Author Archives: Patricia Bailey

Jolabokaflod: Middle Grade Authors Share Their Giving Lists

Long before I first heard of the Icelandic tradition of Jolabokaflod (which roughly translates to Christmas Book Flood in English – and is the tradition of giving books on Christmas Eve, then sitting together as a family and reading), I created a little winter book tradition of my own.

Every year, right around the beginning of December, I buy myself a book. It’s almost always a hard copy – a rare treat for me – and something that serves only one purpose – to be a total and complete pleasure read. No craft books. No self-help. No keeping up with my genre books. Just pure pleasure coupled with the promise to set aside some time to curl up with a hot chocolate and read just for the pure joy of it.

Because I enjoyed this little treat so much, I decided to extend the giving to family and friends, and created a second tradition – a New Year’s Gift. Every year, I give the people closest to me a book that represents their dreams, goals, or desires for the upcoming year – and may serve as a launching-off spot – or a touchstone – for their plans. I’ve given everything from Axe-Man comics to books of Daily Rituals, to magazine subscriptions – anything that I think might help or inspire the person in the new year.

This year, I’ve added some new people to my giving list,  so I turned to my own personal panel of experts  – my middle grade author friends – for advice. I asked them what middle grade books they were giving as gifts this holiday season. Here are their suggestions:

Sally J. Pla, author of The Someday Birds and Stanley Will Probably Be Fine (coming Feb. 6, 2018!)

I think Xmas/the holidays are a great time to gift picture books, even to adults. The best of them are such beautiful works of art.There are two PBs I’ll gift to young families, because I think they should be in every kid’s library. PEOPLE, a classic PB by Peter Speier visually depicts the beautiful physical diversity of people around the world — spreads it out in a cornucopia of hundreds of images of noses, ears, hands, outfits, etc. The result is this beautiful mozaic of how wide and diverse and amazing the world is. Then: (2) COME WITH ME by my friend Holly McGhee is a sweet sensitive story about how even the tiniest, smallest acts of kindness can help address the bad stuff in the world. As for MG novels to gift: there are far too many wonderful ones to name, and I usually like to customize the book to the particular kid. But one particular Christmas-themed warm-and-fuzzy book that I think will have great general appeal is Karina Glaser’s wonderful THE VANDERBEEKERS OF 141st STREET.

 

 

Melissa Roske, author of Kat Greene Comes Clean

For the holidays this year, I will be bestowing copies of Jonathan Rosen’s hilarious MG adventure, NIGHT OF THE LIVING CUDDLE BUNNIES, on young readers here and abroad. Not only is it laugh-out-loud funny, CUDDLE BUNNIES has a likable and hugely relatable main character (Devin Dexter), plus slew of colorful supporting characters – including a sock-puppet-wielding warlock named Herb. I can’t recommend this title enough. It’s BUN-tastic! Hoppy holidays!

 

Supriya Kelkar, author of Ahimsa

I’m giving REFUGEE by Alan Gratz to an older MG reader. It is a powerful, gripping, eye-opening story that I am sure she will not be able to put down.

 

 

Jarrett Lerner, author of Enginerds

Just a FEW of the MG books I’m gifting — 1. Jodi Kendall’s THE UNLIKELY STORY OF A PIG IN THE CITY. Not only is it a wonderful (and wonderfully written) book, it is simply perfect for this time of year. It is full of warm, utterly lovely family scenes, and reading them serves as an always-welcome reminder of what matters most during this holiday season. 2. Caroline Carlson’s THE WORLD’S GREATEST DETECTIVE. Caroline’s prose sparkles, and her storytelling prowess is second-to-none. I absolutely loved her previous series, and was thrilled to hear she was penning a mystery. It is, as expected, impeccable. And who doesn’t love to curl up with a finely written, cleverly crafted mystery during their days off? 3. Jan Gangei’s THE WILD BUNCH. I didn’t keep count, but I’m fairly certain that this is the book that made me laugh out loud the most this year. Its zany characters leap off of the page, and get themselves into one hilariously outrageous situation after the next. Amidst all the silliness, however, there is a subtle thread of seriousness, there for the interested reader to unpack and consider.

           

 

Janet Sumner Johnson, author of The Last Great Adventure of the PB & J Society.

