Melanie Crowder talks Three Pennies & More…

I met Melanie at an event a few months ago at Second Star to The Right Books in Denver, Colorado. Melanie sat in a room with me and we book talked many Middle Grade book titles to other educators. She of course gave her own book talk about her book, Three Pennies. Although it was on my TBR pile, I hadn’t yet read it. But man, after her talk about how important this book was to her and the passion in her voice, I knew it had to be moved up. After the talks, Melanie turned and gave a copy to us. I went home and promptly started it….


They say books should be mirrors and windows for readers. This book was a window for me into the difficulties of being a child in the foster care system. In the author’s notes Melanie mentions that she advanced time lines for the sake of the story and is fully aware things take much longer than portrayed in the book. The short chapters, told from different perspectives made such a heavy book seem light and easy to read. I felt that the book read almost as if I was watching it as a movie. The raw emotions from the characters help you step into their shoes. You felt for Marin when she explains why she wants to be invisible in her foster care home. And the desperation when she wants to find her mother. Melanie has created a wonderful book that many would see as a mirror, and I hope that one day those children will find a loving home.  

Melanie was kind enough to answer 3 questions about the book and 3 questions about her.

3 Questions about Three Pennies

Were you familiar with the I Ching prior to writing this story?

I wasn’t—at all!

Here’s the story. The last time I visited Montana for my niece’s birthday, my sister had this amazing idea to do a scavenger hunt on bikes for the kids that would lead them ultimately to this sweet little ice cream shop. Perfect. The kind of party a kid would remember forever, right?

Well, the kids were five, so some were ready for the BMX course, but others were still rocking the strider bike. It was a little bit of a logistical challenge, to say the least…

At some point, when faced with too many decisions piling on top of each other, my sister said:

Enough! Let’s ask the I Ching what we should do.

Me: The what?

Her: The I Ching. Duh.

Okay, so I needed an education. My sister explained that the I Ching is an ancient Chinese divination text, credited to Confucius, that has been used for centuries by people to guide them through life. She explained that you could ask questions about everyday kinds of things, or you can ask the BIG questions of life.

So my sister is telling me all about how the I Ching works and I have an honest-to-goodness physical reaction. Something between goosebumps and that feeling you get in the middle of a thunderstorm when there’s a little too much electricity in the air.

I just knew in that moment that someday I was going to write a book about a girl who used the I Ching to figure out her life’s problems.

How did the idea of the different perspectives come to you?

You know, it was that way from the very beginning. That’s just how the story came to me.

This is such an important topic, what was the journey to getting it published?

I am very fortunate—I have an excellent relationship with my middle grade editor. Three Pennies was our third book together. So when I got the idea, I polished up a few sample pages and sent them her way. I loved the story. She loved the story. The publisher loved the story. And that was that!

3 Questions about You

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

When I was a middle grade reader, I was positive I’d be a marine biologist. These days, though, something to do with digging in the dirt sounds pretty great.

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

I read The Blue Sword once a year, usually when the weather turns colder. It’s a little like comfort food by this point!

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

My family has lived in Oregon for generations, and some of the best memories from my childhood are from running around my great uncle’s filbert orchard on the McKenzie River. To this day, I keep a bag of filberts in my fridge for snacking and for when I’m missing home.

Thank you Melanie for talking with storymamas!

To learn more about Melanie and her other books visit her website or you can find her on Instagram or Twitter.

 

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.

All things Jasmine, Mochi, Flamingos..Interview with Debbi Mochiko

The storymamas had a wonderful time interviewing author Debbi Florence Mochiko, creator of the Jasmine Toguchi chapter book series. The Storymamas were eager to meet Debbi and learn more about the books, her process, and what’s next for this talented writer.  The Jasmine Toguchi series includes two books released so far. (More on what’s coming later in the interview).  The main character, Jasmine is fun, feisty, adventurous, and loves flamingos!  Jasmine is a character relatable to all kids. She loves spending time with her best friend, Linnie, gets annoyed by her big sister, doesn’t like to clean and has a favorite thinking spot in a peach tree.

