Laura’s Boo!shelf: The Memory Trees

This week’s Poetry Friday hostess with the mostest is Irene Latham. You’ll find all of the links at Live Your Poem.

Big news, Poetry Friday friends! Today is the cover reveal for my latest middle grade novel, Takedown. This prose novel is about two middle school wrestlers, a boy and a girl, who are *not* happy when their coach makes them training partners. Curious? Stop by Nerdy Book Club for a sneak peek.

This month, I’m blogging about scary stories. The next book on my October Boo!shelf is Kali Wallace‘s just-published YA novel, The Memory Trees.

The Memory Trees is the story of 16-year-old Sorrow Lovegood, who has lived with her father and step-mother in Florida since she was eight years old. As the novel begins, Sorrow travels to rural Vermont, returning to the home and apple orchard the women in her family have owned and farmed for generations. She’s devoting this summer to reconciling with her mother. But Sorrow is also hoping to trigger her own memories of the death of her older sister, Patience, eight years ago.

The Memory Trees is an atmospheric mystery about two families (the Lovegoods and the Abramses) whose scuffles, hostilities, and secret friendships are woven into the stark Vermont landscape. Kali addresses issues of grief, mental illness, co-dependency, and Sorrow’s fight to uncover the mystery of her sister’s death.

The writing is absolutely gorgeous. Sorrow’s growth as she reconnects with her own history makes for a powerful story. Highly recommended!

The Memory Trees published this week, October 10. Here is the blurb from Goodreads:

The Memory Trees is a dark magical realism novel about a mysterious family legacy, a centuries-old feud, and a tragic loss that resurfaces when sixteen-year-old Sorrow returns to her mother’s family orchard for the summer.

Sorrow Lovegood’s life has been shaped by the stories of the women who came before her: brave, resilient women who settled long ago on a mercurial apple orchard in Vermont. The land has been passed down through generations, and Sorrow and her family take pride in its strange history. Their offbeat habits may be ridiculed by other townspeople—especially their neighbors, the Abrams family—but for the first eight years of her life, the orchard is Sorrow’s whole world. 

Then one winter night everything changes. Sorrow’s sister Patience is tragically killed. Their mother suffers a mental breakdown. Sorrow is sent to live with her dad in Miami, away from the only home she’s ever known.

Now sixteen, Sorrow’s memories of her life in Vermont are maddeningly hazy; even the details of her sister’s death are unclear. She returns to the orchard for the summer, determined to learn more about her troubled childhood and the family she left eight years ago. Why has her mother kept her distance over the years? What actually happened the night Patience died? Is the orchard trying to tell her something, or is she just imagining things?

The elements play an important role in Sorrow’s story. Fire and ice, heat and cold, familial warmth and long-frozen memories swirl and push and angle for control at the Lovegood homestead. That’s why I’m pairing Robert Frost’s “Fire and Ice” with The Memory Trees. Read the book, then let me know what you think of this pairing.

Fire and Ice
By Robert Frost

Some say the world will end in fire,   
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To know that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

Kali Wallace studied geology and earned a PhD in geophysics before she realized she enjoyed inventing imaginary worlds more than she liked researching the real one. She is the author of the dark fantastical young adult novels Shallow Graves and The Memory Trees, and the upcoming middle grade fantasy novel City of Islands. Her short fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, F&SF, Asimov’s, Tor.com, and other speculative fiction magazines. After spending most of her life in Colorado, she now lives in southern California.

I blogged about Kali’s debut novel, Shallow Graves, in 2015 (read that post here). It’s one of my favorite horror novels.

If you’d like to read more about Kali’s book, she’s on a blog tour. I enjoyed this “Halloween Reads” post about The Memory Trees. And she talked about the ups and downs of writing book 2 at Chuck Wendig’s blog. (So exciting! That’s one of my favorite blogs about writing.) I’ve enjoyed both of Kali’s books, so I can’t wait to read her middle grade novel.

See you next week. I’ll have another scary story to share.

Laura’s Boo!shelf: The Rattled Bones

Violet Nesdoly is hosting Poetry Friday this week. Stop by her blog for a list of poetry posts around the kidlitosphere.

Autumn is here at last! Goodbye, sweating buckets at the Baltimore Book Festival. Hello, sweaters and crunchy leaves. I’m cozying up with a pumpkin spice latte (just kidding — flavored coffee is truly frightening) and some spine tingling stories.

The first novel on my October Boo!shelf is Shannon Parker’s ghost story, The Rattled Bones.

Here is the description:

Maine-bred, independent Rilla Brae is no stranger to the deep. She knows the rhythms of hard work and harder seas. But when she experiences the sudden death of her father, the veil between the living and the dead blurs and she begins to be haunted by a girl on a nearby, uninhabited island. The girl floats a song over the waves, and it is as beautiful as it is terrifying. Familiar and distant.

Then Rilla meets Sam, a University of Southern Maine archaeology student tasked with excavating the very island where the ghostly girl appeared. Sam sifts the earth looking for the cultural remains of an island people who were forcibly evicted by the state nearly a hundred years ago. Sam tells Rilla the island has a history no locals talk about—if they know about it at all—due to the shame the events brought to the working waterfront community. All Rilla knows for sure is that the island has always been there—an eerie presence anchored in the stormy sea. Now Sam’s work and the girl’s song lure Rilla to the island’s shores.

