Halloweensie: Snip, Snap, Crack

Halloweensie pic

It’s time for Susanna Leonard Hill’s annual Halloweensie contest!

Rules:  write a 100 word Halloween story appropriate for children (title not included in the 100 words), using the words pumpkinbroomstick, and creak in any form.  

Here’s my entry:

 

SNIP, SNAP, CRACK

 

In a deep dark corner, an old lady sits.

She cackles, and snarls, and frantically knits.

 

Click clack go her needles.

Snip snap go her bones,

As she rocks and she creaks

and her kitty cat moans.

 

She conjures up spiders, and pumpkins, and ghosts

All spun from her yarn -

“I’m so wicked!” she boasts.

 

Don’t dare approach her,

She’s all trick and no treat.

What are you doing??

Come hither, my sweet.

 

Get away from that broomstick! Skedaddle! Shoo!

You’re tiptoeing closer??

Snip

Snap

Crack

BOO!

 

Please visit Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog, because there will be tons of fun and scary weensie short stories for Halloween. Or play along and add your own!

 

Book Bravo: The Meaning of Maggie

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Have you ever wondered what Clementine, Ramona, or Junie B. would be like in middle school? I hope they would stay spunky and turn out a lot like Maggie Mayfield, the main character in Megan Jean Sovern’s THE MEANING OF MAGGIE (Chronicle Books, 2014). In any case, I know they’d be friends with her!

Maggie is someone I was rooting for from the minute she wished her hospitalized dad would wake up so they could split a Little Debbie. (She’s willing to eat the whole thing herself, but she’d rather share). Then, I just – plop – fell in love with her when she was describing how amazing her first day of sixth grade was, including this:

“And lunch was the best because I got a whole table to myself so I spread out my notebooks and went to town on a stack of syllabi.”

She’s quirky, she doesn’t fit in, and she doesn’t care! She has much bigger things on her mind, such as her report on Sandra Day O’Connor, and her new friend, Clyde, “the most beautiful boy I’d ever seen.”

Underneath this layered, interesting character is a story of family bonds that are tested by parental illness.  From the jacket flap:

Eleven years old. The beginning of everything!

For Maggie Mayfield, turning eleven means she’s one year closer to college. One year closer to voting. And one year closer to getting a tattoo. It’s time for her to pull herself up by her bootstraps (the family motto) and think about more than after school snacks and why her older sisters are too hot for their own good. Because something mysterious is going on with her cool dude Dad, whose legs have permanently fallen asleep, and Maggie is going to find out exactly what the problem is and fix it. After all, nothing’s impossible when you’re future president of the United States of America, fifth grade science fair champion, and a shareholder in Coca-Cola, right?

Maggie’s position as youngest child and her own personality leave her somewhat oblivious to the true reality of her dad’s worsening struggle with multiple sclerosis. She doesn’t have much time for her “hot, but not on a school night” older sisters, Layla and Tiffany, but we as readers can see how they  help shelter her from their dad’s illness and mom’s return to work.

This is a serious book on a difficult topic, but the author makes you laugh out loud along the way. Maggie’s inner dialogue, highlighted by footnotes, made me feel like I was visiting with a real kid every time I picked up the book.  And there is a clever connection at the ending, which made this a “clutch it in your arms and sigh when you finish reading it” kind of book for me.  I recommend this book for kids in grades 5-7 ish, (or anyone who loves realistic middle grade novels.) It will  be especially meaningful to readers who have been touched by MS. Ultimately, the unpredictable and relentless nature of the disease is woven into a story of strength and hope.

Don’t miss MAGGIE!

*Special thanks to  Alyson Beecher and her wonderful book-based blog, Kid Lit Frenzy, for offering a copy of TMOM as a prize via Chronicle Books.*

 

 

What’s your “always”?

Tomatoes

“You always have tomatoes on your windowsill.”

“I do?”

“Every time I’ve been here, there’ve been tomatoes up there.”

Huh.  I’d never thought about that.  But to one of my nieces, who usually visits during tomato season, it is a truth universally acknowledged.

I wonder what else is an “always” in her eyes?  Hopefully it is that I always light up when I see her. And that I always remember to put a little sweet treat on her pillow and have all the fixin’s for s’mores on hand. And that I always have time to listen to her stories and take her berry picking.

A friend pointed out that a lot of our “always” memories from childhood probably stem from occasions that only happened once, but were memorable. I’ve tested this with my own family:

“Didn’t we always go to Disneyworld, every time we went to Florida?” (Truth: more likely only 2-3 times).

“Grandma always took me out for lunch, and we always got Reubens.” (Truth: one time).

“We always sat down as a whole family for dinner, every night.” (Truth: not exactly).

The fact is, you never know when one special trip, one special moment, or one windowsill of tomatoes is going to become someone’s always. 

