Archives: Laura’s Bookshelf


Karen Edmisten is hosting this week’s Poetry Friday round-up. Stop by her blog for more poetry posts.

Happy Poetry Friday. It’s been a while since we visited my bookshelf, friends.

In Bookshelf posts, I pair a middle grade or young adult novel with a poem, to be read and enjoyed side by side.

Earlier this month, my friend Jeff Giles visited Maryland as part of his book tour. Jeff’s debut novel, THE EDGE OF EVERYTHING, published in January.

I was lucky enough to get an Advanced Reader’s Copy (ARC) for this dark fantasy/romance novel last summer. Then I gave my signed ARC to my brother for his birthday, read an e-ARC, and spent several months kicking myself for not keeping the book. At last! I have a signed hard-cover copy of THE EDGE OF EVERYTHING and it is not leaving my hot little hands.

I don’t know if we’ve talked about this, friends, but Dark Romantic heroes have my heart. Give me Mr. Rochester, Heathcliff, and Darcy — GIVE ME WIZARD HOWL. Leave the happy, charming, sporty boys for someone else. If a book’s love interest is tall, dark, and handsome with a secret past and a brooding attitude, I am all in.

THE EDGE OF EVERYTHING is about the otherworldly, unrequited romance between fiercely independent high-schooler Zoe and X, a bounty hunter from Hell (which he calls the Lowlands). Much of X’s charm comes from the fact that he is the Lowland’s only home-grown bounty hunter. He was born there and raised by a makeshift “family” of murderers and sinners serving their sentences in the afterlife. X and Zoe meet accidentally as he collects a fallen soul on a remote Montana mountaintop. She falls hard for this strange boy and decides to help him figure out who he is and how to break his bonds to the Lowlands.

This book is filled with great supporting characters, from Zoe’s goofy, loyal ex-boyfriend, to X’s surrogate mother Ripper, a sharp-witted Victorian murderess. Jeff Giles is a keen observer of human (and inhuman) nature. The bleak, snow-covered settings add to the story’s epic feel. This was a novel that I didn’t want to put down. (I may have sent Jeff a few “I just got to the part where this happens and oh my gosh you are killing me” emails while I was reading.)

THE EDGE OF EVERYTHING published in January. Here is the blurb from Goodreads:

For the perfect love, what would you be willing to lose?

It’s been a shattering year for seventeen-year-old Zoe, who’s still reeling from her father’s shockingly sudden death in a caving accident and her neighbors’ mysterious disappearance from their own home. Then on a terrifying sub-zero, blizzardy night in Montana, she and her brother are brutally attacked in a cabin in the woods—only to be rescued by a mysterious bounty hunter they call X.

X is no ordinary bounty hunter. He is from a hell called the Lowlands, sent to claim the soul of Zoe’s evil attacker and others like him. X is forbidden from revealing himself to anyone other than his prey, but he casts aside the Lowlands’ rules for Zoe. As they learn more about their colliding worlds, they begin to question the past, their fate, and their future.

THE EDGE OF EVERYTHING is appropriate for high school and up.

Who will like it?

  • Fans of urban fantasy.
  • Readers who swoon for Dark Romantic heroes and unrequited love. ((Raises hand.))
  • Anyone looking for a new, dark take on hero/quest stories.
  • Writers interested in models for world-building. Jeff’s description of the Lowlands, its history, politics, and rules, is easy to become immersed in.

I’m pairing THE EDGE OF EVERYTHING with a poem by that real-life fainting-chair-worthy hottie and hot-head, Lord Byron. This poem reflects X’s soul-weariness and his deep longing for a different kind of life.



So We’ll Go No More a Roving
By Lord Byron

So, we’ll go no more a roving
So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
And the moon be still as bright.

For the sword outwears its sheath,
And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
And love itself have rest.

Though the night was made for loving,
And the day returns too soon,
Yet we’ll go no more a roving
By the light of the moon.

Bonus for teachers: Have your students track the assonance in this poem. Oh, oh, oh — more swooning.


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!]

Laura’s Bookshelf: Howard Wallace, P.I.

PF tag

Stop by the Poem Farm for all of this week’s Poetry Friday links. Be sure to wave to my friend Amy Ludwig VanDerwater — she’s hosting the poetry party.

Happy Poetry Friday!