My sons have been dying to read the 3rd book in the Bounders series, THE FORGOTTEN SHRINE, by Monica Tesler. It releases on Dec. 12th, so perfect timing for Christmas!

 

 

Kristin Gray, author of Vilonia Beebe Takes Charge

My daughter (10) adores graphic novels, so she is getting ALL’s FAIRE IN MIDDLE SCHOOL by Victoria Jamieson and PASHMINA by Nidhi Chanani.

 

    

What books are you planning on giving this season  – to yourself, loved ones, or even a perfect stranger? Let us know in the comments section below!

Interview and Giveaway with Janet Sumner Johnson

I’m so excited that I got the opportunity to talk with Janet Sumner Johnson about her Contemporary Middle Grade novel, THE LAST GREAT ADVENTURE OF THE PB&J SOCIETY – now in paperback!

Please tell us a little bit about The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society.

The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society is about two best friends, Annie and Jason, trying to find a way to save Jason’s house from foreclosure. Because foreclosure means Jason will have to move, and that is just not okay with either of them. Their plans range from the pretty decent (like finding Jason’s dad a new job), to the pretty crazy (like selling an appendix on ebay). But even more, this story is about friendship, and what that really means. 

What inspired you to write this story and/or these characters?

Much of this story was inspired by my own childhood. I had a best friend named Jason who had to move away when we were five. It was horribly tragic! But the foreclosure aspect came from the big housing crash that happened around 2009. I had a friend who faced losing her house, and I can still remember the haunted looks on her kids’ faces. I wondered what it must be like to go through foreclosure as a kid, and that question was the driving force of this story. I wanted to help kids see that even if we can’t control everything in our lives, we are never powerless. THEY are never powerless. 

What do you hope readers will take away from Annie and Jason’s adventure?

Haha! Oops, guess I got ahead of myself with the last question, but in addition to the whole not being powerless thing from above, I hope that readers will think of their own best friends. That they will remember all the good times, and also remember that sometimes, if we are being a true friend, we won’t get what we want. And that’s okay. Because helping a friend feels so much better than getting what we want. 

We know no writer is created in a vacuum. Could you tell the readers about a teacher or a librarian who had an effect on your writing life?

I have known so many great teachers and librarians in my life, but one in particular gave me the encouragement I needed to think that maybe, just maybe I could succeed with writing. English was always my weakest subject. I had to work hard in it, but I always loved my English classes best. My 10th and 12th grade English teacher was Mrs. Johnston. She made me look at literature in a new way, and learn to appreciate even the things I didn’t love (A Tale of Two Cities, I’m looking at you!).

When I got to college, one class required me to interview someone who worked in a field that interested me, and I chose her.  Honestly, I don’t remember much of what I asked her, but I do remember that at one point, she told me how she’d always been so impressed with my writing, and knew I would do well if I decided to go that direction. Such a simple thing, but her words were what I needed to hear. Because of that interview I majored in English, and allowed myself to believe I could write a book. Thank you, Mrs. Johnston!

What makes your book a good pick for use in a classroom? Is there any particular way you’d like to see teachers use it with young readers/teens?

The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society is a great pick for use in the classroom because it’s a quick, humorous read that deals with some serious topics. It is a gateway to discussion of important issues that affect so many students (poverty, friendship, bullying, dealing with stress, keeping secrets). In addition, there is a discussion guide that is geared for use in a classroom. Not only are there some great discussion questions that encourage social skills, self-confidence, and empathy for others, but there are a lot of fun extension activities across all subjects (math, economics, science, etc.). I would love to see classes using these questions and activities to enrich their learning.

What was your favorite book growing up? How did it influence you as a person and/or as a writer?

 I went through phases. Ramona by Beverly Cleary and Tales of the Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume really spoke to me when I was in 4th grade. The whole Narnia series by C.S. Lewis was my go to in 6th. L.M. Montgomery was my author in Junior High (Anne of Green Gables, Emily of New Moon, Pat of Silver Bush (my favorite!), and everything else she wrote). Robin McKinley’s Beauty, Outlaws of Sherwood, and more filled what little free reading time I had in High School.

I don’t know that any one book influenced me more than another, but all of these stories taught me that reading was more than just something I enjoyed. These stories helped me cope with my own stresses. They made me feel like I wasn’t alone. Like I was good enough just the way I was . . . even if I got into trouble a lot (Ramona), or if I didn’t like a certain aspect of how I looked (Anne), or if life didn’t go the way I wanted (Robin of the hood, Beauty). I still love escaping into books, and it really means so much to me when I hear from kids who have had a similar experience with my book.