As Rilla helps Sam to unearth the island’s many secrets, Rilla’s visions grow—until the two discover a tragedy kept silent for years. And it’s a tragedy that has everything to do with Rilla’s past.

Today, Shannon is stopping by for 5 Questions with the Author. And since it’s Poetry Friday, I’ve got the perfect scary poem to pair with her book.

Laura: As the The Rattled Bones opens, Rilla Brae has just graduated from high school. She was excited about going to college, but her father’s recent death has her rethinking her plans. Then she experiences a haunting. Why is it important for Rilla to solve this family mystery before she decides whether to stay and support her family or leave home?

Shannon: This is a great question!

The Rattled Bones is part mystery, part historical fiction, part contemporary and, of course, a ghost story.

At the beginning of the book, Rilla’s father has died at sea and her grief causes the veil between the living and the dead to lift. Through tragedy, this 17-year-old fisherman quickly becomes the sole financial provider for her family. As she works the seas, she begins to see an eerie presence on an uninhabited island, starts to hear a familiar but distant song carry over the waves. Rilla sees this girl—this ghost—in the dark of the underwater, on the shores of her back yard. The girl is all seaweed hair and gravel-rough voice. She is everywhere and nowhere.

Rilla can’t leave for college knowing her Gram might be in danger, that this girl could haunt her grandmother too. But more importantly, Rilla can’t resist the pull of this otherworldly girl because they are connected in a way that changes Rilla’s future and her past.

Laura: Rilla comes from a family of lobstermen. This part of the story is fascinating – there’s the lingo (lobsters are known as “bugs”), the banter on the docks, and the long-standing superstitions. How does Rilla’s struggle to be accepted and respected in this community reflect the overall themes of the novel?

Shannon: Lobster fishing is fascinating. It is hard work on rough seas. The industry is familial and insular and has a language and rhythm all its own. Rilla has grown up lobstering—catching bugs—all her life, but when she becomes captain of her own boat, the reader sees the prejudice and misogyny that can exist in segments of this male-dominated industry.

The novel has many feminist themes and Rilla’s work on the ocean is one way to highlight the overall feminist tone of the book.

Laura: This is a novel that is deeply tied to setting. The closely drawn details of Rilla’s small Maine fishing village keep the reader grounded as the haunting progresses. Could you talk about coastal Maine and the writing techniques you used to capture it so vividly?

Shannon: Maine’s coast is harsh and beautiful. When a thick fog drops over the water, it can feel as if you’re standing at the edge of the universe. When the sky is blue, you can feel the world pulse on into eternity. I can’t speak to any writing techniques I used because I never considered the ocean from a craft perspective. She was a character like any other and I needed to develop her in a way that the reader would feel the salt lick of the ocean’s breath, know the cold reaches of her depths, the pulse of her tides. The sea needed to move and shift and breathe around Rilla so that I could explore some of the paranormal elements of the haunting, but I also needed the reader to feel the dangers of Rilla’s work at sea, how the ocean often takes more than she gives.

Laura: The Rattled Bones is a ghost story, but its foundation is built on a historical event. How did you become interested in the history of the island of Malaga? Did your research lead you to any unexpected places?

Shannon: About ten years ago I came across a photo-documentary called: Malaga Island: A Story Best Left Untold. The storyteller in me was immediately intrigued. I couldn’t imagine any story better for being silenced. So I told it.

The most unexpected part of my research was learning of the legacy of shame that still haunts Malaga descendants—many of whom still fish the waters around the island today. The shame has taken root in the psyches of the descendants of Malaga Island victims, not the perpetrators. That will never stop surprising me.

Laura: What made you decide to make The Rattled Bones a ghost story with a contemporary teen protagonist instead of exploring Malaga’s past through historical fiction?

Shannon: I don’t think I could write historical fiction. Also, I’ve always wanted to be haunted by a ghost.

Shannon M. Parker is an author and educator who spent her young adult years collecting thirty-seven stamps in her passport. She holds degrees in English Literature, Linguistics and Educational Leadership from Saint Michael’s College, UMass Boston and University of Southern Maine respectively. She lives in New England with her family.

Shannon has been a Poetry Friday featured guest before. You can read my post about her first novel, The Girl Who Fell, here. 

Readers, you know how excited I get when I find the *perfect* poem to pair with a novel.

Cynthia Huntington’s poem “Ghost” has the same eerie quality as Shannon’s book. The other sits just at the edge of every day, ordinary life, watching.

Ghost

At first you didn’t know me.
I was a shape moving rapidly, nervous
 
at the edge of your vision. A flat, high voice,
dark slash of hair across my cheekbone.
 
I made myself present, though never distinct.
Things I said that he repeated, a tone
 
you could hear, but never trace, in his voice.
Silence—followed by talk of other things.
 
When you would sit at your desk, I would creep
near you like a question. A thought would scurry
 
across the front of your mind. I’d be there,
ducking out of sight.

Read the rest at the Poetry Foundation.

A note for middle grade readers: If Malaga Island sounds familiar, it is the setting of Gary Schmidt’s historical fiction, Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy.

Poetry Friday: Landing on Her Feet

It’s Poetry Friday! This week, Amy Ludwig VanDerwater has hosting duties. Congrats to Amy on her latest poetic picture book. READ! READ! READ! came out this week. You’ll find all of the Poetry Friday links at The Poem Farm.

