imagine myself in the story even though it was as far from my city life as you could imagine. I read it again as an adult, and discovered an even deeper reason that I love it–because the character of Charlotte is truly a writer, who understands the power of words to teach, entertain, inspire and even save a life.

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

Janie: Tiny bits of salmon—to feed orphaned baby ospreys. There is always something in my frig that will be used to feed the raptors who are in my care.

Deb: Whole wheat pastry flour—I love to bake my own muffins. It took me a while to perfect my favorite recipe, and that process was a lot like creating a book!

 

Can’t wait to read about Beauty?  You’re in luck!  We are giving away THREE copies of Beauty and the Beak, thanks to Deborah, Janie, and their team.  Head on over to @storymamas on Instagram to enter!

Keep Calm & Scary On

Today’s #middlegrademonday brings you an interview with author Cynthia Reeg.

3 Questions about From the Grave

What three words would you use to describe your book?

Horror, humor, heart

Your previous books are such different genres, how did you step into the fantasy/monster writing genre?

I have many writerly interests from picture books to middle grade, from poetry to short stories, from fiction to nonfiction. I love luring readers in with action, adventure, and quirky characters. As a former school librarian, I know that students can never get enough spooky stories. So a monsterly MG seemed a perfect fit for both me and my readers.

There are a lot of interesting monster names and words in the book, how did you come up with the vocabulary for this book?

I say I create magic one word at a time, and I truly mean it! Words are my delight. Again, in my experience with young readers, I know how much they delight in words too. For my monster world, I wanted words that appealed to the five senses; creepy and kooky. Words that were fun to read out loud. I would make lists of vocabulary words. Often, I’d play with a word to make it a monster word–like taking the name “Gilbert” and making it into “Ghoulbert” for the main character’s brother. Or switching the word “cafeteria” to “barfeteria,” or “horrorcane” for “hurricane.”
3 Questions about You

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

I was a librarian before I started writing seriously for children, and I loved doing that. If I couldn’t work in a library, I would work in a bookstore. I can’t imagine a life without books or without sharing books with others.

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

I am a great fan of Kate Di Camillo. When I read her book, “Because of Winn Dixie,” I thought it was a perfect combination of heart, interesting characters, and compelling story. It’s a book that leaves a sweet spot in your heart. I hope I can write some books like that.
What is one item in your fridge that tells us about you?

Hot Fudge sauce. I do need a little chocolate on a fairly regular basis to keep the words coming! 🙂

To learn more Cynthia Reeg checkout her website or follow her on twitter & instagram

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

Total. Dance. Anarchy

img_26233 Questions about My 7th Grade Life in Tights

What three words would you use to describe your book?

Ooh, this is tough. Okay, three words I’d go with are:

Dancing, football, friends.

Or maybe I should go with:

TOTAL. DANCE. ANARCHY.

I’m not sure…like I said, this is a tough one!

 

What would Dillon’s favorite “So You Think You Can Dance” performance or contestant be? (We assume you watched the show?)

I love that show! My all-time favorite contestant has to be Fik-shun because of how surprisingly versatile he was. My favorite performance, though, is “Fix You” with Robert and Allison. That routine is so gorgeous and heart-wrenching. I’m tearing up just thinking about it.

Although you’ve said Dillon was similar to you, which character was the most fun to create?

Definitely Sarah! I really enjoyed taking the stereotypical “mean girl” and figuring out her backstory. She has so many secrets and reasons for acting the way she does and I can’t help but root for her.

 

3 Questions about You

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

I would love to be an explorer because traveling is something I can’t get enough of. And if I couldn’t do that then perhaps I’d be a librarian. Who’s also a ninja crime-fighting superhero. With an adorable doggy sidekick.

 

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

Hands down, Bridge to Terabithia. That book is the one I read when I need reminding how to craft complex characters and beautiful descriptive language.

 

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

We just had friends over so my fridge is pretty empty. However, it’s rare to look in my freezer and not find a pizza in there. Pizza’s my go-to comfort food and my life wouldn’t be complete without it.

 

To learn more Brooks Benjamin checkout his website or follow him on twitter & instagram