Out & About: Literary Excursions in Central Connecticut

Have you ever wished you could live inside your favorite novel? If you live near or have a chance to visit central Connecticut, your wish just may come true!

Excursion #1: The Storytellers Cottage 

Level: Older kids to Adult

Book Pairing Suggestion: PERSUASION, the last fully complete novel written by Jane Austen. The story of young Englishwoman Anne Elliot and her second chance at love with Navy Captain Frederick Wentworth will set you in the perfect mind frame for visiting this unique space.

Middle Grade Book Pairing Suggestion:  ALL’S FAIRE IN MIDDLE SCHOOL by Victoria Jamieson.  Eleven-year-old Imogen (Impy) has been homeschooled by her parents, who work at a Renaissance Faire. She’s eager to begin her training as a squire, but the complexities of fitting into her new public school friend group are kind of getting in the way!

The Storyteller’s Cottage opened it’s charming doors in October 2017. This uniquely appointed Victorian home is a place where literature truly comes to life. A directional sign adjacent to the front porch points visitors to such memorable locations such as Narnia and The Shire.

From the moment you enter, the Cottage invites you to “immerse yourself in a different time and place…Indulge your passion with like-minded bibliophiles as a member of one of our unique literary societies, or at our charming dramatic events, or in our novel (& inspired) mystery game rooms. We host book clubs, writer’s retreats, author talks, murder mystery dinners, dapper cos-play LARP, 4-D theater productions, and much more.”

 

The Cottage is very welcoming to writers, offering a variety of nooks & crannies to hunker down in when you’re looking to create. (There is a medieval keep room that you access by going behind a moving bookshelf!!) They also host writing retreats, as well as writing workshops for both adults and children. Or, you can join in one of their growing number of book clubs, which include groups such as “The Great British Baking Club” and the “Jane Austen Teacup Lunch Bunch.”

Another fun offering is their Great Scott Escape Rooms. “A variation of the popular ‘Escape Room’ live escape game, the Great Scott! Mystery Rooms offer players a chance to actually become detectives, just like characters in their favorite mystery novels. Bring your team of up to 8 people, and immerse yourself in a classicmystery story. Each of our three game rooms is full of codes, riddles, puzzles, and clues, and you will have one hour to solve the mystery we’ve set for you!”

There is so much going on at the Storyteller’s Cottage! Be sure to visit their website to see many more pictures and get a flavor of the huge number of events offered.

 

Excursion #2:

The Amazing Castle™at the Avon Free Public Library (limited time; traveling exhibit)

Level: Preschool to early elementary school

Book Pairing Suggestion: THERE WAS AN OLD DRAGON WHO SWALLOWED A KNIGHT by Penny Parker Klostermann. This is a fun read-aloud picture book which Kirkus calls “a rollicking and warped Medieval take on the well-worn cumulative rhyme.”

dragon

The Amazing Castle™ is an interactive medieval exhibit on the floor of the Children’s Room at the Avon Library. Kids have free reign of the castle and all its inner-workings. There are lots of opportunities for pretend play, such as cooking in the castle’s stone fireplace. The Amazing Castle™ exhibit was created by the Minnesota Children’s Museum with funding from Curtis and Marjorie Nelson and The Curtis L. Carlson Family Foundation, and will only be at the library until May 12, 2018. So check it out!

 

P.S. Central Connecticut is also home to the Mark Twain House and Museum! Are your bags packed yet?

Tell Me Something Good

Hi! If you’ve visited my blog before, I thank you and appreciate you taking the time to read my little ol’ words. Repeat readers may notice I’ve been working on a new “look.”

The truth is, I’ve been struggling to find a balance between staying informed and acting on the big, important, difficult things going on in the world, while also longing to occasionally rest and sit in some positivity. But when I turn to things that bring me joy, I worry that I’m not paying enough attention to the “right” issues. It’s hard to let yourself feel happy when you know someone else is suffering. (Why work on writing any fiction; what does any of that matter?) But I think I was forgetting a very important fact: sharing light is a great way to drive out darkness.