Winner of the 2015 Donald Justice Poetry Prize.

My friend, novelist and poet Patricia Valdata, visited recently. She was here to feature at the local literary and open-mic series I co-host, Wilde Readings.

Pat’s latest book is Where No Man Can Touch, a book of persona poems! You know how much I love persona poems. This series is all about women who were first in flight. (Pat is an amateur pilot.)

Here is a description of the book from JMWW literary journal:

“Valdata did extensive research to compile the stories of the many women around the world who took to the skies. Where No Man Can Touch is organized by time periods stretching through the centuries, beginning with the 1700s-1800s and then moving through the 20th century in 10-year increments, ending with the last poem in 1953. Each poem starts with a short epigraph that includes the dates of the woman’s life and the dates of her major flight-related accomplishments. By providing readers with a clear frame of reference, Valdata showcases the range of international women who were enchanted by the dream of flight.”

There are many wonderful voices in this book. One of my favorites is this concrete poem, “Landing on Her Feet.” Pat captures the humor and will of the poem’s speaker, Georgia “Tiny” Broadwick. I love that this is a shape poem, with the reader’s eyes billowing out in long lines first, then falling down the page.

Published with permission of the author.

The National Air and Space Museum has a great page about Tiny Broadwick. Her personality leaps off the page. You can check that out and see her parachute here.

Patricia Valdata is a poet and novelist. Her book of persona poems in the voices of women aviation pioneers, Where No Man Can Touch, received the Donald Justice Prize and was published in 2015 by West Chester University. Her poetry has appeared recently in Ecotone, Italian Americana, Little Patuxent Review, and Passager. She has work forthcoming in String Poet and Nasty Women Poets: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse.

Pet’s-Eye View: Writing with GRA’s Fenway and Hattie + Pet Crazy

Happy Poetry Friday! I took the summer off from blogging and I’m glad to be back with you. This week’s host for the Poetry Friday link-up is Michelle Heidenrich Barnes at Today’s Little Ditty.  Michelle’s blogging about the International Day of Peace (September 21) and invites us all to share a poem on the them of peace.

Sam and Rudy agree! Fenway and Hattie is a great read aloud.

It’s been a few years since I blogged about Victoria J. Coe’s first middle grade novel, the hilarious Fenway and Hattie. (Read that post here.)

The charm and humor of the Fenway books (the third title in the series publishes in January) is their point of view. Narrator Fenway is a rambunctious Jack Russell Terrier who doesn’t understand that his back yard isn’t a dog park and that slippery floors are not inherently evil. What a great read-aloud for kids.

Now Fenway is going global. Fenway and Hattie is this year’s Global Read Aloud for early readers. Congratulations to Victoria! (What is Global Read Aloud? Learn more here.)

And how serendipitous for us that the latest Poetry Friday book from Janet Wong and Sylvia Vardell is the newly published Pet Crazy!

Victoria and I decided to go to the dogs — and cats. We put together a poetry writing extension for Fenway and Hattie using my poem from Pet Crazy as a model. Global Read Aloud participants can find more Fenway and Hattie resources at Victoria’s Padlet.

Welcome, Victoria!

Fenway and Hattie + Pet Crazy Mini Point of View Lesson

A creative writing extension for readers of Fenway and Hattie

Victoria and Kipper.

An invitation from Victoria J. Coe

Reading Fenway and Hattie gives students the chance to experience a dog’s point of view.  

Seeing the world from a new point of view is not only fun, but it also shows that our own perspective isn’t the only one out there.

Two people – or two species – can experience the exact same thing and interpret it very differently. That doesn’t mean that one is right and one is wrong. It just means your reality depends on your point of view.

Writing from a point of view different from our own is an even more powerful way of realizing there are at least two sides to every story.

Victoria and poet Laura Shovan (The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary) have collaborated on a creative writing extension for Fenway and Hattie!

In this mini-workshop, students will have their chance to think like a dog, or cat, or parrot as they write a short poem from an animal’s point of view. The mentor texts for this extension are Fenway and Hattie, by Victoria J. Coe, and the poem “Lost and Found,” by Laura Shovan, from Pet Crazy: A Poetry Friday Power Book.

After reading Fenway and Hattie, invite the whole class or small groups to do an analysis. Create a T-chart comparing how animals and humans view one of the following experiences:

Going to the vet

Moving to a new home

Learning to obey

Dinnertime!

Ready to write a poem describing an experience from a pet’s point of view? Our model poem is “Lost and Found,” by Laura Shovan (from Pet Crazy: A Poetry Friday Power Book). In this poem, a young cat goes exploring and can’t find its way back home.

Lost and Found
By Laura Shovan

I’m a curious cat.
My gray tail twitches.
I chase bird shadows
from lawn to lawn.
But when I sniff
and know I’ve lost
the scent of home,
I cry a sad song.
Meow! Meow!
Someone find me.
See my collar?
Call that number.
Take me home.

Some suggested “experiences” for young poets to write about include events from Fenway and Hattie:

  • Moving to a new home.
  • Meeting a new animal friend.
  • Being left out.
  • Describing a favorite human.
  • Something scary!
  • Learning to obey.
  • Asking for food.

