Books -- reading and writing.
Home, cooking, the weather.
And whatever connections I can make between them.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Ending the School Year with Skype

This has been a very interesting couple of weeks.
Have you ever tried to talk to somebody when your roof was being repaired?
Have you ever SKYPED with a whole bunch of kids while your house was shaking?

I moved to my basement.
I moved to a corner of my room.
There was nowhere to hide.

That was pretty much how it went with my end-of-the-year Skype sessions.
There were times when I questioned my sanity in agreeing to do so many.
Especially since I had this teensy little writing deadline looming.

But each session made me smile.

The girls who talked to me during their recess and lunch.
The third graders who'd read the book as a class project.

And so many of the questions were truly thoughtful.

For example:
(These are from 4th and 5th graders)

Who helped you when you started out?

What character changed the most after working with an editor.

 What advice did your editor give you?

What's your favorite genre?

(I'm not entirely sure I knew the word GENRE in 4th grade...)

Also, I got to talk to two groups of kids who'd read THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY.
Until recently, I didn't know much about how young readers were responding to my new book.

I was especially wowed by a group of 2nd grade advanced readers in Florida who really had some fabulous questions.
(And I added a new name to my Potential Character Name Book= Treasure!)

These bright, smart readers were from The Learning Center for the Deaf in Framingham, MA.

They wrote a thank-you note that very day! Just like our mamas told us we should do.

And this group in Deerfield, IL.
(They told me all about the Bluestem List!)

Their teacher tweeted our picture. It always cracks me up to see that large <ME> on the screen. Paused mid-sentence!

Thanks so much @ARScattergood for talking to us all about Glory Be!— Jill Bonnette (@jill_bonnette) May 21, 2015

As the year winds down, I have to say AGAIN how amazing teachers and librarians are. How hard they work.
How they love books.
How they go that extra mile to connect with books and their authors.

Have a great summer, all you remarkable teachers and librarians.
Put your feet up, stare at the ocean or the lake or the mountains.
And enjoy those summer books.

Just for fun, here's a previous post about Skyping in your flipflops...

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Greetings from New Jersey

Yesterday I had a positively FABULOUS school visit with some kids at the George Washington Carver School in Newark (Thanks, Scholastic!). Another blog on the school visit coming soon.

(Okay, here's a teaser. There were 125 kids, all had read the book, all had amazing things to say.)

Since I don't quite have all my photos from yesterday yet, on this rainy day in NJ, here are a few pictorial Jersey Love things you might not expect. Reasons I love spending time in my adopted home state of 25 years...

1. The grocery stores and the many, many Farmers Markets sell fig trees and figs.
The Farmers Markets alone would be reason enough to spend the summer here.

2. The July 4th Parade. I love bagpipers! I love parades!
Can't wait for this event, coming soon.
(Picture from previous edition. They really don't change that much...)

3. Visiting old friends and former libraries. This is the front of the Library of the Chathams, Main Street, Chatham NJ, all decorated for Flag Day or July 4th. I worked here as a reference librarian for five years before returning to the world of school librarianship.
This town loves its flags!

4. The train to NYC. Every hour, at least. Quick ride.

5. And speaking of trains. If you look closely at this view from the Newark Broad Street station yesterday, you can see the Valley Landscape Silo in the distance.

Which reminded me of The Sopranos, that late, great TOTAL FICTION HBO show.

Which of course sent me looking for a clip with that silo. And here it is. Near the end.

UPDATE. I don't think the video plays anymore. It's no longer permitted to be embedded, as far as I can tell, so you'll just have to click over to this YOUTUBE and ride down Memory Lane in Tony's car:

We are shaped by all the places we've lived, aren't we? So far, nothing from The Sopranos has made its way into my own fiction (!) and probably never will, but that July 4th parade? Totally.

How about you? Is setting a product of your own life settings, so to speak?

Friday, May 22, 2015

A Template!

To write your novel with!

Of course, there's really no such thing.

But recently I found this "advice" buried deep in my files.

Here's the link:

And remember my Nerdy Book Club post about TEN THINGS I'VE LEARNED FROM KIDS ABOUT WRITING A BOOK?

Remember that dog?

Here's a funny thing from that article by James Thayer about your Main Character:

1)  They are kind when it counts. Not always, and maybe not mostly, but when it is important, the hero will do something kind. If nothing else he will adopt a dog, a common fictional device to salvage otherwise irredeemable heroes, which is called the Adopt A Dog Technique.

 I'm totally good with that.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Who's Reading Your Book?

This month has been Skype month
No, not an officially designated celebration, it just happened that way in my world. 

I love talking to kids about writing, reading, history, genres, characters, the truth or not the truth. So many great questions. Skyping has given me the chance to spread book love to places I've never been.  
(In my flipflops.)

But I got a question yesterday that truly stumped me.

Sixth Grade Boy in Wisconsin, to me: 
"Who would you recommend your book to?"

Now see, the librarian in me should be all over that.

But I stammered and hemmed and hawed.
Finally I mentioned a few authors I love, as in "If you liked THIS book, you'll like THAT book."

I think I mentioned kids who like books that take place in the past. 
But that's so not true. 

(True confession: My first draft of THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY wasn't even set in the past!)

Maybe I mumbled something about Books With Heart.

Because really and truly, one of my favorite tweets in the whole world had recently taken my breath away:

And just like that, my book had become


Be still my heart.

But the librarian in me still wasn't happy with my answer to that boy in Wisconsin.