We think her books are a great addition to any home, classroom or library.  Debbi weaves in common threads among the books, and you feel like you really know the characters as you continue to read the stories. Jasmine comes from a Japanese-American family, and Debbi incorporates some Japanese traditions in the books to teach the reader about the culture. Who knew what an involved process it was to make mochi and that there are specific jobs for each gender?! Debbi has also shared with us that there are two more Jasmine books in the works, Drummer Girl (release date 4/3/18) and Flamingo Keeper (release date 7/3/18). We can’t wait to read these to learn more about Jasmine’s adventures and the trouble she might find.

During our conversation we asked Debbi to answer three questions about the books and three questions about her (with some bonus questions too).  Here is what she had to say:

3 Questions about Jasmine Toguchi

What three words would you use to describe Jasmine?

Spunky, confident, courageous

How did the character of Jasmine evolve?

Before she responded she prefaced the answer with “I’m going to sound like a crazy person but” then she began to explain that the character of Jasmine just popped in her head and started talking to her.

She also told us that she read a newspaper article about a multi-generational Japanese-American family making mochi the traditional way and after reading, she thought to herself, “What would happen if a little girl wanted to do the boy job?”  She told us that growing up in the Japanese American culture there are a lot of rules, traditions and traditional roles, and again the story idea popped in her head and she thought about how cool it would be to have a girl try and convince the family to do the boy’s role. But she pushed that idea aside for a bit….

As Debbi continued to explain, that like we see in the books, Jasmine is pushy, confident and courageous and she kept talking to Debbi and she knew she just had to tell her story.  

We love how you weave in elements of Japanese culture into the books, was this in the original pitch idea for the books? Did it start out as a series?

Debbi explained that it has been quite a journey before she started writing. We learned that she also has written several YA (young adult) novels that haven’t “seen the light of day.”

She start writing about 15 or 16 years ago from a Japanese-American point of view, which isn’t something you saw a lot of back then. She tells us when you saw Asian characters in books, it was usually historical fiction or an immigrant struggle. She didn’t have many models of contemporary Asian American characters until Milicient Min by Lisa Yee  or Project Mulberry by Linda Sue Park  came out. These books motivated her to write stories like that.

When she wrote the Jasmine story, she knew it wasn’t a YA story, she knew it wasn’t going to be a 17 year old girl pounding mochi, but also knew she didn’t want to do a picture book, so she figured chapter books, which would be the type of storytelling she was use to doing.

She began to study chapter books. Jasmine started out as a stand-alone book. Debbi tells us that she accumulated many rejections before getting an offer.  When her editor asked if she could do it as a series, she said sure. Three more books? Sure!  But she really didn’t have any other ideas. But once she began to think about it more as a series, she wanted it to be universal: friendship story, family story, but also wanted it to have Japanese culture woven into it. And strived to find that right balance. We think she has done a great job!

*BONUS Questions:

Jasmine loves flamingos, is that because it is your favorite animal?

After writing the Mochi Queen book, her editor had her go back and add layers that could carry through the series. She asked about Jasmine’s favorite things, could she have a favorite animal? Debbi wanted to create a favorite animal that was unique and couldn’t be a pet, and she also tells us that her editor is from Miami, hence a flamingo was a perfect fit.

Do you have say in the illustrations?

Debbi explained she’s been very lucky to have seen the sketches and is able to give input. She thinks it has to do with the authenticity of integrating Japanese traditions in the correct way. In an early draft of her book the picture that accompanied a scene where they were rolling out mochi, had them using a rolling pin. Although it wasn’t explained in the text, the picture needed to be changed to the correct process, which is to pull mochi balls and roll them in your hands.

What is your favorite kind of mochi?