 

So, I’ve decided to create a space to share stories that say “look – here is something good!” Because while there’s a lotta darkness going on, there is a also a lot of light. And each one of us has the ability to create more light.

To that end, the blog portion of my website  has a new title: Encouraging Words! I’ll use this space mostly to highlight good people, good work, and good things happening in our world. I hope when you visit here you’ll always find some nugget of encouragement that may help your own little light shine brighter, too.

Today I want to tell you about an awesome national program: FAMILY PROMISE. Their mission statement is “to help homeless and low-income families achieve sustainable independence through a community-based response.” Their website shares the staggering statistic that this year in America, 2.5 million children and their parents will experience homelessness. Family Promise supports a “local response to this national crisis, helping families build new lives.” The goal is to identify the ‘newly homeless’ — people who have just fallen or are about to fall through the cracks of any other safety nets, and help them get back to sustainable independence quickly (families are usually in the program about six -eight weeks).

Here’s how it works:

1116 (2)

Photo credit: Family Promise

A network of volunteers from any faith-based community step up to open their physical building one week at a time, on a rotating basis.

“The resources are already there. In the community there are congregations that can provide space in their buildings to serve as temporary homes. Day centers, where families can take showers, receive case management and look for housing and jobs, can be located at a house of worship or agency. There are multiple options for transportation to get families from the host congregations to the day center and back. With volunteers giving their time, making meals, and sharing hospitality, family homelessness is addressed without the creation of expensive shelters. Across the country, people have realized that this innovative approach truly makes a difference for families experiencing homelessness—and more than 180,000 volunteers.”

A friend of a friend has worked hard and can now proudly say that her dream of a functioning Connecticut affiliate of the program is up and running. I’ve been working on a steering committee to help my own faith community explore becoming a Family Promise host. Let me tell you, it’s very encouraging to have something to do about an issue that feels overwhelming. So I’m hopeful we’ll be able to help, even if it’s just a few families at a time.

Just after learning about Family Promise, I got my hands on two ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) of middle grade books which deal with the topic of families that are struggling to find secure and permanent places to live. Reading both of these beautiful novels really helped me understand how important even the smallest act of kindness can be to people who find themselves newly homeless.


JUST UNDER THE CLOUDS (Knopf Books for Young Readers) by Melissa Sarno is coming June 2018.

From the Penguin/Random House website:

An uplifting young reader debut about perseverance against all odds, Marie Miranda Cruz’s debut Everlasting Nora follows the story of a young girl living in the real-life shantytown inside the Philippines’ Manila North Cemetery.

After a family tragedy results in the loss of both father and home, 12-year-old Nora lives with her mother in Manila’s North Cemetery, which is the largest shanty town of its kind in the Philippines today.

When her mother disappears mysteriously one day, Nora is left alone.

With help from her best friend Jojo and the support of his kindhearted grandmother, Nora embarks on a journey riddled with danger in order to find her mom. Along the way she also rediscovers the compassion of the human spirit, the resilience of her community, and everlasting hope in the most unexpected places.

I encourage you to preorder both books for yourself, your kids, or your local town & school library! I’ll be getting a copy of each to donate to Family Promise.

I also encourage you to look around for one thing you can do to help support the homeless in your own community. All over the country, there are many great organizations already in place and doing good work, but they always appreciate fresh volunteers and donations!

Have a good day, light-makers.

Empowering Empathy

I’ve got four special middle grade novels to share with you today!

Novels for young people are unique breed. They are meant to entertain and educate, and some even have the power to foster a life-long passion for the written word. But perhaps most importantly, these stories can have a special role in encouraging a reader’s awareness and acceptance of others.

A good book lets you peek into the window of someone else’s life, and safely ask, “what makes that person behave the way they do?” The answer is often surprising and enlightening. And at its best, empathy empowering.

1) In Elly Swartz’s FINDING PERFECT, readers follow Molly Nathans as her desire for things to be perfect and well-ordered increasingly controls her life, vs. the other way around. We watch with growing concern as her ‘quirks’ become a more obvious and invasive obsessive-compulsive disorder. This is an extremely helpful read for anyone struggling to understand the behavior of OCD, and how ‘out of control’ one can feel…wrapped up with the hopeful message of what may lie on the other side of treatment.