After students share their writing, Victoria recommends these follow up questions:

    • What was surprising about thinking like an animal?
    • What did you learn about the pet’s point of view?
    • How would you describe the same event as a human kid?

Hints and helps from Victoria and Laura:

  • Kids can brainstorm their poems using a t-chart.
  • Prompt students to think about their five sense as their chosen animal. What would they hear, smell, and see from the pet’s-eye-view?
  • The goal is to write a poem, but it’s fine to draft in prose sentences.

Ordering information:

FENWAY AND HATTIE by Victoria J. Coe is available wherever books are sold, including: Your local independent bookstore, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.

Victoria J. Coe is the author of Fenway and Hattie, the 2017 Global Read Aloud book for Early Readers, as well as two additional Fenway and Hattie novels. She teaches creative writing to adults in Cambridge, MA. Find her online @victoriajcoe (twitter/IG) and at: www.victoriajcoe.com.

 

PET CRAZY: A POETRY FRIDAY POWER BOOK, by Sylvia Vardell & Janet Wong, is available at Amazon and Pomelo Books.

Laura Shovan’s middle grade novel-in-verse, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, is a NCTE 2017 Notable Verse Novel and won CYBILS and Nerdy Book Club awards for poetry. She is a longtime poet-in-the-schools and the author and editor of three books of poetry for adults. Laura is a contributor to Pet Crazy: A Poetry Friday Power Book, by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong. Visit her at: www.laurashovan.com.

 

“For Not Lost Is the Hope”

My teen and I visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum last week. Just a few days after a deadly white supremacist march in our neighboring state of Virginia, it was healing to see hundreds of people in the museum’s galleries, learning about how the politics of hate can infect and impact a society. (Read the USHMM’s response to Charlottesville.)

I was especially moved by the Yiddish poetry of resistance. Some of these poems survived the Nazi genocide of European Jews.

My own Jewish family left France, Romania, and Germany in the early 20th century and immigrated to the United States. Though they were all in the U.S. by the 1920s, I wonder about extended family — aunts, uncles, cousins, who stayed behind.

This poem is giving me hope today.

For Not Lost Is the Hope

By Yitshok Katsenelson
Yiddish to English translation by Dr. Sarah Moskovitz

For not lost is the hope of a tree,
even when already cut and felled
it grows again
and blooms
without an end—
The sprouting will not stop.

And when the root gets old amid the dust
and if
the root has ceased
to live deep in the earth—

it only has to sense a bit of water in the depths
to bloom again…

Read the rest at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website.

For more poetry of the Holocaust, visit Poetry in Hell: Warsaw Ghetto Poems from the Ringelblum Archives.

Poetry Friday: Into the Deep, Deep Brave

Want more Poetry Friday? Stop by The Logonauts for a round up of poetry links from across the kidlitosphere.

One of the best parts about being a Little Free Library steward is chatting with other LFL stewards. It’s always exciting when someone new joins our communication hub, sharing photos of their freshly painted library, filled with books, ready for people to discover and borrow.

Earlier this month, a steward in Ohio shared news that caught my eye. Sylvia Call was excited to announce that her son’s first book had just published. It is a book of poems, Into the Deep, Deep Brave. What’s unique about this book is that its author, Arthur H. Call, is a three-year old with Hyperlexia.

Sylvia and I began to talk about poetry and Arthur’s book. The poems are filled with humor, but also show profound insight — Arthur is clearly a deep thinker.

I’m thrilled to have Sylvia visiting my blog today, to tell us more about Arthur and share a few samples of his poetry.

Welcome, Sylvia! Tell us the backstory of Arthur’s poetry book.

During the fall and winter of 2016, Arthur (who was almost three) had just started talking for the first time (he also started reading and spelling words that I often had to look up).  Arthur is on the autism spectrum and has Hyperlexia which gives him this beautiful gift with words and language.

[Read more about Hyperlexia at the Center for Speech and Language Disorders.]

All through the winter, he would potter about the house making up these neat little poems and reciting them out loud to me. I wrote them all down the moment he said them, and tried to punctuate them based on his pauses and stops. (Many of his poems were hastily scribbled onto the backs of envelopes or along the margins of papers I happened to be grading.)

I didn’t have a plan for his poems at the time, but every now and then I would share one of my favorites on social media. It all sort of snowballed from there, and after talking things through with a phenomenally talented illustrator named Molly McGuire, I thought that perhaps publishing a book of poetry written by a toddler was really the only sensible thing left to do.

After months of collaborating, planning, and dreaming, Arthur’s first book is finally out in the world. What a fun little adventure it’s been.


Thanks for sharing Arthur’s story, Sylvia. I remember first learning about Hyperlexia through some articles by and about author Priscilla Gilman. Here is a link to check out to learn more about Priscilla’s experience with a child with Hyperlexia. 

Are you ready for some poetry, readers?

Selections from Into the Deep, Deep Brave
by Arthur H. Call
Shared with permission

I am everything–
I am change.
Into the deep, deep brave.

***

Strum the banjo
Walking in the snow.
I’ll show you the way
Through the night.
***

Dance with me
Spinning through the air
Like dragonflies

***

The bear stood on the shore
And roared at the sea.
Free from his cage
and brave.