This Friday, I am visiting Durham, NC as a Very Special Person. It is Muffin Morning at my niece’s school. She has never had a Special Person attend Muffin Morning. Of course, I said, “I am there!” Do you think they have fancy badges? Muffins are already pretty fancy.

I am also visiting Michelle Heidenrich Barnes’ blog, Today’s Little Ditty. Please stop by TLD to check out — and maybe try — my poetry workshop on fractured fairy tales.

Speaking of fractured genres, it’s been a long time since I’ve read a send-up of detective noir books. You know the kind: slick private eye who’s down on his luck meets questionable dame. She begs for his help and before you know it, he’s up to his fedora in the toughest case of his life.

Then guess who sauntered into my life and onto my bookshelf? A pint-sized gumshoe with no friends, a beloved but decrepit pair of wheels, and a bad case of middle school blackmail. Meet HOWARD WALLACE, P.I, by Casey Lyall.

He may be friendless, trenchcoat-less (an old brown bathrobe has to do), and devoted to a “lady” known only as Blue (that would be his decrepit bike), but Howard knows who he is: the best (and only) detective his middle school’s got. Howard is reluctant to take on a junior partner, but mouthy Ivy Mason won’t take no for an answer. And it turns out, Howard needs Ivy’s help — and her friendship — to crack his latest case.

HOWARD WALLACE, P.I. debuted this week, on September 6. Here is the blurb from Goodreads:

“What’s with the get-up? Is that the company uniform or something?”

“This? All P.I.s wear a trench coat.”

“Dude, that’s a brown bathrobe.”

I shrugged and straightened out my sleeves. “First rule of private investigation, Ivy: work with what you’ve got.”

Twelve-year-old Howard Wallace lives by his list of rules of private investigation. He knows more than anyone how to work with what he’s got: a bathrobe for a trench coat, a makeshift office behind the school equipment shed, and not much else—least of all, friends. So when a hot case of blackmail lands on his desk, he’s ready to take it on himself . . . until the new kid, Ivy Mason, convinces him to take her on as a junior partner. As they banter through stakeouts and narrow down their list of suspects, Howard starts to wonder if having Ivy as a sidekick—and a friend—is such a bad thing after all.

Who will like it?

HOWARD WALLACE, P.I. is appropriate for fourth grade and through middle school. (I’d even consider it a guilty, cozy pleasure for younger high schoolers.)

  • Kids who like snappy, funny dialogue and quirky characters.
  • Readers who like friendship stories.
  • Fans of kid detectives: Encyclopedia Brown, Nancy Drew, Sammy Keyes.

What will readers learn about?

  • Even great detectives (and self-sufficient kids) need help sometimes.
  • There are people who don’t want to fit in. Being an oddball can be a good thing.
  • The importance of being true to yourself.

The poem I’m pairing with HOWARD WALLACE, P.I. is about a boy and his wheels. It reminded me of Howard and Blue at the start of the novel, before Ivy becomes a junior detective and Howard’s sidekick. Funny as this book is — and it is laugh-on-every-page funny — Howard is a lonely kid. That’s a big part of what I love about him.

The Rider
By Naomi Shihab Nye

A boy told me
if he roller-skated fast enough
his loneliness couldn’t catch up to him,

the best reason I ever heard
for trying to be a champion.

What I wonder tonight
pedaling hard down King William Street
is if it translates to bicycles.

Read the rest of the poem at Poetry 180.

Full disclosure, everyone: Howard’s inventor is my dear friend Casey Lyall. Casey and I met through PitchWars in 2013, then met in person at the 2014 SCBWI annual in New York. When we shared birthday cupcakes in New York’s Grand Central Station, I knew our friendship was meant to be.

Casey is kind, smart, and hilarious. And all of those qualities are what makes HOWARD WALLACE, P.I.  a great book. He may be an odd duck — riding a broken down bike in his brown bathrobe, trading rapid-fire Hammett-esque insults with Ivy — but Howard Wallace has a good heart. He is the perfect middle grade anti-hero, someone to laugh at and love, to shake your head at and cheer for.

P.S. If you’re looking for an adult book that pokes fun at the hard-boiled detective character, check out DIRK GENTLY’S HOLISTIC DETECTIVE AGENCY. It’s written by Douglas Adams (THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY), a master of quirky satire!

What else is on Laura’s Bookshelf?

