Archives: Author Feature

Guest Blogger Elena Kalodner-Martin on Rupi Kaur

Jone MacCulloch is today’s host. You’ll find Poetry Friday links at her blog, Check It Out.

Dear Friends and Poetry Friday bloggers, I have to begin this post with a thank you.

On Tuesday, I learned that THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY is the 2016 CYBILS award-winner for poetry. Many of you have cheered on my novel-in-verse for years — commenting on drafts of the poems on my blog, mourning with me when characters were cut during revisions.

I know how much time, thoughtfulness, and discussion goes into the process of selecting CYBILS finalists and an ultimate award-winner. Thank you to all of the judges for the work you do. I am honored!

Today, I’m excited to introduce you to a guest blogger, poet Elena Kalodner-Martin. Elena is a senior at Towson University. It’s her birthday today! Happy birthday, Elena!!

A few months ago, I read an article about a young, feminist poet named Rupi Kaur. (You can find that article here.) Not only has her first book of poems, MILK AND HONEY, sold more than half a million copies, but she enjoys near-rock star status among teen and new adult readers, poetry lovers, and women.

When Elena shared a Rupi poem on social media several weeks ago, I wanted to learn more. I invited Elena to guest post today, to look at Rupi Kaur’s work and discuss its importance to readers.

Rupi Kaur: Feminist, Instapoet, and Woman to Watch
By Elena Kalodner-Martin

If you are on Instagram, Tumblr, or even Facebook, you have probably seen at least one of Rupi Kaur’s poems. Known as an “Instapoet” for the fame she garnered by posting her poems online, Rupi Kaur is a twenty four-year-old Indian-Canadian author who has taken social media by storm.

She published her first book of poetry, Milk and Honey, in 2015. It sold over half a million copies and made the list for Amazon’s bestselling poetry, as well as the New York Times bestselling list for 25 consecutive weeks. Its themes of love, heartbreak, abuse, healing, and femininity speak to poetry lovers everywhere and have contributed to her hundreds of thousands of likes, shares, and re-posts on social media platforms.

Milk and Honey is broken into four sections; “the hurting,” “the loving,” “the breaking,” and “the healing.” Each poem is typed in a black font and situated on a white page, often paired with black line drawings. The simplicity and beauty are aesthetically pleasing and allow the words to leave their impact. Whether she is writing about the complicated toll that alcoholism can take on a family, how she often felt oppressed by the belief that women ought to be submissive and silent, or the ups and downs of sex and love, she has hit home for so many young women. She reminds us to be soft yet powerful, strong yet giving, and loving yet fierce.

There is no better time to read poetry that reminds us of the beauty left in the world and of the importance of love and inclusion, particularly in the political climate in which we currently exist. She is unapologetic, unafraid to call out the areas on which we can improve. She is bold and fearless, a feminist role model, an artist, and a poet. She focuses on encouraging women to build one another up, advocating for peace and tolerance, and challenging people to relentless accept and love themselves.

As a young woman in college, reading Milk and Honey forced me to examine my own thoughts and actions: am I gentle with myself? How can I create a culture of kindness around me? How can I incorporate beauty into the ugly and hard parts of life? Rupi’s poetry knows no boundaries – immerse yourself in her simple yet beautiful book and challenge yourself to live more gently, more softly.

P.S. Good news for her dedicated fans: she recently posted that she has been working on her second book of poetry, which will be available shortly!

Elena Kalodner-Martin is a senior at Towson University, majoring in English Literature and Creative Writing and minoring in Health Sciences. She is in the process of selecting a graduate program for her MA/PhD in Rhetoric and Composition and hopes to be a college professor. She is a lover of words and coffee.

Thank you for guest posting today, Elena. Congratulations on your upcoming graduation!



Poetry Friday: #WritersResist

Violet Nesdoly is this week’s Poetry Friday host. Stop by Violet’s Blog for more poetry links, reviews, original poems, and sharing.

Well, here we are. It’s really happening.

First, I’d like to thank all of you for your comments on the press conference found poems. Several Poetry Friday regulars have been engaging with transcripts of the president-elect’s words. By paring away (or emphasizing) the fluff, these poems help us expose problems with the way language is used by our future president.

I’m glad my week began with a #WritersResist event in Baltimore. [Find out more about the Writers Resist movement at this website.]

There were so many powerful speakers: military veterans, high school-aged performance poets, an essayist who spoke about the history of neglect that led to Baltimore’s recent uprising, young women, elders, the city’s first youth poet laureate, academics, and activists.