2) Melissa Roske’s KAT GREENE COMES CLEAN  also explores the topic of obsessive-compulsive disorder, this time from the point of view of middle schooler Kat Greene, who watches her mother struggle with increasingly problematic behaviors. The story achingly shows how anxiety can manifest (and take over) in everyday life, and the things we do to deny that it’s happening (to ourselves and others). Readers will take away the message of “keep talking to helpful adults” woven into this compelling story of friendship & growth. 

3) Ellie Terry’s FORGET ME NOT is the story of a girl with Tourette syndrome who starts a new school and tries to hide her quirks. The window into understanding and feeling the unpredictability and frustration that is Tourette Syndrome is wide open as we follow Calliope June’s journey toward self-acceptance. Based in part on the author’s own experiences with TS, this beautiful novel in verse shows the realities and hardships of navigating new friendships, and is buoyed by a rich and realistic cast of supporting characters.

4) INSIGNIFICANT EVENTS IN THE LIFE OF A CACTUS by Dusti Bowling (yes that’s her real name!) also gives readers an honest look at what it’s like to navigate life with ‘significant’ differences. Main character Aven Green “loves to tell people that she lost her arms in an alligator wrestling match, or a wildfire in Tanzania, but the truth is she was born without them.” (Goodreads). When she moves to a new town, she is befriended by Connor, a boy who barks and spits because of his Tourette Syndrome. Both Aven and Connor understand what it feels like to not fit in, and more importantly, they both also know how to be a true friend.

I hope that you and/or a child in your life enjoy reading these fantastic new books on the kid lit scene. I’m grateful to the authors  for creating and sharing these lovable, strong, important characters. I know their stories will open minds and hearts.

The Story of a Story

Image result for champagne popping

The POP of a champagne cork is one of my favorite sounds. There really is no time when that thoop isn’t signaling a special occasion. And last month, I got to pop open a bottle I’d been holding onto for a long time: the one that signified the sale of my first book!

I am thrilled to share here on the blog that SAY MY NAME, a middle grade novel, will be published in fall 2017 by Little Pickle Press.

Eleven-year-old Rory Mitchell can’t tell anyone his name. He’s not in a witness protection program. He’s not mute. He just can’t say Rs. Sixth grade means big problems for Rory. Not only did his former friend Brent share Rory’s most embarrassing secret, but he has also joined forces with the group of kids most likely to ruin Rory’s day. Then Brent sustains a serious brain injury in a bike accident. Rory has trouble feeling any sympathy for the “new Brent,” whose impulsive behavior and sudden mood swings make him the target of the same kind of unwanted attention Rory has endured. All Rory wants to do is play his guitar and get lost in heavy metal music. But when he is paired with Brent for a school project on Muhammad Ali, Rory must decide which is worse: being bullied, or being the bully.

This story is a culmination of many facets of my life, and is a loving nod to the field of speech-language pathology, which I practiced clinically for several years. (The speech pathologist in the book is way cooler than me, which is one of the fun things about writing fiction!)

There was a long gestation period from my inception of the idea to the signing of my contract, because I had so much to learn about writing a novel before I could really get to the heart of this one. This is not an exhaustive list of what went on, but here are some highlights of how this book came to be:

April 2012: Began first draft of a middle grade novel called “The Wicked Westerlys.” Only four chapters are written. In part because there is essentially no plot. But, a few interesting characters emerge. One of them is a boy who can’t say his own name because he has a speech impediment. (“Maybe: Rory.”)

September 2012: First document titled SAY MY NAME saved on computer named. It contains two chapters, and sketchy notes for a third.

Fall 2012: Struggling to make Rory a more complex character, I’m hit with a wave of inspiration when I go to see a 6th grade production of Cinderella. The boy who plays the prince is pronouncing R’s as W’s. And he has the voice of an angel and is rockin’ the part. I suddenly see the possibility of Rory being so much more than his speech impairment.

