Please join us to discuss everything literary (especially kid literary): good books, the writing life, the people and businesses who create books, controversies in book world, what's good to snack on while reading and writing, and anything else bookish. We welcome your thoughts.

Friday, April 17, 2015

To Read Ahead or Not?

by Marcy Collier

Product Details

My eight-year-old son and I were talking about his day at school. He's the son who makes me work to pull information about his day.

His second grade teacher (who my older son also had) is a voracious reader and tried to read to the class aloud daily. He loves this part of the day because he is also an avid reader. He and I are usually reading several different chapter books together at one time, depending on his bedtime reading preference.

When I asked him what the teacher read in class that day, his eyes lit up as he asked, "Have you ever read The Indian in the Cupboard?"

Being a children's author and enthusiastic reader myself, I said, "No, I actually haven't read that one. Is is good?"

"Oh, Mom, you have to read it." He told me the premise. The boy in the story, Omri, gets a plastic Indian brave for his birthday from his friend Patrick. He puts the Indian in a cupboard and locks it with a strange key that once belonged to his great-grandmother. When he turns the key, the Indian changes from plastic to a real live Indian man.

My son insisted I read the book and asked if we could buy it so he could read ahead of the class. My older son used to do the same thing because he couldn't wait to read what came next. And as a reader myself, I have stayed up most of the night to finish way too many books to name because I just couldn't wait to see what happened next.

When my older son wanted to read ahead, we'd have to make a trip to the library or bookstore, which bought me some time to stay just a wee bit behind where they left off in school.

But now I have a Kindle and a Nook, where I can buy just about any book on the planet instantaneously. What to do?

The reader in me picked up the device that was charged (the Kindle) and within less than a minute, we were reading.

My son is trying hard not to tell me what happens next. He knows how much I enjoy surprises. But I'm usually the one recommending and reading books to him. Ones I've read that he hasn't. It is so much fun for him to share a book that he's read, but I haven't.

Thankfully, even though, we purchased the book right away, we were still able to stay behind the class (who incidentally just finished the book). My son really, really wants to tell me the ending and keeps giving me scenarios and asking me to choose the ending I think will happen.

So the question, do you read ahead of the class or stay slightly behind?

I typically stay slightly behind or on the same chapter. My older son always wanted to finish before the class too. In one book in particular, we were a few chapters ahead of the class, and I thank the stars we were. He was in third grade and had a permanent substitute teacher for the year. She decided to read one of her childhood favorites, Judy Blume's, Superfudge. I like Judy Blume's books. I can remember in middle school passing around someone's older sister's worn copy of Forever (and hiding what we were reading), but I had not read this one. Fortunately, we were a few chapters ahead at home and I saw the foreshadowing of a Christmas scene. I didn't like where it was going, not one bit. See the below link to the reviews of others who felt the same.


Product Details 

That night I emailed the teacher and told her she absolutely had to skip that particular scene or my son and probably at least half of the class would be devastated. Fortunately, she did, and since we were reading this book at home, my son didn't feel the need to take it out of the library and re-read it a third time. And I am thankful we were ahead. Christmas was a month away and wouldn't have been the same for my son or most of those children because the teacher had not read the book ahead of time. She chose this book based on nostalgic memories from her youth. If you're a teacher, you should always read a book before reading it to your students.

So again, thoughts on reading ahead of the class? I have mixed emotions, but I want to know what you think.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

It's Not Easy Being Different by Kitty Griffin

Last night on "The Voice" Mia Z got booted off. (She's the gal in the upper left corner with the ponytail)
Her voice was different. 
Her style unique. I don't understand.
Sawyer is getting credit for his unique voice and he's most likely going to win the entire competition.

Okay, so I'm being a bit grumpy. I loved Mia's voice and to support her I bought several of her songs from iTunes. I think this 16-year-old who sounds as though she's possessed by a woman much older is wonderfully talented.

Sometimes though, sometimes being too different doesn't work. 

Especially for a writer and for a writer's first book. There are unwritten rules for emerging writers to follow and if they don't know them they can waste a lot of time. 

And that is so frustrating. And unfair. Because just like the young singer Sawyer is credited with being a genius and something NEW, because Mia choose an old style she finally ended up being voted off the show by America. Her coach, Pharrell, who recognized and delighted in her talent couldn't save her.

Should she have sung familiar pop songs in a familiar style? Because she has the pipes to do it. 

But she wouldn't be staying true to who she was. And Pharrell never ever asked her to change. 

Same thing with writing.

When I teach I always encourage people to be true to who they are and to what they want to write.

I just warn them, that being too different might mean it takes longer to break through.

Mia has a unique talent and fortunately she lives here in Pittsburgh where there is solid support for both live music and her style of the blues.

And i'll be happy for Sawyer. He's just a kid. He is amazing and I'll most likely be buying his albums in the future.

So how about you? Is your voice different? Is it going to help you get published or keep you from being published?