 

Janet Sumner Johnson lives in Oregon with her husband and three kids. She bakes a mean cinnamon twist and eats way more cookies than are good for her, which explains her running habit. Though her full-time occupation as evil tyrant/benevolent dictator (aka mom) takes most of her time, she sneaks in writing at night when her inner funny bone is fully unleashed. You can learn more about her on her website, on Facebook, on Instagram, and Twitter.

 

 

To celebrate the paperback release, I have 4 signed paperbacks of
The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society to give away!
Enter to win a signed copy by commenting below! Winners will be chosen randomly and announced on this post on Tuesday, Oct. 24th.

Congratulations to our winners!!
Brenda
Danielle
Dianna
Katie

Janet will contact you via email soon!
And thanks to everyone who entered.

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Six Titles for Your Writing Workshop Bookshelf

There are some things about being a teacher that stay with you  – even after you’ve packed up your posters and curriculum binders and left the classroom for other adventures. It’s been a few years since I’ve been in a classroom, but I still consider the true start of a year September 1 – regardless of what the calendar and my accountant says. And I still create lesson plans in my mind – especially when I come across books that I know my students would have loved.

Lately, I’ve been thinking  a lot about what makes a writer – and how we can nurture and support that yearning early on – especially in kids who would never dare to imagine that being an author is even a possibility for them. So, I’ve put together a book list for teachers (and parents) who might want a little writing workshop inspiration on their shelves for those kids – the ones who just might become our future favorite authors if we only let them see that it’s possible.

Our Story Begins:  Your Favorite Authors and Illustrators Share Fun, Inspiring, and Occasionally Ridiculous Things They Wrote and Drew As Kids – edited by Elissa Brent Weissman

“From award-winning author Elissa Brent Weissman comes a collection of quirky, smart, and vulnerable childhood works by some of today’s foremost children’s authors and illustrators—revealing young talent, the storytellers they would one day become, and the creativity they inspire today.

Everyone’s story begins somewhere…

For Linda Sue Park, it was a trip to the ocean, a brand-new typewriter, and a little creative license.
For Jarrett J. Krosoczka, it was a third grade writing assignment that ignited a creative fire in a kid who liked to draw.
For Kwame Alexander, it was a loving poem composed for Mother’s Day—and perfected through draft after discarded draft.
For others, it was a teacher, a parent, a beloved book, a word of encouragement. It was trying, and failing, and trying again. It was a love of words, and pictures, and stories.

Your story is beginning, too. Where will it go?”

I want to go back in time and give this book to 10 year old me. I was well into adulthood before I saw an early, unpublished draft from a “real” writer’s notebook. I remember the feeling that came over me when I realized that this Pulitzer Prize winner’s work wasn’t just magically wonderful. In fact, his early draft wasn’t really any better than some of the stuff I was producing at my desk late at night. It was the first moment I realized that Writers (with a capital W) weren’t somehow a super special subgroup of our species who emerged filled with brilliance and wit and talent from birth. They were just people who wrote – and rewrote – and rewrote again and again until they got it right. Imagine how empowering it would be to realize that as a young reader and writer.

Some Writer:  The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet

“Caldecott Honor winner  Sweet mixes White’s personal letters, photos, and family ephemera with her own exquisite artwork to tell the story of this American literary icon. Readers young and old will be fascinated and inspired by the journalist, New Yorker contributor, and children’s book author who loved words his whole life. This authorized tribute, a New York Times bestseller, includes an afterword by Martha White, his granddaughter.”

I love seeing glimpses of young E.B. White’s life and writing. I especially love seeing how these young experiences are reflected in the novels he wrote as adult. I think kids will enjoy seeing the revisions White did on the books we know know as masterpieces.

Writing Radar: Using Your Journal to Snoop Out and Craft Great Stories by Jack Gantos

“The Newbery Award–winning author of Dead End in Norvelt shares advice for how to be the best brilliant writer in this funny and practical creative writing guide perfect for all kids who dream of seeing their name on the spine of a book.