Late 2012/Early 2013: Begin reading almost exclusively middle grade novels. Read, read, read, and try to delve into what makes this category unique, and what is working in recently published books. Write. Chapter by chapter, my own manuscript begins to take shape. The rough draft coming out is not pretty. It’s like I’m moving in the pitch dark, feeling around for the plot, the story arc, the heart.

April 2013: Give myself the permission and gift of a writing retreat, where I hunker down and get to THE END of my crappy first draft. Give to a one trusted “non-writing” friend and her ‘intended audience’-aged kid for feedback. They are kind and encouraging.

May 2013: After submitting the first 25 pages to a contest, I find out at the regional NESCBWI conference that SAY MY NAME has won the Ruth Lander’s Glass Scholarship.

Summer, Fall 2013: Share bit by bit with my critique group. Revise. Revise. Angst. Revise.

November 2013: Enter the first 250 words of SAY MY NAME in the Baker’s Dozen auction (an online contest) on the blog called Miss Snark’s First Victim. Several agents “bid” on what portion of the manuscript they’d be willing to read (from five pages, to 10, to 25, to the full!). The agent who requested the full did not ultimately offer representation, but the auction was also about getting feedback from a variety of people on my first 250 words. Out of twenty critique comments, 13 people suggested putting more action up front. I studied the feedback and honed in on this message: “Start on the first day of school with the character trying to say his name.” So I did. And it made the beginning sooo much better.

Winter/Spring 2013-2014: Revise, revise, angst, revise. Continue sharing chapters with critique group, and revising accordingly.

Summer 2014: My manuscript has been wrestled into good enough shape to share it in full with a small group of critique partners. They provide thoughtful, deep, painful, helpful, invaluable critique. I also share again with a very few non-writing friends, and ‘intended audience’-aged kids. Their feedback is also extremely helpful. THE IMPORTANCE OF THIS STEP CANNOT BE OVERSTATED. THANK YOU, MY LOVELIES!

Late summer 2014: Begin submitting first polished chapters to agents. Begin receiving long line of rejection letters.

 

Fall 2014: Feel nearly panicky every time I think about all the work that still needs to be done to revise this manuscript into “ready to submit” shape.

Winter 2014: Go to the inaugural Fireside Retreat (a retreat of my own making that is sponsored by the empty home of my snowbird parents) with close writing friends. Tell them I am scared. Drink wine. Steel myself. Finally get started on a close-to -last BIG revision.

2015: Get really, really used to rejections. Revise and tweak whenever a rejection comes with feedback, which starts to happen more often. Am told it is a really good thing to get personal rejections. Cry.

Fall 2015: Another retreat with writer friends. Open my email to read a recent rejection to them in the hopes of getting some sympathy. Instead, see a note from a small publisher who tells me my manuscript is going to their ACTUAL ACQUISITIONS MEETING. Freak out.

Winter/Spring 2015: Hold breath.

June 2016: The publisher has that actual meeting. THEY OFFER TO BUY SAY MY NAME.

Summer 2016: Contract is signed! Spend time celebrating with friends and family. Cherish each happy moment. Rest a bit in the realization of this dream. Savor.

Image result for signing a contract

Fall 2016: And what happens now? I am awaiting notes from an editor, which will lead to a revision period of unknown length and depth. Am I nervous? You bet! Might I parlay this into another ‘writing retreat’? You bet! Am I thrilled to be sharing the story of this story with you today? You bet!

Thanks for being on my cheer squad, you faithful blog readers. Writing takes practice and I’ve had so much fun practicing it here. To be sure, I will update my progress here as progress is made. I hope you won’t get sick of me, and I hope you all stick around and maybe even come out to clink glasses with me and have your own sip of champagne next fall when SAY MY NAME enters the world in book form.

About Little Pickle Press: Little Pickle Press is dedicated to creating media that fosters kindness in young people—and doing so in a manner congruent with that mission. Lee Wind (head of the SCBWI Team Blog) wrote a nice article for website (Cynsations) about Little Pickle Press. Click here to find out more about this socially-conscious publishing house!