Debbi’s eyes lit up and our mouths started to water as she explained about her favorite type of mochi, Azuki. It is a red bean, that’s sweet and looks like chocolate. She told us that if you bite into it thinking it’s chocolate people usually don’t like it. But she enjoys it and wishes she can get it around her.

3 Questions about You

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

Debbi originally started off with a degree in zoology and wanted to be a zoo educator.  She had her dream job for about five years, a curator of education at the Detroit Zoo.  Underneath, she says, she’s always wanted to be a writer.  But if she could start all over and not be a writer, she would love to be an editor.

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

She reads about 100 books per year. And it’s getting harder to keep so many books in her head. So she offered us a favorite from her childhood, Charlotte’s Web. (Which is also Jasmine’s favorite book).

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

Laughing before answering…She said that she isn’t the cook in the family, her husband is. So she doesn’t even know what is in it right now. But then told us all about, Umeboshi, a Japanese pickled plum, which is actually a type of apricot. She explains that it is very, very sour,  It’s her favorite kind of treat, a comfort food she explains, she also says it’s an acquired taste since it’s very sour. But she says her fridge will always have it.

Thank you Debbi for taking the time to chat with the Storymamas! To learn more about Debbi Mochiko 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.

The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street – Your Next Read!

 

As soon as October 1st hits, it’s time to break out the Halloween decorations!  Nothing says fall like pumpkins, skeletons, and anything spooky.  It’s also the best time of year to get my students hooked on one of my favorite types of books…scary stories!  I’m excited to share Lindsay Currie’s debut novel, The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street, with my students and fellow #mglit loving friends.

After seeing the cover and reading the teaser, I couldn’t wait to read this book.  It didn’t disappoint!  Tessa, and the rest of the characters, were well developed and believable, and the plot was engaging from the start.  Lindsay Currie’s talented writing balanced an engaging story line, with eerie, scary elements. And as a former resident of Chicago, it was fun to read about all of the history-rich places around the north side of the city.

I read this book on my iPad, and would often read while feeding my baby in the middle of the night.  There were some nights that I couldn’t put it down…and the next thing I knew, it was an hour later!  The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street is the perfect combination of all things middle grade, and with the added elements of the supernatural, it should be your next read!  We won’t judge if you decide to leave your light on…

Three Questions about The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street

We loved that you picked landmarks around Chicago as the setting in your story.  Was there any significance to the location of Tessa’s house?

Ahhh, yes. First of all, I’ve been a resident of Chicago for almost 20 years. I adore the Windy City – especially my neighborhood! In terms of Tessa’s house, although it’s on the fictional “Shady” street, the home itself is very much modeled after my own home and street! The descriptors of Tessa’s new graystone fairly accurately describe the exterior of my own building which was built in the late 19th century, and the street details are definitely based on my quiet, little tree-lined street in East Lakeview. Although I don’t find my home to be spooky like Tessa Woodward does, I am fascinated by the history of it and often find myself wondering about the families who lived in it before me.

Is any of the information about Graceland factual?  Are there any mysterious happenings?  A glass box?

YES! There are many ghost legends buried in Graceland cemetery, and some of the mysterious happenings in PECULIAR INCIDENT are based on real events that have been reported over the years. While I can’t go into detail on specifics without giving away the identity of the ghost, I can say that I wouldn’t want to wander Graceland in the dark for sure. There’s been reports of vanishing statues, eerie wailing, and mysterious cold wind for decades! In fact, the cemetery reports to having lost many folks from their grounds crew because they quit after deciding that cemetery is indeed . . . you guessed it . . . HAUNTED.

We know you love all things scary, but we feel like it would be a hard genre in which to write original ideas.  Where did you get your ideas for the book?  

It can be challenging, but I’m fortunate to live in an area where the history is so rich (and spooky) that I feel like I have a ton to work with. PECULIAR INCIDENT stemmed from one particular ghost legend that has always fascinated me. After doing some research and visiting the grave in-person (it’s only 10 minutes from my house), I was so spooked by the concept that I knew there was a book to be written on it! Fast forward through many trips to the Chicago HIstory Museum, many late nights up researching and writing, and VOILA! PECULIAR INCIDENT was born!