It’s a very encouraging thought that even in the face of life’s imperfections, we all have the power to make our always something beautifully memorable.

What is your always?

 

Win a Doodle! Win a Doodle! Win a Doodle!

Nancy Tandon:

If you’re interested in kidlit, writing, and/or like to laugh, my friend Mike Allegra has you covered! He’s also a talented doodler. Check it out!

Originally posted on heylookawriterfellow:

Who will be the lucky winner?

Who will be the lucky winner?

In March, I hosted a contest. The grand (and only) prize was an official, original, custom-made Mike Allegra doodle.

Despite my doodling ability, the number of people who entered this contest was pretty large. This surprised me.

What also surprised me was that some of you reeeeally wanted that ding-dang doodle. In fact, a few people threatened to sic their cats on me if I didn’t do another doodle contest post haste.

To these people I say settle down because here’s another chance to win a doodle!

IF YOU WIN, I WILL DRAW WHATEVER YOU WANT!

Don’t believe me? Here’s proof:

Jenion (the winner of the March contest) wanted a drawing of a bicycle racer. So I drew her a bicycle racer.

Ta daa!

Ta daa!

But here is real proof: I am not fond of cats. (I am horribly allergic and keep rodents as pets.) But, once…

View original 341 more words

THE PRANK LIST; Interview with children’s author Anna Staniszewski

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Welcome Anna Stanizewski, whose latest novel, THE PRANK LIST (Sourebooks) will be released July 1, 2014! Anna is the author of many books for children and young adults, including: THE UNFAIRY TALE LIFE SERIES THE DIRT DIARY SERIES ..and two upcoming picture books from … Continue reading

Recipe for an End-of-Year School Concert

 

BandConcertEnd-of-Year School Concert:

Take one packed parking lot. Add a semi-legal parking space and a giant puddle. When shoes are properly muddied, dodge other frantic cars and head to the steaming hot auditorium.

Mix in one part little kid sweat smell, one part high-pitched yelps, and three parts exuberant excitement.

Carefully fold in a clean, pressed, white shirt and dark pants. Then untuck the shirt, wrinkle it, and drizzle some syrup on it.

Walk up and down the aisles until you find a wedge of seat you can balance on. Squeeze in. Fan self liberally with floppy program.

At this point you have the option of the following add-ins: screeching violins and/or microphone feedback, honking clarinets, almost-on-pitch horns, slightly off beat drums, one-measure-behind bells, unintelligible song announcements.

Once you have all this rolling at a slow boil, add in a front-row-hold-up-my-giant-Ipad-to-record-this parent. Have that parent stand up and sit down at unexpected intervals. Make sure their Ipad obscures the vision of almost everyone behind them.

For extra flavor, you can sprinkle in a few younger siblings who pop out of seats and walk back and forth in front of your row. This should happen at least four times. Stage-whispering and crinkly snack wrappers are a nice touch.

If your concert now has a slightly sour taste to it, scan the risers for your child. A smile and wave will result in a much more palatable blend. The blowing of a kiss will bring the sweetness to the next level.

Now add in one extremely talented choral director, a spirited strings teacher, and a rock-star bandleader. Shake them until they are fatigued but still smiling.

Your mix is now ready for the oven. As it bakes, the smells will waft over you and a sense of pride in what has been produced will well inside you. Clap loudly when done.

For a final garnish, add the tears of a sentimental sap who cannot hear children’s voices raised in song without emoting.

Leftovers should be served immediately to any parental unit unable to partake in the original dish.

During clean up, if you accidentally nick the side of the car of that front row parent, do not leave a note. They will be too busy never watching their recording to notice it.

Enjoy!

SchoolConcert

Batter Up!

Summer’s here! Baseball season!  Here are some baseball-themed middle grade reads to take with you to the sidelines:

NO CREAM PUFFS by Karen Day (2008, Wendy Lamb Books)

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Goodreads says: “MADISON IS NOT your average 12-year-old girl from Michigan in 1980. She doesn’t use lipgloss, but she loves to play sports, and joins baseball for the summer—the first girl in Southern Michigan to play on a boys’ team. The press call her a star and a trailblazer, but Madison just wants to play ball. Who knew it would be so much pressure? Crowds flock to the games. Her team will win the championship—if she can keep up her pitching streak. Meanwhile, she’s got a crush on a fellow player, her best friend abandons her for the popular girls, the “O” on her Hinton’s uniform forms a bulls-eye over her left breast, and the boy she punched on the last day of school plans to bean her in the championship game.”

Nancy says:  I’m not really a sporty gal (shocker!), but you don’t have to be a hard-core sports fan to enjoy this book.  I loved how the main character, Madison, wished she could just side-step all the typical pre-teen angst and play baseball.  But there are issues we all must confront when we’re growing up, whether we want to or not.  This is a great story for tween girls who enjoy pushing boundaries, but also want to fit in.