 

Author Stacy Mozer finds THE SWEET SPOT

First Base: Welcome today to author Stacy Mozer, and a big “outta the park” congratulations on her middle grade novel THE SWEET SPOT, which debuts 3/25/16! Stacy doesn’t know this but she was one of the first people I met in SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). She was giving a talk on critique techniques/critique groups at a conference. I remember thinking, “I don’t even know if I belong here.” Six years later, I’m still a part of the same critique group that I joined based on her encouragement.
Second Base: Let’s turn our attention to THE SWEET SPOT!

When thirteen-year-old Sam Barrette’s baseball coach tells her that her attitude’s holding her back, she wants to hit him in the head with a line drive. Why shouldn’t she have an attitude? As the only girl playing in the 13U league, she’s had to listen to boys and people in the stands screaming things like “Go play softball,” all season, just because she’s a girl. Her coach barely lets her play, even though she’s one of the best hitters on the team.

All stakes now rest on Sam’s performance at baseball training camp. But the moment she arrives, miscommunication sets the week up for potential disaster. Placed at the bottom with the weaker players, she will have to work her way up to A league, not just to show Coach that she can be the best team player possible, but to prove to herself that she can hold a bat with the All-Star boys.

 
Third Base: Stacy kindly answered my questions about herself, her writing, and THE SWEET SPOT.
NT: How did your writing career begin? What other kinds of hats have you worn in your professional life?
SBM: My writing career began when a group of third grade students told me that there was no way a real author who wrote real books could possibly revise as much as I asked them to revise. I told them that I would write a book to find out. That book is still in revision. It’s been over ten years. In my professional life I have only been an elementary teacher but that has always come with many hats; teacher, mentor, curriculum writer, therapist, counselor, reader, mathematician, scientist…you name it, elementary school teachers do it every day.
NT: What were you like as a kid? Were you sporty like Sam? Would you have been friends with her?
SBM: I was a pretty quiet kid. The smart, bookish, teacher’s pet type. I was not an athlete. I loved baseball, but as a Mets fan, not a player. I admired the sporty athletic girls and would go to their games, but was never one myself. So I might have wanted to be friends with Sam, but unless she was also a singer or an drama geek, I may not have had a chance to have met her.
NT: What kind of books did you like as a 13-year-old?
SBM: My main genre to read has always been high fantasy. I loved getting whisked away in imagined worlds full of adventure. At 14 I think I also loved The Sweet Valley High books and other books about girls who were in high school.
NT:  What are you working on next?
SBM: Right now I’m working on book 2 in The Sweet Spot series, which is called The Perfect Trip. It will be releasing from Spellbound River this time next year. I am also still revising the middle grade high fantasy book I wrote those many years ago when my class challenged me.
NT: Any advice for other writers and creative types?
SBM: It will sound cliche, but make sure to never give up on this dream. It is so easy to want to give up. Publishing is a business full of rejection and it moves as fast as a snail. Try to write because you love it and the rest will come — it just might take a long time. As the critique group coordinator for NESCBWI I also have to remind your readers of how important it is to find your tribe as you move forward. Whether it’s people you meet with to discuss your work or just a supportive group of writer friends, no one gets this the way other writers do.
 

Home Run: THE SWEET SPOT ebook is available for pre-order on Kindle at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B01D8VYWK6 and in iBooks

Or, in paperback (tomorrow) from Spellbound River Press  http://www.SpellboundRiver.com
For signed paperback copies, contact Diane’s Books in Greenwich 203-869-1515. Ask for Maria or Theresa.
 
Extra Innings: You can enter below to win your own copy of THE SWEET SPOT. Just click on the Rafflecopter link to enter!
 
Rafflecopter Giveaway:
Stacy Barnett Mozer is a third grade teacher and a mom. She started writing books when a class of students told her that there was no way that a real author who wrote real books could possibly revise their work as much as she asked them to revise. She’s been revising her own work ever since. 
Social Media Links:
 
 
 

 

Wishful Adoption

I met Addie last summer. She rode around in the car with me, and I fell in love with her 12-year-old self. She is funny, resilient, and in need of love and a stable home. I would have adopted her on the spot, if it had been possible.