Three Questions About Lindsay Currie

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

Oh wow. This is a hard one. Many years ago I was actually in flight school learning to fly planes so I could interview with the FBI for a Special Agent position. That would have been cool and all, but my life would have been so different! I’ll admit that asking my family to possibly move all around the country was never appealing. Plus, I never would have followed my dreams and attempted to write a book! Though doing the whole Jack Bauer thing still strikes a special chord in my heart, I’m incredibly grateful for the change in my career path years ago. I have always loved books and writing and having the opportunity to do what I love for a living is the best. Gift. Ever.

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

Oh my goodness, there are so many. I’d have to say that the book that most influenced me was Where the Red Fern Grows. I read it in fourth grade and it impacted me so strongly that i remember thinking (for the very first time) that i might like to try writing when I grew up. Although the author, Wilson Rawls, has passed on, I hope he knew what an incredible gift his book was to those of us who read and loved it!

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

Probably olives. I LOVE olives. Garlic stuffed, spicy, greek . . . you name it and I probably have it in my fridge! And since I can’t have something salty without something sweet, there’s generally a frozen Hershey’s bar in my freezer, too. Sounds healthy, huh? 🙂

The Peculiar Incident on Shady Street comes out October 10th!  Visit Lindsay Currie’s website to learn more about her and preorder your copy.

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.

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!

 

Empathy and Friendship Book Recommendations

In our current society, it is important more than ever to teach children to be kind and compassionate.  By modeling how to be a good friend and teaching them how to be empathetic, the hope is they begin to exhibit these behaviors in their own lives.  There are so many wonderful books out there, but these are some of our favorites that we have used in the classroom and at home that have strong themes.  What are some that you would add to the list?  

Back To School #booksnaps

In early June I was intrigued with #booksnaps when they kept popping up on my twitter feed. I would see a photo of a page from the book, the tweeter’s bitmoji and typed up text. Although most of the time I hadn’t read the book, I felt their fuel, their fire, their reaction to whatever they were reading. Wow!  If I was enjoying learning about what these people were thinking and learning during their reading, I am sure this would be a great tool to to use with my students, as they would love seeing each other’s #booksnaps and learning more about each other. It turns out the creator of #booksnaps presented at the International Society for Educational Technology (ISTE) Conference in San Antonio where 2 storymamas had the privilege of attending. We attended the ignite session for Tara Martin, #booksnaps creator. She shared during this session that she wanted to find a way to use the app her son couldn’t put down (Snapchat) to do some visual storytelling. And shortly after #booksnaps was born and has been taking the social media world by storm. Her session showed the power of #booksnaps and how it helps get into the student’s head on their thoughts and feelings toward text and how it relates to their life. Also, by using a book snap, it allows the reader to comprehend the text and internalize what the author is saying. Tara has been amazing and has created a website full of information and how-to videos on making #booksnaps. Although it started with Snapchat, she has made videos using many other apps, including Snapchat, Seesaw, Book Creator and more. Check it out! Free resources are great! Thanks Tara!

Shortly after the conference I made my first #booksnaps while reading the ARC copy of Smart Cookie by Elly Swartz. I used Snapchat, but as Tara’s website shows, many different apps can be used.

Using #booksnaps has helped me look deeper into text, share my thoughts, and also remember more parts of the story. I can only imagine the impact it will have with my students when I introduce it to them. Beside the impact, I know the students will be engaged in the process. I had so much fun finding the right words to write and bitmoji to use.

So for today we thought it would be fun to use three back to school books to show you how to use #booksnaps when reading a picture book. All 3 storymamas picked a book and tried it out.  We are all new at this and are learning as we go, but are excited to use with students. We can see it in our reading workshops and it would be great in content areas! Please feel free to comment on how you are using #booksnaps in the classroom! We hope you enjoy the books we chose and our #booksnaps!