Monday, April 13, 2015

Kevin Brooks


Dave Amaditz

Kevin Brooks is one of my favorite authors. Read a little bit about him, and check out a list of his books here. Http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/contributor/kevin-brooks If, however, you haven't yet read anything he's written I suggest that you do. Here's a review of his latest, Bunker Diary. http://librarianwhodoesntsayshhh.com/ If you're like me, you won't want to put it down. And beware,  the ending might surprise you!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Life Lessons from writer Anne Lamott's Facebook post, reposted here because they are FABULOUS

Here is the opening to Anne Lamott's Facebook post on the occasion of her 61st birthday--

I am going to be 61 years old in 48 hours. Wow. I thought i was only forty-seven, but looking over the paperwork, I see that I was born in 1954. My inside self does not have an age, although can't help mentioning as an aside that it might have been useful had I not followed the Skin Care rules of the sixties, ie to get as much sun as possible, while slathered in baby oil. (My sober friend Paul O said, at eighty, that he felt like a young man who had something wrong with him.). Anyway, I thought I might take the opportunity to write down every single thing I know, as of today.

and to read the rest (and please do)

go to Anne Lamott on Facebook

Wednesday, April 8, 2015


Pharell Williams sitting in his chair on "The Voice"

This is Pharell.
He’s looking, listening, waiting for the singer who will blow the audience away.
What do they need to succeed?
Something that when they sing identifies them.

What do writers need to succeed?
Something that when they write identifies them.

What do artists need to succeed?
Yes, voice. Because how they choose to express what they see is what they are telling the world. Surely you know the difference between Picasso and Van Gogh. Right?

How do you want the world to see your voice?

What do you want to put in your writing to make it stand out?

Rich, lush descriptions? Like this from “The Disenchanted Widow” by Christina McKenna.

               She blew jets of smoke from her nostrils like a dragon in a fairy     tale, crushed the fag in a prickly pear cactus on the windowsill, yanked the bag from him.

Rich, full of images.

Full of style. Full of voice.

If you ever get stuck with your writing try listening to the sample of music provided on iTunes of the same song by different artists. You will be AMAZED at what they accomplish with their instrument, with their voice.

I didn’t mean to get hooked on “The Voice” this year, but gosh darn, I’m sucked in. I have my favorites and when they sing I get teary-eyed. I love the 15-year-old Sawyer who strengthened his voice by singing to the cows on their farm. I love Tanya who helps prison inmates sing in a choir. I adore crazy-moves Hannah who puts her entire body in her songs. I admire 17-year-old Mia from Pittsburgh (a Yinzer girl!) who gets taken over by the spirit of a smoky-voiced 40 year old experienced woman.

So, as you work with your writing, think about your voice. How do you want to sound to the rest of the world?

Monday, April 6, 2015

My Heart and other Black Holes

Photo by Ashley Sillies18336965.jpg

by Jasmine Warga

This past Friday, April 3, 2015, Marcy and I posted our answers to Jasmine’s debut novel, My Heart and other Black Holes. Today, you get to read Jasmine’s favorite's. 

Great picks, Jasmine! You’ve given us even more insight into the thoughts and motivations of your characters.           

1) What is your favorite line or paragraph from the novel as it relates to the main character's development and/or growth?

Hopefully this isn't too much of a spoiler, but I've always been partial to this paragraph as I think it shows how Aysel's view of the world may be starting to change: 

"I once read in my physics book that the universe begs to be observed, that energy travels and transfers when people pay attention. Maybe that’s what love really boils down to—having someone who cares enough to pay attention so that you’re encouraged to travel and transfer, to make your potential energy spark into kinetic energy. Maybe all anyone ever needs is for someone to notice them, to observe them."

2) What is your favorite chapter ending or cliffhanger?

Chapter endings are tough! But I've always liked the one at the end of the carnival scene as I think it captures the escalating tension of Aysel's changing feelings towards Roman pretty well: 

"He squeezes my hand so tight, I can’t feel it anymore. I wish someone would do that to my heart."

3) Who is your favorite secondary character and why?

This one is actually easy for me! Mike, Aysel's little brother, is by far my favorite secondary character. I think it may be because I have my own little brother and I loosely modeled Aysel's feelings towards Mike after my own feelings, and so I'm pretty sentimental towards this character. I always really love Roman's mom as she has such a generous and big heart.

4) What is your favorite line or paragraph of description?

Hm. This is tricky, but I'll go with this description of the old playground, which is a spot Aysel and Roman end up at more than once: 

"I see the playground on the left side of the street. The “old playground” apparently consists of a rusted swing set, a cracked basketball court complete with a metal chain basket, and three rotting picnic tables. It looks like it used to have a sandbox, but at some point, I guess, the sand got replaced with gravel. Soda cans and plastic potato-chip bags are littered across the muddy grass. In some ways, the playground feels more like a graveyard. Like it’s a decrepit testament to faded memories, better times. Maybe that’s why FrozenRobot likes it so much."

5) What is your favorite line of dialogue?

I don't know if this was always my favorite, but lots of readers have pulled it out and made really gorgeous fan art of it, so now I'm very partial to when Roman says to Aysel, "You're like a gray sky. You're beautiful, even though you don't want to be."

And congratulations on news of Paramount making the book into a movie. Way to go!!! We can’t wait for our readers to read the book and check out the movie after it’s made!

To read more about Jasmine Warga’s My Heart and other Black Holes debut novel please go to: