Author Archives: Michele Weber Hurwitz

The best way to hear about a book

Flashback to high school. My best friend slid into the seat next to me on the bus and placed a well-worn paperback into my hands. “YOU HAVE TO READ THIS,” she said. “You just HAVE to.”

The cover was enough to draw me in — a forlorn-looking woman in a white dress, standing in a forest, a mysterious black-robed figure approaching her. But more than the cover, it was my friend’s recommendation that held all the weight in my fifteen-year old world. I started the book right there on the bus.

greendarkIt was, by the way, Green Darkness by Anya Seton, a historical romance novel with themes of reincarnation and witchcraft. You may not have heard of it, but believe me, it was the teen equivalent of Eleanor & Park back in the day. At least in my high school. We were all reading it and passing it along to a friend.

Fast forward umpteen years later, and I’m now an author myself. On a recent school visit, I saw a girl hand another girl a paperback and whisper, “You have to read this. It’s so good. It’s the best book I ever read.”

My heart leaped. In this age of online everything, a time so different than when I grew up, the same personal reader-to-reader moment was still happening?

Witnessing the exchange between the two girls made me think about the question many authors have been known to obsess over — exactly how do young readers find books today? Most authors I know promote their books in every avenue possible — trailers, blog tours, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, marketing campaigns, bookstore visits, Goodreads.

It can be quite exhausting, to be honest.

I asked an agent at a recent writer’s conference what really sells books these days, and her answer made everyone in the room laugh. “If we knew the answer to that,” she said, “we’d all be millionaires.”

So with kids and teachers and librarians on the receiving end of all this virtual publicity today, I’ve often wondered, do kids even recommend books to each other anymore? Is word of mouth still relevant?

Secrets_Greeting_Cards_Signature_Cards-500x500I want to share part of an email I received recently from a 12-year old reader:

“So I don’t like to read but my friend told me I should read this book so I went to the library and checked it out. It was amazing! This makes me want to read more books. All I want to say is thank you for writing this book. And by the way, it was published on my birthday!”

Every author loves fan mail, but this one in particular touched my heart because the reader found my book through a friend’s suggestion. And I have to admit, I’m always thrilled when I visit schools and libraries that reinforce the personal aspect of finding books.

I’ve seen book trees in school libraries where kids write mini reviews, a favorite paperback swap event, and a lobby bulletin board where kids post book recommendations for their peers. Several public libraries post reviews on their site written by teens, or have a teen reader’s board in place.

2815a0451194418bbb1e9bdbe8a893ecI truly hope that these type of word of mouth recommendations will always continue to be part of our reading world, no matter how technologically connected future generations become. Nothing can replace that well-worn paperback passed from friend to friend with the ultimate stamp of approval: “You HAVE to read this.”


Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days and Calli Be Gold, both from Wendy Lamb Books. She still has a copy of Green Darkness in case you want to borrow it. Find her at

The virtues of the pencil

I have a thing about pencils. Most writers do. We can hold this magical instrument in our hand — like a musician with a violin or an artist with a paintbrush  — and we can create a world that didn’t exist before. And all this magical instrument requires is a little sharpening now and then to keep it working.

189320-drawing-of-hand-writing-with-pencil Despite my love of pencils however, I write on a modern invention called a computer, and up until recently, I did all my revising on one too.

But a troubled WIP that I’d revised way too many times on my computer led me to pick up a pencil and edit the old-fashioned way. I’d forgotten how different it was to look at the pages with my fingers curled around a pencil and scribble my edits instead of type them. I’d forgotten how editing by hand changed the way I viewed the story. Simply said, I’d forgotten the magic of the humble pencil.

We all know that people write less today than generations before us, which is no surprise, given the multitude of electronic devices at our disposal, and the fact that kids aren’t even taught handwriting in most U.S. schools anymore. Some people bemoan this trend, citing that the difference between writing on a keyboard versus with a writing instrument is huge. Experts say that handwriting is a complex task requiring numerous skills — feeling the pen and paper, moving the writing implement, and directing movement by thought. These same processes don’t occur when typing on a keyboard — you just have to press the keys.