I was invited to read as a representative of the 100 Thousand Poets for Change. I’ve written about the group before [read my interview with founder Michael Rothenberg here], and about my 2015 trip to the 100TPC World Conference in Italy.

The group is an earlier incarnation of the pulse that is driving #WritersResist now. 100TPC was born at the same time as the Occupy Wall Street movement, and has grown — with concurrent literary readings happening around the globe each September — ever since.

Being part of 100TPC has enriched my life with new and very dear friends, poets whose words take international stories out of the realm of newspapers and TV soundbites and into the real.

On Sunday, I shared poems by two of these poets, Michael Dickel of Israel and Menka Shivdasani of India. Both have been turning eye, pen, and heart to human rights issues in their home countries for many years. I am learning from them how to use my own eye, pen, and heart to speak truth to power.

Street art by Pino Green at the 100TPC World Conference in Salerno, Italy, 2015.

So thirsty…
by Michael Dickel

I am almost back perhaps. The long summer ordeal
of stress, rockets, war, death, killing has moved off
into Syria and Iraq and left us barren for a moment.
A bit of rain falling today hints at winter being
wet. We need water. We always need water. So thirsty.

The brown hills will green again, and the dry beds
recently run with blood water will wash thoroughly
so flowers may wave their red-yellow-white-purple
cacophony of emotions in winter’s permissive grace.
We need the water. We always need water. So thirsty.

Since between last summer’s war and the next,
whenever it might fall upon us, this brief moment
flickers—a satellite-pretense of being a star gliding
across black night—a mere reflection of sunlight.
We want water, we always need more water. So thirsty.

The desert will preserve these battles, mummify
the narratives, and wait as scorpions and seeds wait.
And to this I return. Almost. Maybe. Turned back
from the sea and step-by-step making my way to sweet
water. Always water. Like the night sky, I am so thirsty.

Michael Dickel reading at the 100 TPC World Conference, 2015.

By Menka Shivdasani

The first veil was when
the country split,
a woman held apart
and sliced,
crushed under the weight
of muscle, bone,
and the evil smile.

After that, the second veil
didn’t matter;
the countries hid
behind their nets and little webs.
We peeped out
from behind the
fraying thread.

Too much had already
been lost.
The skin had ripped,
and scarred
beneath stitched
exteriors. The third veil,
then, was just
impotent cloth.

But it mattered when
they held her down again,
this woman born
of country blood,

and they whipped her
on the streets
so no one dared
to take her by the hand.
Instead, they took
a video of the veiled
and battered face.

These veils have begun to bleed on me.
They bite
into my flesh
and blackened skin.
You cannot hide
behind veils much longer;
they will not survive
the grenade in your hand.

The marketplace is waiting;
hurry now.

Menka Shivdasani reading at the 100 TPC World Conference, 2015.


Michael Dickel, a poet, fiction writer, and photographer, has taught at various colleges and universities in Israel and the U.S. He co-edited Voices Israel Volume 36 (2010). He was managing editor for arc-23 and 24. Is a Rose Press released his new book, The Palm Reading after The Toad’s Garden in 2016. His previous books are War Surrounds Us, The World Behind It, Chaos… and Midwest / Mid-East. With producer / director David Fisher, he received an NEH grant to write a film script about Yiddish theatre. Dickel’s writing, art, and photographs have appeared in print and online.

Menka Shivdasani’s first book of poems, the critically acclaimed Nirvana at Ten Rupees, was published by Adil Jussawalla for XAL-Praxis in 1990. Her second collection Stet first appeared in 2001, and her third collection, Safe House, was published recently by Paperwall Media & Publishing Pvt Ltd. Menka is also co-translator of Freedom and Fissures, an anthology of Sindhi Partition poetry, published by Sahitya Akademi in 1998 and editor of If the Roof Leaks, Let it Leak, an anthology of women’s writing that forms part of a series being brought out by Sound and Picture Archives for Research on Women (SPARROW). She has edited two online anthologies of contemporary Indian poetry for the American e-zine​​.

Menka’s poems have appeared in several publications, both in India and elsewhere. These include Poetry Review (London), Poetry Wales, Fulcrum (USA), Seminary Ridge Review (Gettysburg), the Bloodaxe Book of Contemporary Indian Poets, 60 Indian Poets (Penguin Books India), and the Harper Collins Book of English Poetry. She is also represented in Indian Literature in English: An Anthology, a textbook of the University of Mumbai.