As a teacher of young writers, I applaud Sylvia for publishing Arthur’s poetry. Today, I shared Into the Deep, Deep Brave with my friend Matthew Winner, a school librarian and kidlit podcaster. The book — and Arthur’s words — prompted a fascinating conversation about children, their insights into the world around them, and how they use language for meaning and play.

Congratulations to Arthur!

Team TLC’s PitchWars Mentor Wish List

LET’S HEAR IT FOR MIDDLE GRADE SPIRIT!

Welcome to Team TLC, future Pitch Warriors. Coaches Laura Shovan and Tricia Clasen here.

Spartans

ROLL CALL:

I’m Laura Shovan. I am a poet. And a middle grade author. So check me out.

I’ve been training hard for PitchWars, Team. I’ve been on both sides of the editor’s desk and will use my knowledge to help you make your MG manuscript worthy of the perfect cheer. My past experience includes: freelancing for such publications as the Baltimore Sun, editor in chief of a nationally recognized literary journal, and editing two poetry anthologies. My twin passions are writing and education. I’ve been a visiting poet-in-the-schools since 2002, so my rhymes are fine. (Can I get a high kick?)

In 2013, my PitchWars mentor Joy McCullough-Carranza helped me polish my middle grade verse novel to a shine. I signed with Stephen Barbara after the winter 2014 agent round. The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary published in 2016. It was an honor to co-mentor with Tricia Clasen last year. We teamed up with mentee Jeanne Zulick-Ferruolo, who knocked it out of the park! Working as co-mentors requires us to be very thoughtful and choose our mentee CAREFULLY. Team TLC is looking for a project and a person we both feel strongly about and want to coach.

When I’m not writing books or reading I am a: poetry advocate, mother of two big kids and two dogs. I knit socks, and will occasionally break into Stephen Sondheim lyrics, ‘cause that’s how this girl spells R-O-W-D-I-E.

ROLL CALL:

I’m Tricia Clasen. I debuted last fall.  I’ll help you pitch. So check me out!

Hi team! (Does toe touch–and probably pulls a muscle).  I am so filled with the PitchWars Middle Grade spirit, and I cannot wait to help you get pitch perfect. (Does backflip–and likely falls on head.)

I’m a professor of communication and an avid lover of stories. The majority of my editing experience falls in the non-fiction realm, but I thoroughly enjoy working with critique groups and serving as a beta reader for fiction. On Team TLC, you get the benefit of Laura’s detailed editing eye and my passion for making stories flow, for ensuring disbelief remains suspended.

In terms of PitchWars, I was a sideline cheerleader for a long time. (Claps hands and yells “whoo!”)  Shortly after my first attempting at landing a mentor, I signed with my agent, Jen Linnan. My debut novel, THE HAUNTED HOUSE PROJECT published last October by Sky Pony Press.

In addition to reading and writing, I spend most of my time shuttling my two girls to dance class and planning vacations. (Hoists Laura up on my shoulders while she waves her hands and cheers.)

TeamTLC

So check us out!

WHAT GETS US WAVING OUR POM PONS?

CHARACTER DRIVEN MIDDLE GRADE

Contemporary MG is our wheelhouse, but we are also open to humor, magical realism, and light fantasy, provided it is voice-driven. We are looking for projects that have a strong emotional arc. If elements such as plot and setting serve as the backbone for your main character’s growth, you’re trying out for the right squad. Team TLC is all about middle grade protagonists who journey from childhood into adolescence, the classic coming-of-age story. The heart of a story is first in our hearts.

At Team TLC, we don’t need megaphones to be heard. We value the power of a quiet book. Let’s pass the megaphone to our star player, 2016 mentee Jeanne Zulick-Ferruolo.

Working with Laura & Tricia changed everything for me. My MG manuscript, RUBY IN THE SKY had gotten great critiques, won contests even, but I still couldn’t find an agent and I knew it was because there was something missing. Laura & Tricia didn’t “tell” me what was missing — what they did was more magical. They expertly & lovingly navigated me down the path to find the true heart of Ruby’s story. This required a total re-write of a beginning that had received many accolades — and I won’t lie, it was HARD! But the thing was, I TRUSTED Laura & Tricia. I knew they were right and I listened. After that initial re-write, they combed through my manuscript AGAIN, identifying the tweaks and turns that brought RUBY to the next level. I didn’t even know that level existed until I met them!

RUBY tied for the most requests in the MG category. I signed with my agent soon after and RUBY sold in a two-book deal. There is no way that Ruby and I would have gotten to this place without Laura & Tricia. If you want to take your MG manuscript to the next level and you are willing to LISTEN hard and WORK hard, submit to Laura & Tricia and be prepared to see your story soar!

Jeanne impressed us with her work ethic. She’s a great example of how much deep revision an author can accomplish over several weeks. Read her PitchWars success story here!

A NOTE ABOUT DIVERSITY

#WNDB is more than a hashtag. It is reality for the schools and students Laura visits. Tricia’s primary teaching and research relate to gender and cultural issues. No matter which genre you write, middle grade readers are hungry for books that mirror their lives (Ghost by Jason Reynolds, George by Alex Gino, Star Crossed by Barbara Dee), but also for books that help them understand a broad range of human experiences (Wonder by R.J. Palacio, The Land of Forgotten Girls by Erin Entrada Kelly). We will champion the heck out of submissions that include ethnic, socio-economic, and neuro-diversity as part of the deep fabric of the story.