Months later, I’m still thinking about her. I’ve actually caught myself wondering how she’s doing. That might seem reasonable, except for the fact that Addie is not real.

She’s actually the main character in the middle grade novel WAITING FOR NORMAL, which I listened to on CD.

Normal

From Goodreads:

Addie is waiting for normal.

But Addie’s mom has an all-or-nothing approach to life: a food fiesta or an empty pantry, jubilation or gloom, her way or no way.

All or nothing never adds up to normal.

All or nothing can’t bring you all to home, which is exactly where Addie longs to be, with her half sisters, every day.

In spite of life’s twists and turns, Addie remains optimistic. Someday, maybe, she’ll find normal.

Leslie Connor has created an inspiring novel about one girl’s giant spirit. waiting for normal is a heartwarming gem.

I meet a lot of characters in books that I’d like to know in the real world, but Addie was and is special to me. One reviewer called her a “21st century Pollyanna” (like it was a bad thing!) which helped me realize why I loved her so much. She takes these crap situations life keeps throwing at her, and she never stops believing things might turn out okay.

I also fell in love with the two people who run the gas station across the street from Addie’s trailer. Both Sula and Elliot are well-crafted examples of how small acts of kindness can make a big impact on someone’s life. Addie’s stepfather is also a rock-star, someone you hope does exist in the real world, because you know he’s so needed. But most of the time, Addie’s mom’s erratic behavior made me want to reach into that book and pluck Addie out so she could safely stay with me.

Oh, Addie. Yes, I will adopt you.

The problem is, you will have to share a bedroom with 9-year-old Ada. Ada’s mom makes Addie’s mom look like a PTA committee chairwoman. Like Addie, I met Ada when she spent a few weeks riding around in the car with me. (Maybe my problem is listening to these stories via CD – I hear the character’s ‘voices’ and become convinced they’re real?) Again, we have a special child fighting crappy odds. But then WWII gets layered on. I became frantic wondering how I could fast track Ada’s adoption.

TheWar

From Goodreads:

An exceptionally moving story of triumph against all odds set during World War 2, from the acclaimed author of Jefferson’s Sons and for fans of Number the Stars.

Nine-year-old Ada has never left her one-room apartment. Her mother is too humiliated by Ada’s twisted foot to let her outside. So when her little brother Jamie is shipped out of London to escape the war, Ada doesn’t waste a minute—she sneaks out to join him.

So begins a new adventure of Ada, and for Susan Smith, the woman who is forced to take the two kids in. As Ada teaches herself to ride a pony, learns to read, and watches for German spies, she begins to trust Susan—and Susan begins to love Ada and Jamie. But in the end, will their bond be enough to hold them together through wartime? Or will Ada and her brother fall back into the cruel hands of their mother?
 
This masterful work of historical fiction is equal parts adventure and a moving tale of family and identity—a classic in the making.

Ada is the opposite of a Pollyanna. She never really expects anything good to happen at all. And when good things do happen, she is deeply mistrustful. Being treated with kindness is especially hard for her. The descriptions of how her caretaker Susan (who never asked for or wanted Ada and her brother) deals with Ada’s outbursts and anxieties are beautiful, and wild, and real. The author really does an amazing job of showing the good, the bad, and the ugly of what happens when someone opens their home and heart to a child who has been wounded emotionally.

I’m not sure I could have done as good a job as Susan in helping Ada, so it’s probably best my adoption plans did not go through. Plus, it may have been hard to time travel back to the 1940s. But in my mind, Ada lives at the horse farm down the road, and Addie is a just a few hours car ride away. I wish I could have them both here, so I could give them the hugs I’ve been saving up for them. I thank Leslie Connor and Kimberly Brubaker Bradley for writing these stories and introducing me to these two exceptional girls.

WILL’S WORDS: Interview with children’s author Jane Sutcliffe

Now Read This!