Menka is joint coordinator of the Culture Beat initiative at the Press Club in Mumbai and has been a member of Asia Pacific Writers & Translators Association since its inception. As Mumbai coordinator for the global movement, 100 Thousand Poets for Change, she organises an annual poetry festival at the Kitab Khana book store. Menka’s career as a journalist includes a stint with South China Morning Post in Hong Kong, and the publication of ​eleven books as co-author/ editor, three of which were released by the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. In 1986, she played a key role in setting up the Poetry Circle in Mumbai.

Hello from Salerno, Italy!

The Longest Night

Buffy Silverman hosts Poetry Friday this week. Join the Poetry Friday bloggers at Buffy’s Blog, where we post links to our book reviews, original poems, and other poetic delights.

After a long season of traveling, I’m home and happy to be back to Poetry Friday.

Wednesday was the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. Even though the poem I’m sharing today is set in autumn, its meditative quality reminds me of how brief, chilly winter days feel here in Maryland.

This poem is by one of our annual daily poem project participants, my friend Patricia Jakovich VanAmburg. It is from her chapbook, WATCHING FOR BIRDS, and is shared with Patricia’s permission.


By Patricia Jakovich VanAmburg

In autumn, the
one-legged cardinal
totters at my feeder
a new  yogi
dangling mysteries like
his lost leg
what happens inside
the shell — the tomb
how stars are born
and die
the ways we grasp
for substance.
from task to task and
the objects of our desire —
bridging the poles:
the difference between
eternity and nothing —
the sameness of
poet and bird.

Weighing things:
my father on two legs
one of them artificial
my father on one leg
his stump reaching
to ground or
my father’s eyes
after dialysis and
my mother falling —
tripping through
overfull rooms and
the empty house — the
weight on my shoulder,
as I pause by the window
watching for birds.

Read more about Patricia Jakovich VanAmburg’s work at poet Ann Bracken’s website.

Laura here: Have you ever been visited by an animal that you feel is a messenger from someone you have lost? My grandmother sometimes sends me spiders. One once startled me when it sat on a framed picture of me and my grandmother together. It took brief residence right over her heart. This is the magic unexpected, the mystery of nature at work in our lives. I love the way that Patricia surprises the reader by sharing such a moment in this poem.

Sending you all light and warmth over the winter holidays.



I’m celebrating the launch of a friend’s book this week: THE PRINCESS AND THE FROGS by Veronica Bartles. It’s a Frog Prince retelling about being clear about what you want and who you want to be.

Because Veronica is in one of my critique groups, I was lucky enough to watch this adorable picture book develop from initial idea, through several drafts, and eventually sell to Harper Collins.

From the outset, our group loved spunky Princess Cassandra, who longs for a pet frog to keep her company. Lucky for her, there are plenty of frogs in the kingdom. Unlucky for her, the frogs have a habit of turning into princes when she shows them affection. Soon, the castle is swarming with princes (hilarious!) determined to “be married at once” to the young princess. No, thanks!

img_20161115_062905Sara Palacios’ character design is just right for Cassandra, who happily sticks to what she wants. This princess rocks glasses, a tiara, and an adorable pair of high-tops.

Will Princess Cassandra get her frog? You’ll love the delightful resolution to the story. I appreciated the subtle message that we are who we know ourselves to be inside, no matter what we look like on the surface.

THE PRINCESS AND THE FROGS debuts tomorrow, November 15. Here is the blurb from Goodreads:

A hilarious fractured fairy tale inspired by The Frog Prince, about a princess who only wants a pet frog—but keeps getting pesky princes instead. From debut picture book author Veronica Bartles and illustrator Sara Palacios.

THE PRINCESS AND THE FROGS is appropriate for all ages and would make a great family read aloud.

Who will like it?

• Kids who like funny twists on fairy tales.
• Readers who like friendship stories.
• Fans of characters who “know their own mind” – Junie B. Jones, Ramona, etc. This princess finds her own solution instead of giving in and being compliant.

What will readers learn about?

• There are always new ways to tell an old story.
• The value of gentle determination.
• The importance of being true to yourself.

Another lucky thing – there is a great Stevie Smith poem about this fairy tale. It’s focus: How does the frog prince like being a frog?