QWERTY_keyboardSome neuroscientists even go so far as to say that giving up handwriting may affect how future generations learn to read, because drawing letters by hand improves recognition. Research has found that note-taking with a pen instead of with a keyboard may give students a better grasp of the subject. Students at Princeton and UCLA who took longhand notes were better able to answer questions after a lecture, perhaps because they summarized and comprehended the material as they wrote their notes instead of typed them.

While doing my hand-edit, I rediscovered the flexibility a pencil and paper allows — scribbling in the margins, crossing things out then adding them back in again, and flipping back and forth between pages instead of scrolling up and down a screen. With a pencil and paper, it was all there right in front of me, a visual and tactile record of my edits in various stages of creativity.

I missed my old friend, the pencil.

I’m happy to see there are some signs that writing with a pencil (or pen) isn’t going the way of the rotary phone. In France, for example, students are still taught handwriting, beginning at age six. Ah France. They think writing by hand is a key part of cognitive development. Merci.

Also, pencil collector and lifelong pencil lover Caroline Weaver recently opened a store in New York — CW Pencil Enterprises — that sells numerous varieties of pencils. pencils Many of them sell out quickly.

And the ballpoint pen, first invented in the 1940s, is actually still the most widely-used writing instrument today. I bet you have one in your purse or backpack right now.

So I hope there is hope that pencils and pens will still be around for future generations. Pick one up and hold it in your hand. Voila! Your brain magically becomes the keyboard. Whoa. What a concept.

Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of The Summer I Saved the World…in 65 Days and Calli Be Gold, both from Wendy Lamb Books/Penguin Random House. Visit her at

Oh, August…

The last day of August is always bittersweet for me, as I’m sure it is for many. It shouldn’t be so monumental, I suppose. It’s just one day to the next. The weather’s usually about the same, the trees are still full and green, and there’s not even anything on the calendar of note, like the Autumnal Equinox, which doesn’t occur until September 23 this year.

trees summerIt somehow is monumental though, saying goodbye to August. School has already started for most kids, and fall isn’t yet in the air, but this day feels more like the end of summer than any other. Even the two words evoke different feelings. August = long, lazy afternoons, corn on the cob and lemonade, late night sunsets. September = crisp new notebooks, leaves curling around the edges, reaching for that jacket for the first time since April.

The end of August invariably makes me think of all the things I planned to do this summer — mostly the things I had high hopes of accomplishing back in June but somehow didn’t get to.

There’s the tall stack of books on my nightstand I vowed to read, plans to take my laptop outside and write whatever came into my mind, and the revision of a WIP I aimed to tackle while my kids were busy with their summer jobs and activities.

Oh, well.

The end of August is always a reflective time for me too. And as I look back, although I may not have read or written or revised as much as I planned, I did something else that’s equally important for writers, kids, teachers…everyone. I gave my brain a much-needed rest. I pondered. I picked blueberries. I spent time with my kids. I walked every day. I observed and listened and took stock. I watched fireflies and scratched mosquito bites and marveled at the beauty of the season.

106This was the summer of M locations for me and my family — we visited Madison, Milwaukee, Michigan, Manhattan, and Montreal.

Since we didn’t have an international data plan and couldn’t (gasp) use Google maps on our phones, my son and I found our way around Montreal with a good, old fashioned multi-folded paper map. I forgot how fun and satisfying that is. He loved it, and so did I.

My younger daughter and I discovered Madison’s best ice cream at The Chocolate Shoppe, where a sign proudly proclaims their ice cream isn’t low fat, low calorie or low anything, and if you want something nutritious, eat carrots. Gotta love that.

My older daughter and I laughed for days about how her flip flop was swallowed up in a deep, muddy patch of blueberry bushes in Michigan. She finished filling her bucket while barefoot, mud squishing between her toes. Instagraming the moment, of course.

So there were things accomplished this summer. Many things. Things that perhaps can’t take place in any other season. And now, as September first arrives tomorrow, I will turn to my reading stack and laptop and WIP, feeling sad that August is over, but re-energized to start anew.

Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days and Calli Be Gold, both from Wendy Lamb Books. Visit her at