TEAM TLC’S MIDDLE GRADE HALL OF FAME

cheerCoach Laura’s First-Place Reads trophies go to:

Recent Winners
GHOST, by Jason Reynolds
THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM, by Christopher Paul Curtis
LOVE THAT DOG, by Sharon Creech
HOWARD WALLACE, PI, by Casey Lyall
SAFFY’S ANGEL, by Hilary McKay
PAPER WISHES, by Lois Sepahban

Childhood Champions
ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND, by Lewis Carroll
GINGER PYE, by Eleanor Estes

(Notice a British theme? Laura’s mom is from England. She *loves* British kidlit.)

Coach Tricia’s First-Place Reads trophies go to:

Recent Winners:
THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY, by Laura Shovan (had to be said)
OUT OF MY MIND, by Sharon Draper
WONDER, by RJ Palacio
THE HATE U GIVE, Angie Thomas
FINDING PERFECT, Elly Swartz

Childhood Champions:
LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE Series
ANNE OF GREEN GABLES, by L.M. Montgomery
THE OUTSIDERS, by S.E. Hinton
ROLL OF THUNDER, HEAR MY CRY, by Mildred D. Taylor

(Notice a theme of realistic characters who overcome struggles?)

COMMITTING TO OUR TEAM

If you choose us, expect to work on two rounds of feedback. The first round will focus on the big picture (your overall dance routine) and will likely involve some global  changes. The second round will include intensive line edits (fine tuning your moves) on your book. This is a team effort. We value Skype meetings during the editorial process because it helps us better understand your vision for your story and to communicate our ideas. If you’re looking for a mentor to help you clean up an almost-there manuscript, someone else will be a better coach for you.

There’s so much middle grade goodness to choose from. If Team TLC isn’t for you, check out the many wonderful MG Pitch Wars mentors at the end of this post. You’ll also find the link up for all PW mentors here.

Got questions? Feel free to leave a comment. We also hang out on Twitter: @laurashovan and @trirae. Good luck, Pitch Warriors!

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Poetry Friday: A Poem from NerdCamp

UPDATED: This post is now 100% Mac & Cheesier.

It’s Poetry Friday and I’m just back from the NerdCamp education conference in Michigan.

I’m still unpacking — literally and figuratively. The speeches, sessions, panels of authors and educators, and working with students at NerdCamp Junior were inspiring. But I learned just as much during impromptu conversations with fellow NerdCampers who are passionate about reading and literacy.

Today, I’d like to share a poem by Chad Everett, who was one of the opening session speakers. You can find out more about Chad at his website ImagineLit. This was written and shared on Day 2 of NerdCamp.

Waiting for Superman

They gave me a contract, not a cape,
Truth is I’m not that great.

There is no brilliance in my lesson plans or my Flair pens,
But an abundance of brilliance exists in the young women and men who sit before me.

The young women and men not striving to Make America Great Again,
But those that curiously question if it ever was and remind us that true greatness does not come from outside, but from within.

No one asked you to put on a cape.
They asked you teach.

Read the rest at Chad Everett’s website.

I can’t leave without acknowledging that today is a holiday: National Mac & Cheese Day! Here’s a kinetic, concrete Mac & Cheese poem, created by a student.

Concrete Mac & Cheese poem from the Northfield ES third grade.

This week’s Poetry Friday link-up is hosted by Tabatha Yeatts. Stop by her blog, The Opposite of Indifference, for poetry book reviews, original poems, and poetry news from across the kidlitosphere.

5 Questions for the Author: Stacy Mozer

It was the solstice this week, Poetry Friday friends. Summer is here. I’m not a hot weather person, but there is one thing I will go outside for: baseball.

I love going to Camden Yards for an Orioles game on a hot summer night, eating crab cakes, drinking beer or Icees, and spending time with my family through the long innings.

I’ve been thinking a lot about sports in the past several months as I finish up work on my next book, Take Down, which is set on a middle school wrestling team. Visiting me today for an interview — and to share a poem for Poetry Friday — is Stacy Barnett Mozer, one of the authors behind the blog Sporty Girl Books.

Stacy’s latest book is The Perfect Trip, about Sam (Samantha) Barrette, a girl who has just made the boys’ travel baseball league.

Thanks for joining me for 5 Questions for the Author, Stacy!

1. THE PERFECT TRIP works as a stand-alone novel, but can you fill us in on Sam’s first story, THE SWEET SPOT? How has the character grown and changed since that book?

In the first book Sam is struggling to find her place as a thirteen-year-old female baseball player. At the beginning of the book she learns that her coach feels she has an attitude and that the only way he’ll recommend her for travel baseball is if she gets a good performance at baseball camp. But when she arrives they expect her to be a boy and place her on the team with weaker and younger players and it goes downhill from there. As in this book, Sam’s family plays an important role in the story. At the start of the book Sam sees her stepmother Nancy as the enemy and is completely forgiving of her never-present birth mother. She has to learn to sort those relationships out too.

2. One of my favorite scenes in THE PERFECT TRIP takes place at a pick-up baseball game at a campground. A group of older boys is sure they’ll win against their younger brothers, even more so when Sam joins the younger boys’ team. I love the dramatic irony of this scene. Can you talk about how girl athletes challenge expectations?