By Stevie Smith

I am a frog
I live under a spell
I live at the bottom
Of a green well

And here I must wait
Until a maiden places me
On her royal pillow
And kisses me
In her father’s palace

The story is familiar
Everybody knows it well
But do other enchanted people feel as nervous
As I do? The stories do not tell,

As if they will be happier
When the changes come
As already they are fairly happy
In a frog’s doom?

I have been a frog now
For a hundred years
And in all this time
I have not shed many tears,

I am happy, I like the life,
Can swim for many a mile
(When I have hopped to the river)
And am for ever agile.

PF tag

Brenda Harsham is hosting Poetry Friday for the *first time* this week! Stop by her blog to say “Thanks.”

Read the rest and listen to Stevie Smith reading this poem at The Poetry Archive.

Check out Veronica’s website for upcoming signings and events.

I’m going to spend another day on this book tomorrow, when I’ll address the importance of non-compliant female characters in kidlit. [UPDATE: The post is up!]

5 Questions for the Author: Deborah Kalb

I’ve got a treat for history buffs on Laura’s Bookshelf today. Middle grade author Deborah Kalb is here to talk about her new novel, GEORGE WASHINGTON AND THE MAGIC HAT.

Here is the blurb from Goodreads:

Adventure, history, and the drama of school life intertwine in this engrossing tale of a fifth-grade boy struggling to find his place after his best friend abandons him. Find out what happens when Sam’s class takes a trip to Mt. Vernon, where he accidentally buys a bossy three-cornered hat that sweeps him off to the eighteenth century and a warm friendship with George and Martha Washington. As Sam travels back and forth between his present-day life and incredible adventures with George Washington, he learns about history, himself, and the nature of friendship and families.

Welcome to my bookshelf, Deborah! I was so glad when we connected about our middle grade books. Both novels mention Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home, and one of my protagonists in THE LAST FIFTH GRADE is named after George Washington. The first president is an important character in your book.

I’ve got a great poem to pair with your book, which appears at the bottom of this post. But first, let’s get to your five questions.

Laura: You live in an area that’s infused with history. How did you incorporate setting into the story of Sam and George Washington? What details did you draw from the modern-day Washington, DC area?

Deborah: I’ve lived in the D.C. area for most of my life, so it was very natural to incorporate a variety of nearby places — from an elementary school in Bethesda, to Mount Vernon, to Nationals Park—into the story. Mount Vernon, George Washington’s home, is in Northern Virginia, not that far away from Bethesda, after all, so it would make sense for Sam and his class to visit that historic site on a field trip—and then my imagination took over!

[My children visited Mount Vernon with their elementary schools too!]

I looked into George Washington-related artwork in the area, and a friend told me about the statue of George Washington at the National Cathedral, so I thought that would lend itself to an interesting scene. Many of the historical scenes in which Sam finds himself are not in the D.C. area but instead in New York and Pennsylvania, for example. I did some research on those areas to see how they might have appeared at the time.

Laura: Sam is dealing with a lot of disappointments: a changing friendship, losing the starring role in the class play. How does he grow and learn to cope with these things over the course of the story?

Deborah: Yes, Sam’s fifth-grade year is not starting off well. He and his former best friend, Andrew, are barely speaking—Andrew has joined a travel baseball team and is spending all his time with the kids on the team. And Sam, who generally gets the lead role in school plays, doesn’t get the starring role—as George Washington—in his class play this time; instead, the role goes to Oliver, a new kid in class whom Sam finds very annoying.

But his time-travel adventures with George Washington, courtesy of the magic tri-cornered hat, teach him a variety of lessons. Not to give too much away, but one of the most important involves friendship, and another involves the ability to believe in yourself.

Laura: The voice of the magic hat adds a lot of humor to the story. How did you go about creating a persona for the hat? Did you research any dialect or common phrases from George Washington’s time?

Deborah: The hat was such a fun character to create! I thought about various magic personalities in books I loved as a kid, including the Half Magic books by Edward Eager, which often featured curmudgeonly magical creatures, and the hat seemed to develop as I kept writing. I didn’t know exactly what its personality would be as I started.

I didn’t specifically research any dialect—I think a lifetime of reading classic novels and biographies gave me a sense of how the hat might sound—but I did read books that included some of George’s own writings, and I tried to make the hat—and also the George, Martha, and other 18th century characters—speak in a decidedly different way from Sam and his 21st century friends. I love to write dialogue, so I thoroughly enjoyed that part of the writing!

Laura: George Washington is the father of our country, but he was also a slave owner. Can you describe how you addressed that issue in the book?

