Author Archives: Patricia Bailey

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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My Summer Fun Reading List

Summer is finally here, and with it comes the memory of summer vacations long ago. One of my favorite things about summer was the local library’s Summer Reading Program. The rules were simple:  1. Read at least 1o books. 2. Record the titles on a chart. Do those things and at the end of summer you were rewarded with a picnic at the park, a dip in the community swimming pool, and a certificate signed by the governor. Which meant my weekly treks to the local library and the long days I spent sprawled in a lawn chair reading were totally justified. Just ask the governor.

All of this got me thinking about my own reading – and my current desire to spend my afternoons lounging in a lawn chair. Needless to say, this train of thought led to the creation of a new Summer Fun Reading List featuring the 10 middle grade books that will be keeping me company as I relax in my back yard this summer.

ONE SHADOW ON THE WALL by Leah Henderson

“Eleven-year-old Mor was used to hearing his father’s voice, even if no one else could since his father’s death. It was comforting. It was also a reminder that Mor had made a promise to his father before he passed: keep your sisters safe. Keep the family together. But almost as soon as they are orphaned, that promise seems impossible to keep. With an aunt from the big city ready to separate him and his sisters as soon as she arrives, and a gang of boys from a nearby village wanting everything he has—including his spirit—Mor is tested in ways he never imagined. With only the hot summer months to prove himself, Mor must face a choice. Does he listen to his father and keep his heart true, but risk breaking his promise through failure? Or is it easier to just join the Danka Boys, whom in all their maliciousness are at least loyal to their own?”

THE SOMEDAY BIRDS by Sally J. Pla

“Charlie’s perfectly ordinary life has been unraveling ever since his war journalist father was injured in Afghanistan.

When his father heads from California to Virginia for medical treatment, Charlie reluctantly travels cross-country with his boy-crazy sister, unruly brothers, and a mysterious new family friend. He decides that if he can spot all the birds that he and his father were hoping to see someday along the way, then everything might just turn out okay.”

ME AND MARVIN GARDENS by Amy Sarig King

“Obe Devlin has problems. His family’s farmland has been taken over by developers. His best friend Tommy abandoned him for the development kids. And he keeps getting nosebleeds, because of that thing he doesn’t like to talk about. So Obe hangs out at the creek by his home, in the last wild patch left, picking up trash and looking for animal tracks.

One day, he sees a creature that looks kind of like a large dog. And as he watches it, he realizes it eats plastic. Only plastic. Water bottles, shopping bags… No one has seen a creature like this before, because there’s never been a creature like this before. The animal–Marvin Gardens–becomes Obe’s best friend and biggest secret. But to keep him safe from the developers and Tommy and his friends, Obe must make a decision that might change everything.”

RULES FOR THIEVES by Alexandra Ott

“Twelve-year-old Alli Rosco is smart, resourceful, and totally incapable of keeping her mouth shut. Some of these traits have served her well during her nine years in Azeland’s orphanage, and others have proved more troublesome…but now that she’s escaped to try her luck on the streets, she has bigger problems than extra chores to contend with. Surviving would be hard enough, but after a run-in with one of the city’s Protectors, she’s marked by a curse that’s slowly working its way to her heart. There is a cure, but the cost is astronomical—and seems well out of her reach.

Enter Beck, a boy with a gift for theft and a touch of magic, who seems almost too good to be true. He tells Alli that the legendary Thieves Guild, long thought to be a myth, is real. Even better, Beck is a member and thinks she could be, too. All she has to do is pass the trial that the King of Thieves will assign to her. Join the Guild, collect her yearly reward and buy a cure. Plus, Alli hopes the Guild will be the home—the family—that Alli has always wanted. But when their trial goes wrong, innocent lives are put in danger, and Alli has to decide how much she can sacrifice in order to survive.”

HOLLY FARB AND THE PRINCESS OF THE GALAXY by Gareth Wronski

“Holly Farb is not the Princess of the Galaxy. She may be top of the class in every subject, but she can’t even win a school election, never mind rule the Milky Way. The aliens who kidnapped her have gotten it all wrong.