I’m enjoying a growing trend in Middle Grade reading: novels in verse.

book love

These stories have a narrative arc, and character development, and all the things you’d expect from a novel-length work. But, they are told through the medium of poetry rather than prose.

Two of the main things I love about this type of novel are the beauty of the language, and the accessibility of the stories. This style of writing is particularly well suited for people who claim to not like poetry, or kids who are reluctant readers. There is a lot of white space in poetry, which can be very welcoming to readers who feel stuck when they see a page full of words.

Brown_Girl_Dreaming-200brown girl dreaming (Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Books 2014) by Jaqueline Woodson (newly named Young People’s Poet Laureate) won the 2014 National Book Award.

Through a connected series of poems, Woodson chronicles her life growing up in the 1960s and 70s in both the North and the South. I gained a much deeper appreciation of the landscape of our country at that time while reading her touching, often funny, and deeply personal story.

My favorites were the “how to listen” poems.

how to listen #3

Middle of the night

my grandfather is coughing

me upright. Startled.

***

how to listen #7

Even the silence

has a story to tell you.

Just listen. Listen.

***

Give yourself the chance to listen to her words. They’re beautiful.

Cover of The Crossover by Kwame AlexanderThe Crossover (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014) by Kwame Alexander was this year’s Newbery Award Winner.

The Crossover is a heart-pumping story of basketball phemon twin-brothers Josh and Jordan Bell. But as the jacket flap says: Josh has more than hoops in his blood. He’s got a river of rhymes flowing through him – a sick flow that helps him find his rhythm when everything’s on the line.

This book is a natural summer reading pick for sports lovers. The word play, especially during scenes that describe basketball games, is really fun.

From Dribbling:

…Be careful though,

’cause now I’m CRUNKing

CrissCROSSING

FLOSSING

flipping

and my dipping will leave you

SLIPPING on the floor, while I

SWOOP in

to the finish with a fierce finger roll…

Straight to the hole:

Swooooooooooooooosh.

FREE Basketball Camp for 3rd & 4th Graders

However, it’s not exclusively for sports fans. There’s a tender story of family at the heart of this novel that will appeal to all readers.

Basketball Rule #1

In this game of life

your family is the court

and the ball is your heart.

No matter how good you are,

no matter how down you get,

always leave

your heart

on the court.

***

Happy Reading!

The Book Aunt’s Gift-Giving Guide 2014

If you’re casting about for gift ideas for your friends and family, I suggest you consider giving BOOKS! You might not steal the show at the holiday gathering, but later, when you have tired kids who want to curl up with the original hand-held escape, the glory will be yours. When the mid-winter relatives have cabin fever, and the book you gave is their salvation, you will be thanked. (If you’re worried about giving books as gifts in case they’ve already been read, just be sure to include a gift receipt!)

There are SO MANY great choices out there. This is a small sampling of some I’ve come across in 2014. In each case, I suggest a “pair with” gift and a profile of who the book may be best suited for. Happy shopping!

Picture Books (ages 0-5+)

Flora

FLORA AND THE PENGUIN by Molly Idle. This is a seriously adorable wordless winter tale of a friendship on ice. Young kids will enjoying “reading” it themselves, over and over. Great for kids who like interactive (lift-the-flap) books, ice-skating, and/or penguins. Pair with a stuffed penguin or a coupon to take the recipient ice skating.

Novak

THE BOOK WITH NO PICTURES by B.J. Novak. On the flip side to Ms. Idles wordless book, this book is pictureless. Perfect for the “little devil” on your list, the book goads the adult reader into saying silly sounds and words because “Everything the words say, the person reading the book has to say.” Pair with a whoopie cushion.

Middle Grade novels (ages 8-13ish)

The-Dirty-Diary-Cover-w-Blurb-small

 

THE DIRT DIARY by Anna Staniszewski. The first in a series, this book introduces us to Rachel, whose imperfections make her perfectly lovable. Rachel is a girl who loves to bake, but to help out her mom, must clean toilets instead. Great for the kid who always seems to have good intentions that lead to bad results! Pair with a cookie sheet and baking mix.