Deborah: Yes, that’s an important question. I definitely wanted to address that issue in the book, and I thought a lot about the best way to do so. Sam is studying George Washington at school, and some of the scenes in the book featuring discussions in his class focus on the fact that many of the founders of this country were slave owners, and the terrible dichotomy between their owning other people and their advocating for freedom for the colonies.

I also have a scene in the book where Sam meets an 18th century African American boy about his own age, and that causes Sam to think about whether this child is a slave, and what his life would have been like. In addition, his former best friend, Andrew, is from a biracial family and that makes Sam ponder the issue in an even more personal way.

Laura: Will there be more titles in your “The President and Me” series? Which presidents would you most like to write about and why?

Deborah: Yes, this is the first one in a series, and I’m working on the second one, about John and Abigail Adams, now! For the time being, I’m proceeding in chronological order, and will see how it goes from there. Many kids have asked good questions, such as, “What will you do when you get to some boring presidents?” and, “What will you do when you get to a really bad president?” We shall see!

Of course, Abraham Lincoln would be amazing to write about because of his historic role during the Civil War and the fact that he’s up there in the pantheon of great presidents. His life story includes so many fascinating episodes. And I’d love to write about FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt, because of their leadership during the Great Depression and World War II. I hope to incorporate many of the First Ladies into the books as well, to recognize the important contribution of women throughout presidential history.


It’s Poetry Friday, so let’s find a great poem to pair with Deborah’s book. I know just the one. Check out this poem from DC area poet Justine Rowden’s book,  PAINT ME A POEM.


Find out more about PAINT ME A POEM, featuring art from the National Gallery in Washington, DC.

Thank you for stopping by today, Deborah and George.

For more of this week’s best posts on poetry for children and adults, stop by The Logonauts. Katie is hosting Poetry Friday this week.

Laura’s Bookshelf: The Last Boy at St. Edith’s

PF tag

Let’s hope there are no garden gnomes lurking at Carol’s Corner. Carol is hosting Poetry Friday this week.

Happy Poetry Friday! The American Library Association is coming up next week. I’m looking forward to checking out fall trends in middle grade and, of course, what’s new in poetry.

I’ve had a blast during my debut author year spending time with fellow middle grade novelists. Today, I’d like to introduce Poetry Friday readers to Lee Gjertsen Malone and her contemporary novel, THE LAST BOY AT ST. EDITH’S.

Lee visited me in Maryland last weekend. We took a road trip to the inaugural Chesapeake Children’s Book Festival on the Eastern Shore. Lee is smart and so funny! That humor comes across in her debut middle grade novel.

THE LAST BOY AT ST. EDITH’S is about Jeremy. His single mother works at a private school in western Massachusetts, so he and his sisters attend on scholarship. The only problem is, St. Edith Academy’s is not exactly co-ed. Traditionally a girls’ school, the academy’s attempt to go co-ed has failed. Now Jeremy is the last boy standing in a sea of girls (as the book’s cover so perfectly illustrates). With his best-friend, a wannabe filmmaker named Claudia, Jeremy hatches a plan to get himself expelled. How? By organizing a series of epic pranks on the grounds of the school.

I gave myself the mission of finding a poem related to one of the pranks Jeremy stages. You won’t be disappointed. The poem appear at the end of this post.

THE LAST BOY AT ST. EDITH’S published in February. Here is the blurb from Goodreads:

Seventh grader Jeremy Miner has a girl problem. Or, more accurately, a girls problem. Four hundred and seventy-five of them. That’s how many girls attend his school, St. Edith’s Academy. Jeremy is the only boy left after the school’s brief experiment in coeducation. And he needs to get out. His mom won’t let him transfer, so Jeremy takes matters into his own hands: He’s going to get expelled. Together with his best friend, Claudia, Jeremy unleashes a series of hilarious pranks in hopes that he’ll get kicked out with minimum damage to his permanent record. But when his stunts start to backfire, Jeremy has to decide whom he’s willing to knock down on his way out the door.

Recommended for fifth grade and up.

Who will like it?

  • Pranksters.
  • Kids who are dealing with shifting friendships as they make the transition from elementary to middle school.
  • Fans of science fiction humor (there are hilarious scenes with Jeremy and his crush acting in Claudia’s epically bad SF movie).

What will readers learn about?

  • An insider’s view of what it’s like to attend a private school.
  • Even funny pranks can have unforeseen consequences.
  • How it feels to be the only boy in a family, or a school, full of girls.