 

HANG TOUGH, PAUL MATHER by Alfred Slote (1985, Harper Trophy)

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Goodreads says: “Paul Mather’s a pitcher — a really good one. His off speed pitch is enough to bowl a kid backward, and his fast ball is pure smoke. There isn’t anything he can’t throw, from sliders, change-ups, and sinkers to a mean curve ball that breaks at just the right moment. He’s pitched no-hitters and perfect games. To Paul, pitching is what you live for and why you live.

Lately, though, Paul hasn’t been allowed to do much of anything, much less play ball. He’s got leukemia, and it’s put him into the hospital several times already. His parents are so worried, they’ve forbidden him to play the game he loves so much. They’re afraid that if Paul strains himself his illness may come back a final time…and maybe even take his life.

But Paul is a winner. His team needs him, and he won’t give up without a fight. Paul Mather is determined to pitch every inning…to keep playing baseball, and to keep hanging tough, no matter what the odds.”

Nancy says:  This is an “oldie but a goodie.”  Paul Mather was the first fictional boy to make me cry. (Jesse Aarons came soon after – I was a mess in 5th grade!). Again, the baseball is there as a great hook for sports-loving reluctant readers, but the story also has a lot of heart.  This is definitely one worth going back in time for.

SCREAMING AT THE UMP by Audrey Vernick (2014, Clarion Books)

ScreamUmp

Goodreads says: “Twelve-year-old Casey Snowden knows everything about being an umpire. His dad and grandfather run a New Jersey umpire school, Behind the Plate, and Casey lives and breathes baseball. Casey’s dream, however, is to be a reporter—objective, impartial, and fair, just like an ump. But when he stumbles upon a sensational story involving a former major league player in exile, he finds that the ethics of publishing it are cloudy at best. This emotionally charged coming-of-age novel about baseball, divorce, friendship, love, and compassion challenges its readers to consider all the angles before calling that strike.”

Nancy says: This one’s on my to be read pile; I’m intrigued. I’ve also recently met the author, and if her writing style is anything like her personality, this story will have a lot of pep and zing!

KING OF THE MOUND: My Summer with Satchel Paige by Wes Tooke (2012, Simon & Schuster)

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Goodreads says: “Nick was going to be a star baseball player, no doubt about it. People for miles around talked about the twelve-year-old boy with the golden arm. And then Nick is diagnosed with polio; a life-threatening disease in the 1930s. Everyone is devastated, especially Nick’s father, who copes by closing off from his son. When Nick finally leaves the hospital he wants nothing more than to get back in the game, but he seems to be the only one who thinks it’s possible. But after he begins working for Mr. Churchill, the owner of a minor league team, Nick meets Satchel Paige, arguably the best player in baseball. Satchel faces obstacles of his own; his skin color prevents him from joining the major leagues; and he encourages Nick to overcome the odds and step out of the dugout.”

Nancy says:  This one is also on the TBR pile. When I saw the name Satchel Paige, I thought of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement. The basic idea of this campaign, is to bring attention to the need for diverse characters in children’s literature, as well as to help support authors of color in the marketplace. There has been quite a bit of attention given to this topic at book conventions and on social media sites. I wonder if sales would have been better for KING OF THE MOUND had it come out now vs. two years ago? (I have no idea what the sales figures were -they may have been fabulous! But it would be an interesting comparison if one had a crystal ball.)

That’s all, sports fans!  Enjoy your summer reading!

The Luck O’ The Irish

Ever realize that the books you are reading simultaneously (or in quick succession) have a common theme? Except for the time that my book club got on an unintended Holocaust kick, I love when that happens!  

Recently, I was listening to one book and reading another when I discovered that through both, I was enjoying fantastical journeys that played on Irish folklore and the best of Irish storytelling. There is something about Ireland and its mystical and (often) troubled tales that makes me want to lean in and be swept away.

Historian Carl Wittke described Irish people as having a “temperament [that] is a mixture of flaming ego, hot temper, stubbornness, great personal charm and warmth, and a wit that shines through adversity. An irrepressible buoyancy, a vivacious spirit, a kindliness and tolerance for the common frailties…”

Here are the two Middle Grade books whose “personal charm” and “warmth and wit” had me dancing a jig:

TEXTING THE UNDERWORLD by Ellen Booraem (Dial Books for Young Readers, 2013) underworld-cover From author Ellen Booraem’s website:

Conor O’Neill always thought spiders—and his little sister, Glennie—were the worst kind of monsters life had in store. That was before an inexperienced young banshee named Ashling showed up in his bedroom. The arrival of a banshee, as Conor soon learns, means only one thing: Someone in his family is going to die. Not only will Ashling not tell him who it is, it turns out that she’s so fascinated by the world above that she insists on going to middle school with him. The more Ashling gets involved in his life, the harder it becomes to keep her identity a secret from his friends and teachers—and the more Conor worries about his family. If he wants to keep them safe, he’s going to have to do the scariest thing he’s ever done:  Pay a visit to the underworld. If only there were an app for that.

