Author Archives: Hillary Homzie

The Art of Summer Reads and Author and Poet’s Laura Shovan’s TBR

Laura Shovan is a celebrated poet whose debut novel in verse, THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY, came out last year to much acclaim. She’s edited poetry anthologies and works with children as a poet-in-the-schools and was the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society’s Writer-in-Residence for 2015-2016. Her second middle novel TAKE DOWN, a dual narrative about middle school wrestlers, comes out next year summer.

I thought I’d interview Laura about summer reading, since in addition to have a much-anticipated summer book in 2018, THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY is on many summer reading lists.

What have been some of your most memorable middle grade summer reads?

When I was a teen, we spent summer weekends in New York’s Catskill Mountains. I loved having a big, juicy novel for the summer and remember reading Jane Eyre as a middle schooler. There were days when I did not come out of my room because I didn’t want to break the spell of a good book.

More recently, when my children were reading middle grade, summers were all about audio books in the car. Family favorites were Harry Potter, the Bartimaeus trilogy by Jonathan Stroud, and classic MG like Ginger Pye and The Indian in the Cupboard.

Can you think of a common denominator?

For many of us, schedules are looser in the summer, without the constraints of the school day. It’s a great time of year for settling in and allowing yourself to become absorbed in the world of a book. Think of a series like Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart. Summer means reading page after page, wrapped up in Meggie’s fantastic story, and not having to loosen the grip of that world to focus on testing, or homework, or going to bed early.

Why do you think certain books get on summer reading lists?

That’s a good question. In part, it depends on who is creating the list and the resources that person is using to choose books.

I like when summer reading lists include something for every reader: Funny books, poetry books, non-fiction, adventure stories, literary novels, fantasy, science fiction. (Librarian Barb Langridge has influenced my thinking on reading personalities. Her website is A Book and a Hug. https://abookandahug.com/) A varied list encourages children to experiment with new genres. If a young reader tries a book on the list and doesn’t like it, okay! It’s summer. Pick up another book. Try something else.

In addition to summer reading lists, there’s also beach reads, or lake or mountain reads, if you’re not a beach person. Why do we need beach reads?

For me, the experience of reading a book is different on vacation. If I’m reading at the beach, there’s nowhere else I have to be. I have the brain space to let the characters, setting, and ideas of the story settle deeply into my mind. It’s almost like being in two places at the same time – sitting on a towel at the beach with sand sticking to my sunblock, and drinking a butterbeer at the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade. In summer, children don’t have to think about reading levels, or analyzing the text, or doing character studies. They can simply enjoy reading for its own sake and relax into the story.

So, it may not be beach reads that we need per se, but story. Whether it’s ghost tales around a campfire, reminiscing about family history at a reunion, or passing a great book to a friend, storytelling is one of the most important ways that human beings share information, culture, and meaning. And in the summer, we have time to sit and read, or sit and listen.

Two summers ago, I was at a poetry conference in Italy. Walking back to our room one night, my friend and I bumped into another person from the conference, a young poet from Ghana named Richard Botchwey. Because it was summer vacation, we were in no rush to turn in for the night, and the three of us sat at a café for hours, as Richard told us about growing up in Ghana. Because we had time to listen, and Richard was willing to share, the three of us formed a special friendship. Books can become special friends in the same way, if we take time to sit and enter into the stories written on their pages.

I do want to give a plug here for public libraries. One of the great joys of summer is walking into a cool library on a hot day. In the summer, my mother used to let us bring home as many books as we could carry. And we could choose anything! It was heaven.

Can you share your TBR for this summer?

Just finished:
The Maypop Kidnapping (A Quinnie Boyd Mystery), by C.M. Surrisi
The Perfect Trip, by Stacey Mozer

Up next:
One Shadow on the Wall, by Leah Henderson
Ghost, by Jason Reynolds
When My Sister Started Kissing, by Helen Frost
Vampires on the Run (A Quinnie Boyd Mystery), by C.M. Surrisi
Jasper and the Riddle of Riley’s Mine, by Caroline Starr Rose
The Peculiar Haunting of Thelma Bee, by Erin Petti

How about you? Can you share a book on your summer TBR? I’m going to be re-reading The Ethan I was Before by Ali Standish. Ali graduated from the Hollins University Graduate Program in Children’s Literature & Writing where I teach. Confession: she’s a former student, so I’m very biased. But I think it’s a book worth re-reading!

Hillary Homzie is the author of the forthcoming Pumpkin Spice Secrets (Sky Pony/Swirl, September 2017), Queen of Likes (Simon & Schuster MIX 2016), The Hot List (Simon & Schuster MIX 2011) and Things Are Gonna Be Ugly (Simon & Schuster, 2009). She can be found at hillaryhomzie.com and on her Facebook page.