One of the first pranks that Jeremy and Claudia organize involves garden gnomes. It only took me a few moments of searching to find this gem on the website for Chuck Sambuchino’s book How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack:

Gnome Attack Poetry (by Wanna Newman)

I think that I shall never roam
In gardens where one finds a gnome

A hat that’s pointy, made of red
Creates in me a sense of dread

A gnome that tends to gross aggression
Can cause me trauma and depression

A gnome whose crabby, cross and piquey
Can really damage my physiquey

A gnome that travels with an ax
Instills the fear of sneak attacks…

Read the rest of the poem at How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack.


Don’t be fooled by that innocent face.

What else is on Laura’s Bookshelf?
SWORD AND VERSE, by Kathy MacMillan (5/22/16)
GENESIS GIRL, by Jennifer Bardsley (4/13/16)

TREASURE AT LURE LAKE, by Shari Schwarz (3/31/16)

THE LAST GREAT ADVENTURE OF THE PB&J SOCIETY, by Janet Sumner Johnson (3/25/16)

THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE, by Heidi Heilig (3/10/16)

THE DISTANCE FROM A TO Z, by Natalie Blitt (1/19/16)

COUNTING THYME, by Melanie Conklin (12/31/15)

FENWAY AND HATTIE, by Victoria J. Coe (12/24/15)


PAPER WISHES, by Lois Sepahban (11/19/15)

THE GIRL WHO FELL, by S. M. Parker (11/5/15)

SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN, by Jeff Garvin (10/29/15)

SHALLOW GRAVES, by Kali Wallace (10/1/15)

MY SEVENTH GRADE LIFE IN TIGHTS, by Brooks Benjamin (7/22/15)

Laura’s Bookshelf: Sword and Verse

Every once in a while, I read a book and — the moment I’ve finish the last page — I know the novel’s perfect poem. That’s what happened with my good friend Kathy MacMillan’s YA fantasy SWORD AND VERSE.


From left: Kathy, Janet, Ava, and Laura

Kathy and I, along with debut authors Ava Jae and Janet Sumner Johnson, did a mini book-tour together in March, covering several bookstores and libraries in Maryland and Virginia. For fun, each one of us brought a talisman to events — a small object that represented something about our books.

My object was a little plushie hamster. It is named for Refried Beans, the hamster that belongs to one of the characters in THE LAST FIFTH GRADE. Kathy talisman was a clay bird made by her son. She used the bird to explain an important setting in her novel.

SWORD AND VERSE is the story of Raisa, who was forced into slavery as a child and taken to the kingdom of Qilara. Qilarite religious traditions dictate that only those in power may read and write. There is one exception: a slave girl, who is trained in the complicated Qilarite language alongside the crown prince so that she may one day be tutor to his heir. As a teen, Raisa is selected to replace Prince Mati’s tutor, who has been executed for treason. Raisa finds herself falling in love with Mati, but she also begins to wonder whether her new role as Tutor in Training gives her the power to help other slaves.

Birds are part of a crucial setting in the novel. Raisa and Mati learn to read and write in a walled courtyard. There are special birds in the courtyard whose tail feathers are used as writing quills. Raisa notes that the birds are caged as babies, but their cages are gradually removed. By the time the birds are adults, their training is so ingrained that no cage is necessary. The birds don’t realize that they are free.

SWORD AND VERSE published in January. Here is the blurb from Goodreads:

Raisa was only a child when she was kidnapped and enslaved in Qilara. Forced to serve in the palace of the King, she’s endured hunger, abuse, and the harrowing fear of discovery. Everyone knows that Raisa is Arnath, but not that she is a Learned One, a part of an Arnath group educated in higher order symbols. In Qilara, this language is so fiercely protected that only the King, the Prince, and Tutors are allowed to know it. So when the current Tutor-in-training is executed for sharing the guarded language with slaves and Raisa is chosen to replace her, Raisa knows that, although she may have a privileged position among slaves, any slipup could mean death.

That would be challenging enough, but training alongside Prince Mati could be her real undoing. And when a romance blossoms between them, she’s suddenly filled with a dangerous hope for something she never before thought possible: more. Then she’s approached by the Resistance—an underground army of slaves—to help liberate the Arnath people. Joining the Resistance could mean freeing her people…but she’d also be aiding in the war against her beloved, an honorable man she knows wants to help the slaves.