With the signature wit and humor that have garnered him legions of fans, Jack Gantos instructs young writers on using their “writing radar” to unearth story ideas from their everyday lives. Incorporating his own misadventures as a developing writer, Gantos inspires readers to build confidence and establish good writing habits as they create, revise, and perfect their stories.”

Funny. Smart. And full of motivation and great tips. This book is a fun way to help kids see that their lives are already story worthy. They just need to notice everything that’s going on around them and write it down in their trusty journal.

Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire by Susan Tan

“Priscilla “Cilla” Lee-Jenkins is on a tight deadline. Her baby sister is about to be born, and Cilla needs to become a bestselling author before her family forgets all about her. So she writes about what she knows best―herself! Stories from her bestselling memoir, Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire, include:

– How she dealt with being bald until she was five
– How she overcame her struggles with reading
– How family traditions with her Grandma and Grandpa Jenkins and her Chinese grandparents, Nai Nai and Ye Ye, are so different

Debut author Susan Tan has written a novel bursting with love and humor, as told through a bright, irresistible biracial protagonist who will win your heart and make you laugh.”

Cilla Lee-Jenkins is simply a delight. She’s also a great role model for writing about your life (and your feelings) in a fun and interesting way. Kids who like to write will relate to Cilla immediately – and may even begin thinking about (and writing down) their own life stories.

The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Laura Shovan

“Eighteen kids,
one year of poems,
one school set to close.
Two yellow bulldozers
crouched outside,
ready to eat the building
in one greedy gulp.
 
But look out, bulldozers.
Ms. Hill’s fifth-grade class
has plans for you.
They’re going to speak up
and work together
to save their school.
 
Families change and new friendships form as these terrific kids grow up and move on in this whimsical novel-in-verse about finding your voice and making sure others hear it.”

The 5th graders in Ms. Hill’s class have a lot going on this year. And they chronicle it all – their doubts, their worries, their friendships, and their desires –  in a poetry project. Kids can see that writing really can make changes in their lives – and that their voice really does matter. Bonus: the book is full of poetry how to’s and prompts to help kids create their own poetry project.

Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo

“Holy unanticipated occurrences! From #1 New York Times best-selling author Kate DiCamillo comes a laugh-out-loud story filled with eccentric, endearing characters — a novel interspersed with comic-style graphic sequences and full-page illustrations, all rendered in black and white by K. G. Campbell.”

So much fun! Part graphic novel/part traditional novel – Kate DiCamillo’s story of comic book loving Flora and her super hero squirrel buddy is page-turning fun. It’s also a great look at imaginative story-telling at its finest. A fun way to get kids thinking creatively about the stories they want to tell – and how to best enhance the telling. Best of all, it will give them permission to  let their imagination go a little wild. Kid me would have loved this – and would have come up with a dozen super hero style stories that would have made me laugh out loud while I was writing.

BONUS Title:
Humongous Book of Cartooning by Christopher Hart

“Chris Hart’s Humongous Book of Cartooning is a great value book covering everything the beginner needs to master cartooning. It teaches how to draw cartoon people, fantasy characters, layouts, background design and much more. This latest cartoon title from Chris Hart, the world’s bestselling author of drawing and cartooning books, packs a wallop. It’s the cartooning book that has it all: cartoon people, animals, retro-style “toons'”, funny robots (no one has ever done cartoon robots in a how-to book before, and movies like “Wall-E” and “Robots” were smash hits and prove their appeal), fantasy characters and even sections on cartoon costumes, character design, and cartoon backgrounds and composition. The Humongous Book of Cartooning is humongous, not only because it’s so big, but also because it includes a huge amount of original eye-catching characters and copious visual “side hints” that Chris is famous for. There is more actual instruction in this book than in any other of Chris’ cartooning titles. In short, if you want to know how to draw cartoons, Chris Hart’s Humongous Book of Cartooning is for you.”

Every writer gets a little stuck sometimes. Sometimes moving from words to pictures helps break the log jam. Doodling some basic character sketches activates a different part of the brain – and can often move you from stuck to full of ideas again. This book makes drawing characters fun and easy – even for someone who mostly deals in words all day. Kids will like the simple how to and the funny characters – and I’ll wager that more than one imaginative story will come from drawing some of these cartoons.

These 6 (okay, 7) books are on my inspirational writing workshop bookshelf right now. What’s your favorite “Get kids writing” book? Or even your favorite “Get me writing” book? Let me know in the comments below.

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