How to Pay Tribute to Your Favorite Authors When They Pass Away

Over the past year, my husband, Matt, a music lover, has been hit hard by the death of some of his favorite rockers. From David Bowie to Prince, I have watched him glued to the computer screen, watching these departed talented musicians. Seeing them play live brings them back for him. He relives and remembers the moments when he was first touched by their music. Our middle son, Ari, is a musician and the singer in the alt rock band Secure the Sun. I can’t tell you how many times my husband has asked my son to play a cover song of a recently departed singer. Ari, when he performs solo somewhere, will often accommodate my husband’s request, such as when he sang Purple Rain last April. Unfortunately, this is a harder task for his band as they play almost exclusively originals.

This past week, the multi-talented Paula Fox passed away. Fox, the author of over a dozen novels for children, won the Newbery medal for The Slave Dancer. Her other children’s books garnered the National Book award, the Newbery honor and the Hans Christian Andersen medal. Fox wrote about difficult subjects, including homelessness, disease and slavery. Her books were often controversial and sometimes removed from school libraries. She brought topics into the discourse that many thought had been inappropriate for children.

Additionally, over the past year, in the children’s lit world, we’ve seen the deaths of Richard Adams, the author of Watership Down (one of those books that’s hard to place in terms of category), Lois Duncan, author of beloved suspenseful YA novels, and Anna Dewdney, the best-selling author of the Llama Llama picture books. I’m sure I’ve left out many dearly departed children’s authors (and please comment and let me know who they are). The question becomes how to honor these authors?

Well, we can read them. We can recommend their books. However, unlike musicians, authors can’t perform a Llama Llama cover son–although there is certainly the fan fic option. And for readers and fans, we can still talk about their books. As authors we can also take some of the qualities that we loved in a beloved author and try to weave some of their spirit and passion into our own texts.

How do you honor beloved your favorite beloved authors who have passed?

Hillary Homzie is the author of the Queen of Likes (Simon & Schuster MIX 2016), The Hot List (Simon & Schuster MIX 2011) and Things Are Gonna Be Ugly (Simon & Schuster, 2009). She can be found at hillaryhomzie.com and on her Facebook page.

Ten Ways to Make New Year’s Writing Resolutions a Reality

It’s early January, and my New Year’s writing resolutions have been set. Now the question becomes how am I going to see them become realities? How do I make sure that they don’t pop quick as a bubble?

There’s an often quoted list of J.K. Rowling’s top 13 writing tips that circulate through the blogosphere. And her first and primary tip is: “Be ruthless about protecting writing days.”

So how do writers go about protect writing days? That’s a very good question. And the answer is – – I have a good idea of how but sometimes I veer off course. But when writing is going well and I’m in the flow, here’s what works for me.

1) Writing regularly starting in the morning.
Once upon a time I used to be a night owl but mothering three and all nighters collided, and I had to force myself to become a morning person. Left to my own devices, I’d probably would still write into the night and the wee hours of the morning. But that’s not where I’m at these days.

2) Write first and then check email.

3) Write first and then check social media.
If number three sounds like number two it is. But I figured they each deserved their own little section, because they are both so deliciously distracting.

4) Give myself a deadline, and preferably an outside deadline.
But that isn’t always possible. So I’ll sort of make up deadlines. When I used to regularly send my work to editors and agents at conferences that worked well. But now my regular critique group and critique partner serve this function very well.

5) Use Freedom software so I can’t cheat and violate number two and three.
Basically Freedom software turns off or rather locks up the Internet for a designated period time. It’s an internet, social media and app blocker. I’m weak so I need this.

6) Read books that inspire me to become a more fearless writer (and reader).
Really trying to work on getting over being a weanie.

7) Tell my husband that I will not be responding to text messages and email when I’m in the writing room.
I tell him that if he needs to speak with me, it needs to be urgent. Of course, it’s amazing how urgent grocery lists can be lol.

8) No movies or television during the week.
My chill time involves exercising and books. Believe me, I’d not always so perfect on this one.

9) Don’t over volunteer.
This is very hard for me. But I’ve gotten much better over the years. There was a time when I was doing too much and running myself ragged. Now I try to be very choosy. But I never say no to bake sales.

10) Remember why I’m doing this writing thing. Remember to have fun.
Sure, that’s a cheat since it’s two things, but they’re related, I think.

How do you make sure that you execute your resolutions?

Hillary Homzie is the author of the Queen of Likes (Simon & Schuster MIX 2016), The Hot List (Simon & Schuster MIX 2011) and Things Are Gonna Be Ugly (Simon & Schuster, 2009). She can be found at hillaryhomzie.com and on her Facebook page.