Middle Grade Books
THE LAST BOY AT ST. EDITH’S, by Lee Gjertsen Malone (6/16/16)
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)
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)
MY SEVENTH GRADE LIFE IN TIGHTS, by Brooks Benjamin (7/22/15)
YA Novels
THE MYSTERY OF HOLLOW PLACES, by Rebecca Podos (8/25/16)
UNDERWATER, by Marisa Reichardt (8/18/16)
SWORD AND VERSE, by Kathy MacMillan (5/22/16)
GENESIS GIRL, by Jennifer Bardsley (4/13/16)
THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE, by Heidi Heilig (3/10/16)
THE DISTANCE FROM A TO Z, by Natalie Blitt (1/19/16)
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)

Laura’s Bookshelf: The Mystery of Hollow Places

PF tag

I know my friend Heidi Mordhorst is getting ready for a juicy-good school year. Heidi is hosting Poetry Friday this week at My Juicy Little Universe.

It’s the last Poetry Friday before school begins.

Let’s have a serious talk, friends. Last year, I was sitting in my teen’s school auditorium for an awards ceremony. The event celebrated students who were academic achievers, as well as stand-outs in art, volunteerism, and other areas. My kid wasn’t being recognized. She was alone, unseen in the production booth, running sound for the event (a skill she picked up from volunteering for a local theater troupe).

Earlier in the school year, my husband and I realized that our child suffers from depression, which runs on both sides of our family. As soon as that lightbulb went off, we were able to work on treatment. That has made a huge difference in all of our lives. (Here is a listing of online resources for teen depression.)

So, I sat in that auditorium to support my amazing daughter and began to think: There are hidden kinds of achievements. Where are the awards for the kids who struggle to make it to school every day? Who deal with learning differences or mental illness? Why don’t we recognize and honor kids who work hard and achieve their best despite coping with depression or chronic illness?

Last week, I mentioned that I often avoid reading books that I know will be emotionally difficult for me. Most of the time, when I finally dive in, I’m glad that I read the book.

But sometimes there’s a book that I mistakenly think will be a straightforward sci fi novel, a thriller, or a fantasy, and the author slips challenging themes in there! To be honest, I love when that happens.

Rebecca Podos’ THE MYSTERY OF HOLLOW PLACES is one of those books.

Teenager Imogene has never known her mother. She lives with her father, a scientist who now writes medical thrillers, and his new wife. When her father goes missing, Imogene is sure that her mother will have a clue leading to his whereabouts. After reluctantly accepting help from her best friend, Imogene plays detective: First she must find the mother who left her as a baby. Then, she has to find her father.

Sounds like a straightforward teen mystery, right? What underpins this story, adding layers to Imogene’s character and her worldview, is that her father’s mental illness has relapsed. Imogene’s hard edges, her mixed feelings about her closest friends and the emotional walls she puts up, all reflect the fact that she has grown up with a parent who (most of the time) copes with that illness.

It is a gorgeous book. Imogene’s complicated relationship with her best friend Jessa is one of the most honest portrayals of female friendship that I’ve read in YA. This was a book that I could not put down.

THE MYSTERY OF HOLLOW PLACES published in January, 2016. Here is the blurb from Goodreads:

All Imogene Scott knows of her mother is the bedtime story her father told her as a child. It’s the story of how her parents met: he, a forensic pathologist, she, a mysterious woman who came to identify a body. A woman who left Imogene and her father when Imogene was a baby, a woman who was always possessed by a powerful loneliness, a woman who many referred to as “troubled waters.”

Now Imogene is seventeen, and her father, a famous author of medical mysteries, has struck out in the middle of the night and hasn’t come back. Neither Imogene’s stepmother nor the police know where he could’ve gone, but Imogene is convinced he’s looking for her mother. And she decides it’s up to her to put to use the skills she’s gleaned from a lifetime of reading her father’s books to track down a woman she’s only known in stories in order to find him and, perhaps, the answer to the question she’s carried with her for her entire life.

Recommended for mature eighth grade and up.

Who will like it?

  • Fans of contemporary mystery.
  • Teens who like books about everyday people dealing with extraordinary, real-life circumstances.
  • Kids who like reading about complicated families.

What will readers learn about?

  • What it’s like to have a parent who deals with mental illness.
  • How opening up to friends and family can help those relationships grow and deepen.