Working against the one she loves—and a palace full of deadly political renegades—has some heady consequences. As Raisa struggles with what’s right, she unwittingly uncovers a secret that the Qilarites have long since buried…one that, unlocked, could bring the current world order to its knees.

And Raisa is the one holding the key.

kathy macmillan

Recommended for eighth grade and up.

Who will like it?

  • Readers who love epic fantasy novels.
  • Fans of libraries, reading, and writing.
  • Die-hard romantics.

What will readers learn about?

  • How a person who is accustomed to being controlled by others can begin making his or her own decisions.
  • The ways that language and power intersect to define a culture.
  • The effects of living in a controlled society.

With all I’ve said about caged birds, I hope you have figured out which poem I’m pairing with SWORD AND VERSE.

Caged Bird
By Maya  Angelou

A free bird leaps

on the back of the wind

and floats downstream

till the current ends

and dips his wing

in the orange sun rays

and dares to claim the sky.


But a bird that stalks

down his narrow cage

can seldom see through

his bars of rage

his wings are clipped and

his feet are tied

so he opens his throat to sing.


The caged bird sings

with a fearful trill

of things unknown

but longed for still

and his tune is heard

on the distant hill

for the caged bird

sings of freedom.

Read the rest of the poem at the Poetry Foundation.

What else is on Laura’s Bookshelf?

GENESIS GIRL, by Jennifer Bardsley (4/13/16)

TREASURE AT LURE LAKE, by Shari Schwarz (3/31/16)

THE LAST GREAT ADVENTURE OF THE PB&J SOCIETY, by Janet Sumner Johnson (3/25/16)

THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE, by Heidi Heilig (3/10/16)

THE DISTANCE FROM A TO Z, by Natalie Blitt (1/19/16)

COUNTING THYME, by Melanie Conklin (12/31/15)

FENWAY AND HATTIE, by Victoria J. Coe (12/24/15)


PAPER WISHES, by Lois Sepahban (11/19/15)

THE GIRL WHO FELL, by S. M. Parker (11/5/15)

SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN, by Jeff Garvin (10/29/15)

SHALLOW GRAVES, by Kali Wallace (10/1/15)

MY SEVENTH GRADE LIFE IN TIGHTS, by Brooks Benjamin (7/22/15)

Laura’s Bookshelf: Genesis Girl

Over the past several months, I have grown as a reader. I’m not on literary tour of classic novels, or — finally — committing to reading every book I own. The books on my night-stand, in my purse, open as I drink my morning tea, have been 2016 debuts.

Reading books by friends in my debut author group means reading books I might not normally pick up. Normally, I avoid horror fiction, but I adored Kali Wallace’s book SHALLOW GRAVES. While I read the occasional mystery, I fell head over heals for Brittany Cavallaro’s Sherlock Holmes update, A STUDY IN CHARLOTTE.

What I’ve learned is that, more often than I like to admit, I had been judging books by their genre.

I was raised on Star Trek and Doctor Who, but when it comes to science fiction, I usually go for tried and true authors: Margaret Atwood, Ursula K. LeGuin, Kim Stanley Robinson, Frank Herbert. If it weren’t for my debut author group, I would not have tried Jennifer Bardsley’s wonderfully inventive YA science fiction novel, GENESIS GIRL.

GENESIS GIRL has a stunning concept that builds on our contemporary obsession with the internet, physical appearances, and advertising.

Blanca is a Vestal. She has spent most of her life in a tech-free school. Her picture has never been taken and shared on the internet. Her personal likes and dislikes have never been tracked, bought, or sold by companies or analytic firms. On the eve of her graduation from Tabula Rasa School, Blanca has one dream — to be bought by a firm and serve as the face, body, and soul of its media campaigns. But before she can graduate, an intruder snaps her photograph, spinning Blanca into a life where she must learn make her own, difficult decisions.

GENESIS GIRL just had its publication date moved up from fall to spring. Look for it on June 14. Here is the blurb from Goodreads:

Eighteen-year-old Blanca has lived a sheltered life. Her entire childhood has been spent at Tabula Rasa School where she’s been protected from the Internet.

Blanca has never been online and doesn’t even know how to text. Her lack of a virtual footprint makes her extremely valuable, and upon graduation, Blanca and those like her are sold to the highest bidders.

Blanca is purchased by Cal McNeal, who uses her to achieve personal gain. But the McNeals are soon horrified by just how obedient and non-defiant Blanca is. All those mind-numbing years locked away from society have made her mind almost impenetrable.