Thank you for picking up on that scene. My two books were originally written in the reverse order and it was when I wrote that scene at the campground that I discovered the real motivation of my real main character. As an elementary school teacher, there have been many years that I have watched girls being undervalued when they want to play sports at recess. I used to be able to name on my hand the ones who were able to persevere and fight for the respect they deserved on the field. Fortunately, I do feel that trend is currently on the upswing. There has been more attention given to women and sports in the news and the boys don’t seem as surprised to see the girls playing with them. I don’t think it hurts that they all know about my book as well.

3. I loved the relationship between Sam and her younger half-sister, Deborah. Would you describe how you drew these sisters and made their moments of love, annoyance, and betrayal so believable.

My younger sister and I always had a very close relationship. Even though she is as different from Deborah as I am from Sam, I definitely put the emotion behind our relationship into the story. We had mostly good times, but there were those moments. Deborah also has in her some of my daughter Annie. Annie was Deborah’s age when I wrote the book and I would pluck some scenes and conversations from observing her behavior and interests. Then I would place myself in the role of her older sister to see how I would react.

4. Sam’s real name is Samantha — a name she doesn’t use much. One of the main characters in my upcoming book is a girl wrestler, and I played around with names and nicknames too. She’s Mikayla at home, but “Mickey” on the wrestling mat (on the advice of her older brothers). Why are names so important? When female athletes play on co-ed or male teams, do you think names impact how their teammates and opponents view girls and women?

When I first wrote The Perfect Trip Sam’s name was Zoey. When I realized I wanted the people at baseball camp to think she was a boy, I needed a unisex name. I wasn’t sure which one I wanted, so I took it back to my third grade class. They voted for Sam. I don’t think that names should matter, but in this case it was important for the mix up.

5. Who was your female athlete hero when you were Sam’s age? What was important to you about her?

I can’t remember any particular female athlete heroes from my childhood, but there were two movies with female athletes that I’ve never forgotten. The first was Quarterback Princess with Helen Hunt as a female football player. The second is a lesser-known movie called Blue Skies Again, which is about a female baseball player. I remember watching both movies over and over and thinking how amazing it was that these girls were fighting for their right to play with the boys. When I was older, I admired Mia Hamm, which is why I had Sam’s best friend Tasha give her a few shout outs during The Perfect Trip.

School’s out for Heidi Mordhorst! She’s hosting the first Poetry Friday of summer at My Juicy Little Universe.

Please stop by Stacy’s website to read her full bio. I had no idea we were both NYU grads!

Since it’s Poetry Friday, I asked Stacy to recommend a poem to pair with THE PERFECT TRIP.

Her choice? The perfect poem! Here is “First Girls in Little League Baseball,” by J. Patrick Lewis — shared with Pat’s express permission.

 

 

First Girls in Little League Baseball

By J. Patrick Lewis

December 26, 1974
Title IX of the 1972 Education Act is signed, providing for equal opportunity in athletics for girls as well as boys.

The year was 1974
When Little Leaguers learned the score.
President Ford took out his pen
And signed a law that said from then
On women too would have the chance
To wear the stripes and wear the pants.
Now what you hear, as flags unfurl,
Is “Atta boy!” and “Atta girl!”

Posted with permission of the author.

5 Questions for the Author: Meg Eden

Mary Lee Hahn is hosting this week. Stop by the blog A Year of Reading for this week’s poetry offerings from around the kidlitosphere.

Happy Poetry Friday, everyone.

This week, I’m celebrating my friend Meg Eden‘s upcoming debut YA novel, Post-High School Reality Quest. I first met Meg when I was editing Little Patuxent Review. She is a talented young poet, and our journal published several of her poems.

Here’s what you’ll find in this post:

  • blurb of Post-High School Reality Quest from Goodreads,
  • interview with author Meg Eden (she has fascinating insights into transitioning from poetry to long-form fiction),
  • a poem by Meg,
  • link to a book giveaway!

PHSRQ publishes next week, June 13. Here is the description from Goodreads.

Buffy is playing a game. However, the game is her life, and there are no instructions or cheat codes on how to win.

After graduating high school, a voice called “the text parser” emerges in Buffy’s head, narrating her life as a classic text adventure game. Buffy figures this is just a manifestation of her shy, awkward, nerdy nature—until the voice doesn’t go away, and instead begins to dominate her thoughts, telling her how to life her life. Though Buffy tries to beat the game, crash it, and even restart it, it becomes clear that this game is not something she can simply “shut off” or beat without the text parser’s help.

While the text parser tries to give Buffy advice on how “to win the game,” Buffy decides to pursue her own game-plan: start over, make new friends, and win her long-time crush Tristan’s heart. But even when Buffy gets the guy of her dreams, the game doesn’t stop. In fact, it gets worse than she could’ve ever imagined: her crumbling group of friends fall apart, her roommate turns against her, and Buffy finds herself trying to survive in a game built off her greatest nightmares.

***

Congratulations on your debut, Meg! Let’s dive into the interview.

  1. I love quest stories with female leads. How does Post-High School Reality Quest follow and/or break with the traditional quest narrative?