I’m pairing a favorite poem with THE MYSTERY OF HOLLOW PLACES. William Butler Yeatts “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” has a mournful, dreamlike quality to it that reminds me of Imogene’s father.

The Lake Isle of Innisfree
William Butler Yeats

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey-bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall have some peace there, for peace comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight’s all a glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet’s wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core.

What else is on Laura’s Bookshelf?

Middle Grade Books
THE LAST BOY AT ST. EDITH’S, by Lee Gjertsen Malone (6/16/16)
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)
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)
MY SEVENTH GRADE LIFE IN TIGHTS, by Brooks Benjamin (7/22/15)

YA Novels
UNDERWATER, by Marisa Reichardt (8/18/16)
SWORD AND VERSE, by Kathy MacMillan (5/22/16)
GENESIS GIRL, by Jennifer Bardsley (4/13/16)
THE GIRL FROM EVERYWHERE, by Heidi Heilig (3/10/16)
THE DISTANCE FROM A TO Z, by Natalie Blitt (1/19/16)
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)

Laura’s Bookshelf: Underwater

PF tag

Doraine Bennett at Dori Reads is our Poetry Friday host today. Stop by her blog for all of this week’s poetry links.

Happy Poetry Friday, writerly friends! It’s been a few weeks since my last blog post. Let’s catch up on news.

First, I finished drafting my next middle grade novel (my excuse for not blogging). More info on that to come.

Second, I have a few articles to share. Check out educator David Ruby’s post about how Sharon Creech’s verse novel LOVE THAT DOG changed him from a poetry hater to a poetry lover, and transformed his teaching. The post is here. And there’s this essay, about the importance of creative writing in the classroom.

Third, it’s a big week in the Shovan family. Pass the tissues… our eldest is leaving for his second year of college. A few days after the great departure, my husband and I celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary.

Last bit of news: Extra copies of THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY audiobook are in my hot little hands. I’m giving away two of the cast recording (9 amazing actors — thanks, Recorded Books!) on Goodreads. This is where you can enter.


Find it at Indiebound.

I’ve been reading a lot this summer, but we haven’t visited my bookshelf since June. Let’s check out a book and see if we can figure out a poem to pair with it.

I admit to being a scaredy cat when it comes to books with tough themes. It took me forever to open up the pages of THE HUNGER GAMES (loved it). I was reluctant to read Madeleine Kuderick’s YA verse novel KISS OF BROKEN GLASS because deals with teenage self-harm (loved this book too). So I had to work up my courage to read debut YA author Marisa Reichardt’s novel UNDERWATER.

It’s about Morgan, a former competitive swimmer who has become agoraphobic, never leaving her family’s apartment. What changed for this high schooler? She is a school shooting survivor.

Do not fear, fellow softies. UNDERWATER focuses on how Morgan goes from being disabled by her anxiety and PTSD, through her first baby steps into recovery, to a place where she begins to integrate her old self and the person she has become. And Morgan is funny. Her voice is self-deprecating and awkward, full of pain and guilt, but also capable of love for her younger sibling and her mother. She forms a new friendship with the boy who moves in next door, who has secrets of his own. What makes this book such a powerful read is the way Morgan’s voice changes gradually from hopeless to hopeful.

I have been wanting to post about this book for a long time, in part because I have the *perfect* thing to pair with it. Not a poem this time, but song lyrics. (High-five to my musical theater lovers.) You’ll find a clip at the at the end of this post.

UNDERWATER published in January, 2016. Here is the blurb from Goodreads:

“Forgiving you will allow me to forgive myself.”

Morgan didn’t mean to do anything wrong that day. Actually, she meant to do something right. But her kind act inadvertently played a role in a deadly tragedy. In order to move on, Morgan must learn to forgive—first someone who did something that might be unforgivable, and then herself.

But Morgan can’t move on. She can’t even move beyond the front door of the apartment she shares with her mother and little brother. Morgan feels like she’s underwater, unable to surface. Unable to see her friends. Unable to go to school.

When it seems Morgan can’t hold her breath any longer, a new boy moves in next door. Evan reminds her of the salty ocean air and the rush she used to get from swimming. He might be just what she needs to help her reconnect with the world outside.

Recommended for seventh grade and up.

Who will like it?