By the time Blanca is ready to think for herself, she is trapped. Her only chance of escape is to go online.


Author Jen Bardsley blogs at The YA Gal.

Recommended for high school and up.

Who will like it?

  • Fans of science fiction.
  • Readers who enjoy books that critique modern culture.
  • Adventure and mystery lovers.

What will readers learn about?

  • The value of thinking for oneself.
  • How the internet can negatively impact relationships.
  • The effects of living in an extremely controlled society.

The poem I’m pairing with GENESIS GIRL is a challenging one, but it will give mature teens who enjoy the social criticism aspects of this novel something to chew on. Take a look at the way personification is used to great effect in Wislawa Szymborska’s poem “Advertisement.”




I’m a tranquilizer.
I’m effective at home.
I work in the office.
I can take exams
on the witness stand.
I mend broken cups with care.
All you have to do is take me,
let me melt beneath your tongue,
just gulp me
with a glass of water.I know how to handle misfortune,
how to take bad news.
I can minimize injustice,
lighten up God’s absence,
or pick the widow’s veil that suits your face.
What are you waiting for—
have faith in my chemical compassion.

Read the rest of the poem at the Poetry Foundation.

What else is on Laura’s Bookshelf?

TREASURE AT LURE LAKE, by Shari Schwarz (3/31/16)

THE LAST GREAT ADVENTURE OF THE PB&J SOCIETY, by Janet Sumner Johnson (3/25/16)

THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE, by Heidi Heilig (3/10/16)

THE DISTANCE FROM A TO Z, by Natalie Blitt (1/19/16)

COUNTING THYME, by Melanie Conklin (12/31/15)

FENWAY AND HATTIE, by Victoria J. Coe (12/24/15)


PAPER WISHES, by Lois Sepahban (11/19/15)

THE GIRL WHO FELL, by S. M. Parker (11/5/15)

SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN, by Jeff Garvin (10/29/15)

SHALLOW GRAVES, by Kali Wallace (10/1/15)

MY SEVENTH GRADE LIFE IN TIGHTS, by Brooks Benjamin (7/22/15)

Tiger Laughs When You Push

Since my middle grade novel sold in 2014, I’ve gotten to know many of my fellow debut authors. Within that group is a small cadre of poets who also write fiction for children. Some of us have had long careers publishing in literary journals and teaching creative writing before we made the cross-over to a big-press contract with a middle grade or YA novel.

One of these poets is Ruth Lehrer. Ruth’s fiction and poetry is widely published in the world of small presses. Her young adult novel, BEING FISHKILL, debuts from Candlewick in 2017. You can read about it here.

Today, I’d like to focus on Ruth’s poetry. She’s celebrating the new year with the publication of her first chapbook, TIGER LAUGHS WHEN YOU PUSH, from Headmistress Press.

Let’s take a look at a poem first, then Ruth will join us to talk about it. In my last post, we were looking at how to create tension between the characters in a poem. The small space of a poem doesn’t give the poet much room for backstory, so tension must be communicate through small, often symbolic, details. Pay attention to all of the layers that Ruth creates between the two people in her poem, “Détente.”

By Ruth Lehrer

A military man
forty years
in the people’s liberation
army, now he grows
a garden in a westchester suburb.
Fight the chemo and
the foreign food
he speaks only chinese
and I only english.
We meet in gestural middle
to discuss his eggplants
qie zi — my one chinese word.
Tempting fate
he plants my two
new england garlics
and the next year
he has eight.

I asked Ruth to give us a little bit of background on this poem.

“This poem came from a memory of an actual interaction I had with a member of my extended family. Memories, though, are always your interpretation of the event or image. A poem is an interpretation of that interpretation. Sometimes a narrative transforms into something less transparent than the original story. Sometimes not. Sometimes a simple image becomes a narrative. The reader also is an interpreter, creating a logic to hold the poet’s words together. Which of course, may be similar to the writer’s interpretation … or not.”

Small size 45k

Ruth Lehrer is a writer and sign language interpreter living in western Massachusetts. Her fiction and poetry have been published in journals such as JubilatDecomP, and Trivia: Voices of Feminism. She is the author of the poetry chapbook, TIGER LAUGHS WHEN YOU PUSH, published by Headmistress Press. Her novel, BEING FISHKILL, will be published in 2017. She can be found at 

Find out more about TIGER LAUGHS WHEN YOU PUSH at Goodreads.