Hattie

HATTIE BIG SKY by Kirby Larson. Another first in a series, this is perfect for Little House on the Prairie type fans. Hattie is a 16-year-old who leaves Iowa to prove up on her late uncle’s homestead claim near Vida, Montana. Pair with a pair of warm socks and/or a cat.

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DIARY OF A WIMPY KID, THE LONG HAUL by Jeff Kinney.  Kids simply can’t get enough of this series! A natural choice for reluctant readers, text and pictures intertwine to tell the latest adventure of Greg Heffley and his family as they set out on a road trip. Pair with one of the DIARY OF A WIMPY KID book journals – a combination of blank pages and journalling suggestions – to get kids writing as well.

Young adult novels (ages 12 +)

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THE FIFTH WAVE by Rick Yancey. This book is perfect for your older sci-fi loving kid. In brief, it’s a classic “alien’s attack and take over the world” scenario, with fantastic pacing and lots of layers. I read it because I was vetting it for my own kid, and was surprised how much I liked it. There is a smattering of profanity, but it is used as needed, not gratuitously. Pair with an air-soft gun.

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ALL THE TRUTH THAT’S IN ME by Julie Berry. I thought this was going to be another sci-fi story, due to the setting being a town called Roswell Station. But this haunting book is actually historical fiction. The main character, Judith, is unable to speak, yet you will never forget her voice. Perfect for older kids who will understand the nuance of mentally imbalanced adults, and the importance of sometimes sharing secrets. Pair with tickets to a local colonial village.

Fiction and Non-Fiction for the grown-up set

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UNBROKEN by Laura Hillenbrand. This is the incredible story of olympian-turned WWII Lieutenant Louis Zamperini. Recently made into a movie, this book will appeal to the avid runner and/or history buff on your list. Pair with a WWII documentary, or movie tickets to see Unbroken when it opens.

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CASTING OFF by Nicole R. Dickson. This book tells the story of Rebecca Moray, who comes to an island off the coast of Ireland to research a book on Irish knitting, and how she and her daughter interact with the people there. Perfect for the knitter on your list. If they’re Irish, extra points. Pair with knitting needles/yarn.

I’m sure you know of several more books in each category that you’ve loved and could give as gifts! This year, I encourage you to do just that. Happy holidays, and happy reading!

A TIME TO DANCE – Interview with author Padma Venkatraman

 

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Have you ever read a story and wished you could ask the author questions about it? That is what happened to me while reading A TIME TO DANCE by Padma Venkatraman. And guess what? My wish came true! A hearty welcome today to Ms. Venkatraman, who graciously agreed to give us a behind the scenes peek at how this beautiful book came to be.

First, a bit about the story itself. Here is an overview, from Goodreads:

Padma Venkatraman’s inspiring story of a young girl’s struggle to regain her passion and find a new peace is told lyrically through verse that captures the beauty and mystery of India and the ancient bharatanatyam dance form. This is a stunning novel about spiritual awakening, the power of art, and above all, the courage and resilience of the human spirit.

Veda, a classical dance prodigy in India, lives and breathes dance—so when an accident leaves her a below-knee amputee, her dreams are shattered. For a girl who’s grown used to receiving applause for her dance prowess and flexibility, adjusting to a prosthetic leg is painful and humbling. But Veda refuses to let her disability rob her of her dreams, and she starts all over again, taking beginner classes with the youngest dancers. Then Veda meets Govinda, a young man who approaches dance as a spiritual pursuit. As their relationship deepens, Veda reconnects with the world around her, and begins to discover who she is and what dance truly means to her.”

Bharatamatyam is a classical dance form of South India. Here’s an example:

As I read A TIME TO DANCE I was especially carried away by the description of the dancing itself. So, the first question I asked was:

Nancy: What is your experience with Bharatanatyam dance? As I was reading, I was guessing you must have personal experience. Am I right?

Thank you for your time and for sharing your process with us, Padma! I encourage all readers to make time for A TIME TO DANCE. It’s gorgeous.