  • Anyone who likes realistic YA novels with a compelling first-person voice.
  • Teens who are interested in how people cope with trauma.
  • Kids who are dealing with anxiety.

What will readers learn about?

  • What it’s like to experience agoraphobia and how it might be treated.
  • How a traumatic event might affect a teenager.
  • Anxiety may fade, but it doesn’t always go away. People can learn coping mechanisms, but may experience flare-ups over time.

The song I’m pairing with UNDERWATER is “What Would I Do If I Could Feel?” from The Wiz. Ne-yo’s amazing performance of this song on “The Wiz Live!,” is so expressive. As the Tin Man, he tells us how he longs to experience human emotions, something that Marisa’s character Morgan feels is beyond her reach in UNDERWATER. (I need to continue researching, but I believe Charles Smalls wrote the lyrics.)

If you’d like to read the lyrics, you’ll find them here. I ended up buying The Wiz Live cast recording — highly recommended.

What else is on Laura’s Bookshelf?
THE LAST BOY AT ST. EDITH’S, by Lee Gjertsen Malone (6/16/16)
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)

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)

Laura’s Bookshelf: Treasure at Lure Lake

National Poetry Month is finally here! For the first time in several years, I am not doing an April blog project. I’ll be a little busy with my book launch.

PF tag

Let’s kick off the start of National Poetry Month 2016 with poet Amy Ludwig VanDerwater. Amy is hosting Poetry Friday today at The Poem Farm.

However, I am going to enjoy what the other Poetry Friday bloggers have to offer for our 20th anniversary NPM celebration. Jama Rattigan has a full listing of kidlitosphere projects and poems for National Poetry Month 2016 at Jama’s Alphabet Soup.

THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY is not the only debut middle grade novel launching on April 12. Three of my friends also have books releasing that day: Brooks Benjamin (MY SEVENTH-GRADE LIFE IN TIGHTS), Melanie Conklin (COUNTING THYME), and Shari Schwarz (TREASURE AT LURE LAKE.)

I’ve already blogged about MY SEVENTH-GRADE LIFE IN TIGHTS and COUNTING THYME. Today, it’s Shari Schwarz’s turn in the spotlight.

treasure at lureTREASURE AT LURE LAKE is about siblings Bryce and Jack. The boys tell the story of a grand, and sometimes harrowing, adventure in the woods in alternating chapters.  Jack, the elder brother, is more interested in girls and his cell phone than in hiking to his family’s out-of-the-way cabin. Bryce, a natural rule-follower, is willing to take a few chances if it means impressing his newly hard-to-impress older brother. Throw in some tension between their parents — both of whom decide last minute not to make the trip — and an outdoorsy Grandpa, and you have the makings of an epic family story.

I’m recommending this book for MG readers. It’s a great choice for summer vacation. There are funny moments (someone gets nuzzled by a curious elk), a mysterious map, and some danger. What makes this book solidly middle grade is that adults, especially Grandpa, are a reassuring and loving presence that balances the scary moments.

TREASURE AT LURE LAKE launches on April 12. Here is the blurb from Goodreads:

An epic adventure—that’s all Bryce wants this summer. So when he stumbles upon a treasure map connected to an old family secret, Bryce is determined to follow the clues to unearth both, even it means hiking in the wilderness in the middle of nowhere. Bryce must work with his bickering brother, Jack, or they may never see the light of day again!

Who will like it?

  • Kids who like adventure stories.
  • Children who are trying to navigate changing sibling relationships.
  • Boys and girls who love the outdoors.

What will readers learn about?

  • How a family secret can affect children.
  • Outdoor survival tips!
  • Siblings may get annoyed with us, but they will always love us.

The poem I’m pairing with TREASURE AT LURE LAKE is one of Mary Ann Hoberman’s family poems. I think this one captures Jack and how he sees his relationship with Bryce.



I had a little brother
And I brought him to my mother
And I said I want another
Little brother for a change.
But she said don’t be a bother
So I took him to my father
And I said this little bother
Of a brother’s very strange.
But he said one little brother
Is exactly like another
And every little brother
Misbehaves a bit he said…
April12thMGshelfBLUESince we share a launch day, Brooks, Mel, Shari, and I have been doing some interviews together. Here is a fun one at the website Kidliterati. We’re running a giveaway of *all four books!* which you’ll find at the end of the Kidliterati post.