You could say Buffy’s quest is for Tristan, but there’s nothing epic about it. She’s not going to any dramatic lengths to get him, despite how much she might want him. What might be more accurate is to say that Buffy’s quest is to survive, to return to normalcy. When I think of quest narratives, I think of journeys and characters that actively travel to get what they want. Buffy isn’t “setting out” on a quest. In fact, her desire is antithetical to “setting out”—if it was up to her, she’d be “setting in,” remaining in the comfort of her patterns. But instead the world is changing around her, the text parser is calling her to action, and she’s just hanging on for the ride.

It’s interesting that many girl-led quests are about a return to normalcy. There’s Alice, Dorothy, Coraline. But that’s a topic for another day.

  1. It’s clear from your main character’s name (Buffy!) that there are a lot of Easter eggs in PHSRQ for geeks and gamers. Can you tell us about a few of those without revealing any spoilers?

Buffy’s name for her backpack is “inventory,” a shout-out to a vital attribute in pretty much every game ever. There are some beautifully illustrated memes, including a nod to “You don’t say” Nicholas Cage and “I know that feel, bro.” Merrill’s house has the address number 404, as if it doesn’t exist (a reference to 404 website errors). There’s a love letter written out like code, and a birthday cake written in binary. There are Slave Leia costumes, an NES Super Scope, multiple Pikachu instances, a prized Pokemon Stadium N64 cartridge, and all sorts of other things I’m currently blanking on.

  1. Your book is written in second person. That’s a challenging point-of-view to write from, but fitting for a novel about video games. Would you explain the importance of the “You” voice for non-gamers?

Post-High School Reality Quest is the form of a classic text-adventure game–that is, those old MS-DOS games, before graphics, where the game would narrate what was happening, and you would type in commands to interact with the game (e.g., “You are in a room. There is an axe. Exits are: out.” and to move out of the room, you’d type “out”). By narrating in second person, these games attempted to place the player in the environment as a character in their story. You could say that in text-adventure games, there are two distinct voices: that of the narrator and that of the player. This would be totally different if the games were narrated as “I”—they would make the game and the player one in the same.

Narrating from the “you” in PHSRQ allowed me to create conflict between the text parser and Buffy, to have two different narrators and two different goals. First or third person narration wouldn’t inherently carry this conflict.

  1. You’re a published poet who is debuting as a YA novelist. How was writing fiction was different than putting together a book of poetry? How did being a poet benefit you as you worked on this novel?

This is a great question, and a hard one to answer. I think in short: a book of poems is about (to me at least) different angles on a related experience. There are lots of tendrils, and there’s an emotional rise and fall, but not usually a plot. There’s not necessarily a climax or conclusion, and it’s focusing more on the experience than the end-goal. A novel is about following characters through a narrative of wants and obstacles. Poetry’s structure is a rising line: imagery leading to a realization. A novel’s structure is an arc of obstacles rising to a climax and choice, leading back down to a resolution.

All types of writing are exercises, like going to the gym. Poetry stretches my muscles for using space and words efficiently, using object-oriented language and imagery, and leading to a realization. Fiction stretches my muscles for keeping the action moving and going: of figuring out what my characters want, and what gets in the way of that.

Being a poet helped me focus in on the objects and specificity in Buffy’s experiences in PHSRQ. It gave me a fresh approach to writing a novel, where I was less concerned about what needed to happen or hitting the “outline” of what a novel’s structure is “supposed” to be and instead just enjoying observing what was already there. I feel like my background in poetry made me thrive on the complexity of the characters and situations, and observe instead of imposing my “game plan” of what should happen.

  1. Imagine one of your favorite poets has just written his or her first prose novel for teens. Which poet is it? Why do you think this person would be a great fit for a YA novel? Any guesses as to what the book might be about?

I would LOVE it if Fatimah Asghar would do this. I teach her poem “Pluto Shits on the Universe” in so many of my classes for lots of reasons, but the big one that I love to point out is the language of the experience. She makes Pluto into a real character, with a believable and relatable voice.  Whatever her novel would be about, it would have character and voice and I would without question get sucked into it.

I asked Meg to share a poem in which she explores similar themes to those in PHSRQ.

Shigeru Miyamoto Goes Spelunking

with a line from an interview[1]

By Meg Eden. Previously published in Cartridge Lit. 

When you say you explored caves as a boy,
I think about the abandoned Sears catalogue homes
I grew up with: watching them rot, heavy with secrets.
What I’d give to go in that unreachable place.

Playing Zelda, seeing those doors on-screen
that resided on the other side of a wall—why
are there always so many walls? No matter
how many games I play there are always

impassable places. Disappearing places.
When McKenzie from down the street died
I told my dad I was biking to his house
to explore it & he didn’t stop me. I biked there

but couldn’t go inside: those ripped curtains
in the window, that sign on the back door
with drawing of a gun that read: If you’re here
today they’ll find your body here tomorrow.

I biked back home. If I was born a boy,
would I have gone inside? Or were there caves
in Sonobe that you were afraid of, too?
You say that going back home, someone has blocked

the entrances to your caves. Does that stop you
from going inside? I like to think I’ll go inside
the dilapidated houses I see off the side of the road
but instead I take pictures from my car & try

to rebuild them inside me. It’s not the same
as reaching your hand in a river & realizing
you’ve touched a fish but what else can you do
in this paved and partitioned world?

[1] from Master of Play by Nick Paumgarten (The New Yorker)

Would you like a copy of Post-High School Reality Quest? Enter this giveaway!

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