 

THE GREAT UNEXPECTED by Sharon Creech (HarperCollins, 2012)   great unexpected From author Sharon Creech’s website:

In the little town of Blackbird Tree a series of curious events unfold when Naomi and Lizzie, two spirited orphan girls, meet the strangely charming new boy, Finn. Three locked trunks, the mysterious Dingle Dangle man, a pair of rooks, a crooked bridge, and that boy change their lives forever. As the story alternates between their small town and across-the-ocean Ireland, two worlds are woven together, revealing that hearts can be mended and that there is indeed a gossamer thread that connects us all.

I’m normally a “realistic fiction” kind of a gal, but the fantasy in these stories is expertly interwoven into the present day stories, leaving me feeling grounded even as I flipped back and forth between worlds.

Written for middle grades (5th-7th ish), I recommend these books for all readers who like a good Irish yarn, or anyone who enjoys being swept away, and then delivered safely home. Truly, they are not to be missed.

And may I suggest you whip up a batch of these to have on hand while you’re reading?

Luck O' The Irish Brownies - click here for recipe.

Luck O’ The Irish Brownies

 

Click here for recipe.

Enjoy! And “May your home always be too small to hold all your friends.”

Tough Topics, Great Books

When life’s tough topics come into our homes, we search for answers in many places.  How many worries have been Googled in the lonely hours of a long, dark night?  We also turn to friends, family, acquaintances – anyone who may have had experience with this “thing,” this unwelcome guest that is spread out in the spare bedroom and looks to be staying awhile.

When we’re facing a life challenge, books can often be a particular comfort, especially for children. Books give us a chance to examine our problem through the safety of someone else’s eyes.  How did they feel? How did they react?  There is also such healing power in the message you are not alone.

Cynthia Lord is a Newbery Honor author who embraces big topics, and weaves them into charming stories for middle grade readers.

 

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Her latest book, HALF A CHANCE (Scholastic Press, 2014), uses the idyllic premise of spending a summer on a lake in New Hampshire as a backdrop for exploring how dementia can affect a whole family.

From Goodreads:

When Lucy’s family moves to an old house on a lake, Lucy tries to see her new home through her camera’s lens, as her father has taught her — he’s a famous photographer, away on a shoot. Will her photos ever meet his high standards? When she discovers that he’s judging a photo contest, Lucy decides to enter anonymously. She wants to find out if her eye for photography is really special — or only good enough.

As she seeks out subjects for her photos, Lucy gets to know Nate, the boy next door. But slowly the camera reveals what Nate doesn’t want to see: his grandmother’s memory is slipping away, and with it much of what he cherishes about his summers on the lake. This summer, Nate will learn about the power of art to show truth. And Lucy will learn how beauty can change lives . . . including her own”

HALF A CHANCE is a good resource for kids who are struggling to understand the confusing and sometimes scary topic of dementia.  However, the story also celebrates the simple joys of summer lake living.  I think this book will bring a lot of comfort to many families.

You may recognize Cynthia Lord’s name because of her 2007 Newbery Honor Book, RULES (Scholastic Press, 2006).  If you missed this one, be sure to check it out.

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From Goodreads:

Twelve-year-old Catherine just wants a normal life. Which is near impossible when you have a brother with autism and a family that revolves around his disability. She’s spent years trying to teach David the rules-from “a peach is not a funny-looking apple” to “keep your pants on in public”-in order to stop his embarrassing behaviors. But the summer Catherine meets Jason, a paraplegic boy, and Kristi, the next-door friend she’s always wished for, it’s her own shocking behavior that turns everything upside down and forces her to ask: What is normal?”

The characters in RULES push through challenges on a daily basis.  My favorite character is Jason, who communicates by pointing at word cards in a book he balances on the tray of his wheelchair.  As Catherine gets to know Jason, she helps him expand what he is able to say by making word cards for him that go beyond stock phrases like “sad” to things like “stinks a big one!!”

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Catherine helps her younger brother navigate the world, and helps Jason express himself.  But of course she learns just as much, if not more, from them.

The real grace of the way Cynthia Lord writes is that she is able to take daunting, life changing challenges and remind readers that in every situation, there are things to celebrate and give thanks for.  Put these two on your “to be read” pile!

I won my copy of HALF A CHANCE thanks to Debbi Michiko Florence at DEBtastic Reads.  Thanks also to Cynthia Lord, who signed it over to the students at Hebron Avenue School, where it will have a permanent home.

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