Unfortunately Holly’s alien pirate kidnappers believe that she’s the princess they’ve been looking for, and so she finds herself hurtling through space on an alien pirate ship together with her teacher, Mr. Mendez, and Chester, the most annoying boy in her class. Now all she has to do is escape the pirates, find the missing princess, and get back to Earth in time for her big test on Friday.

But it turns out that space is a pretty big place, and before they can go home, Holly, Chester, and Mr. Mendez must face down space cruise liners, bounty hunters, giant worms, perky holograms, cosmic board games, sinister insectoid librarians, and a robot who is learning how to lie.

Between running from space pirates, defying the President of the Universe, and meeting a host of rather unusual new friends, Holly starts to wonder if there might be more to life than being top of the class after all.”

AMINA’S VOICE by Hena Khan

“Amina has never been comfortable in the spotlight. She is happy just hanging out with her best friend, Soojin. Except now that she’s in middle school everything feels different. Soojin is suddenly hanging out with Emily, one of the “cool” girls in the class, and even talking about changing her name to something more “American.” Does Amina need to start changing too? Or hiding who she is to fit in? While Amina grapples with these questions, she is devastated when her local mosque is vandalized.”

MIDNIGHT WITHOUT A MOON by Linda Williams Jackson

“It’s Mississippi in the summer of 1955, and Rose Lee Carter can’t wait to move north. But for now, she’s living with her sharecropper grandparents on a white man’s cotton plantation. Then, one town over, an African American boy, Emmett Till, is killed for allegedly whistling at a white woman. When Till’s murderers are unjustly acquitted, Rose realizes that the South needs a change . . . and that she should be part of the movement.”

SEE YOU IN THE COSMOS by Jack Chen

“11-year-old Alex Petroski loves space and rockets, his mom, his brother, and his dog Carl Sagan—named for his hero, the real-life astronomer. All he wants is to launch his golden iPod into space the way Carl Sagan (the man, not the dog) launched his Golden Record on the Voyager spacecraft in 1977. From Colorado to New Mexico, Las Vegas to L.A., Alex records a journey on his iPod to show other lifeforms what life on earth, his earth, is like. But his destination keeps changing. And the funny, lost, remarkable people he meets along the way can only partially prepare him for the secrets he’ll uncover—from the truth about his long-dead dad to the fact that, for a kid with a troubled mom and a mostly not-around brother, he has way more family than he ever knew.”

A DASH OF DRAGON by Heidi Lang and Kati Bartoski

“For years Lailu has trained to be the best chef in the city. Her specialty? Monster cuisine. When her mentor agrees to open a new restaurant with Lailu as the head chef, she’s never been more excited. But her celebration is cut short when she discovers that her mentor borrowed money from Mr. Boss, a vicious loan shark. If they can’t pay him back, Lailu will not only lose her restaurant—she’ll have to cook for Mr. Boss for the rest of her life.

As Lailu scrambles to raise the money in time, she becomes trapped in a deadly conflict between the king’s cold-blooded assassin, the terrifying elf mafia, and Mr. Boss’ ruthless crew. Worst of all, her only hope in outsmarting Mr. Boss lies with the one person she hates—Greg, the most obnoxious boy in school and her rival in the restaurant business.

But like Lailu always says, if you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen. And she’s determined to succeed, no matter the cost!”

ROOTING FOR RAFAEL ROSALES by Kurtis Scaletta

“Rafael has dreams. Every chance he gets he plays in the street games trying to build his skills, get noticed by scouts, and—someday—play Major League Baseball. Maya has worries. The bees are dying all over the world, and the company her father works for is responsible, making products that harm the environment. Follow Rafael and Maya in a story that shifts back and forth in time and place, from Rafael’s neighborhood in the Dominican Republic to present-day Minnesota, where Maya and her sister are following Rafael’s first year in the minor leagues. In their own ways, Maya and Rafael search for hope, face difficult choices, and learn a secret—the same secret—that forever changes how they see the world.”

What’s on your Summer Fun Reading List this year? Please share your summer must-reads in the comments below. I can’t promise a certificate signed by the governor, but I can give you permission to schedule a picnic in the park and a dip in the local pool. Happy summer reading.