And the writer in me didn't want to leave it at that.

There's been a lot of discussion recently about Boy Books v. Girl Books.
And judging a book by its cover.

What does the cover say to a reader about to choose a book?

Is that old adage about boys not reading books about girls while girls will always be okay with reading boy main characters hold?
 I doubt it. I've had tons of boys who love GLORY BE.

At a recent Book Fair, a student told me he'd read DESTINY five times already. He wasn't a baseball fan and he can't play the piano. 
Had some wise librarian or teacher had handed him that book because she knew his reading taste?

Do we need to stop pigeonholing books and kids' book choices?
Will all young readers eventually find those HeartPrint books for their own hearts?

Are kids' books just for kids anymore?

Based on this guy who has discovered and loved a few middle-grade novels, I'd say no.

I'm still thinking of a good answer to the question that sparked this blogpost. Who WOULD I recommend my own books to?

Writers- Have you been asked that question? 
Do you have a perfect answer?

I used to think I was pretty good at Readers Advisory. 
But when it's your own book, something feels different.

You might also like these posts about Skype:

Fun Skype in Georgia

Skype 101: the View from Here

And these about some of my own Heartprint books:

Kwame Alexander's Crossover

An Abundance of BOOKS

Hound Dog True

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Thanks, Two Writing Teachers!

I love connections.

I met Stacey Shubitz at my fabulous Highlights UNWorkshop last summer.

When Stacey invited me to be the very first Guest Author on their new series, I was honored. And thrilled.

CLICK right here to go there.

And maybe win a book or two!

(While looking for a picture of Stacey and me, writing our hearts out in Honesdale, instead I found these poetry rocks that inspire Highlights workshop writers and make them smile. But do click on over to Stacey's post this morning to find out more about her, see pictures, and comment to win my books. Did I say I love making writing connections?)

(And PS, I first put revising pen to paper on my new book THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY, at one of the very early Whole Novel workshops, with Carolyn Coman. Many moons ago...)

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Hats Off to Moms Who Read

Like mine did. Also, my grandmothers.
My next-door-neighbor grandmother, Carrie Byrd to those who knew and appreciated her, was part of our town's early efforts to build a public library. For much of her adult life, she drove her Hudson Nash the two blocks down the street to the library and went through a "murder mystery" (her words) every day or so.

My other grandmother, Emmie, went back to college in her later years and became a teacher. She's the one who gifted me with the Classics. I credit her for summers spent reading anything other than Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames, which I got on my own and devoured.

Come to think of it, every adult in our family read all the time. My mother went for the Best Sellers, the books everybody was talking about. Her copy of Peyton Place was hidden in a drawer that was plenty low enough for me to find. And read. In 7th grade.

So let's hear a cheer for moms, stepmoms, grandmoms, aunts and others who love to read to their little (and big!) ones. 
And for all the other great things they've given us.

(Sticker via CafePress)

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Food, Glorious Food!

I once started an essay for Mississippi Magazine with this sentence:
"I'm not a serious cook but I have a serious cookbook collection."

You can read the piece HERE.

(And apologies to the magazine if that site is using articles without permission.)

I love reading about food. And I admire those of you who write so beautifully about it. And prepare it so well.
For example, my fabulous foodie friend Lee.


Lee and I wrote together in our original New Jersey Writers Group. I can't wait for us to reconvene. (And maybe eat something Lee prepares from the Farmers Market!) 

 (haul from last summer's Farmers' Market!)

 I wish I had gorgeous food pictures to share. Click on over to Lee's blog and you'll see plenty.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Welcome, Kathy Cannon Wiechman

I'm delighted to welcome Kathy Wiechman to chat about her brand new book. LIKE A RIVER is a Civil War story, but it's so much more than that. The characters, the setting, and a story with such heart that truly leaps off the pages. 

She and I met at a terrific Highlights Foundation workshop. Your own cabin in the woods. Fabulous food. Great camaraderie. Walks and talks.
Oh, and all that uninterrupted writing time!

Is there anything you’d like to share with your fellow writers about the experiences you’ve had there?
Kathy:  I have been to many Highlights Foundation workshops, and I love them! I have never been to any other workshops that provide as much one-on-one attention with faculty members. I have learned so much from the faculty there, from people like Rich Wallace, Joy Cowley, and Patti Gauch. 

And the setting there seems to be magical for finding the Muse. It’s also a great place for making contacts. I met my editor at a Highlights workshop. I have made many friends there too, who have the same love for children’s literature as I do. Some of the friendships I made there have blossomed into lasting ones. And I met you there, Augusta, and discovered the wonderful GLORY BE.

Augusta: Thank you, Kathy! Now let's talk books. Yours, in fact. You did such an amazing job of describing the wartime situations in a war so few young readers know much about. Can you tell us a bit about your research process?

Kathy: I studied the Civil War long before I decided to write this book, but once I mapped out my plan for it, I read dozens and dozens of books on specific aspects of the war.  I visited the sites where my book takes place, sites in Georgia, Ohio, Tennessee, and Mississippi. I learned to load and fire a muzzleloader (at the Highlights facility in PA, where the workshops take place). I even had one arm tied behind my back and went swimming, so I could see how hard it would be for someone with an amputated arm.

Augusta: Now that's what I call research. Wow. Was there one thing about writing that was more difficult than anything else?
Kathy: I like happy endings or at least, hopeful ones. It was somewhat difficult to find the right balance, to write a novel that was accurate to the time of war and to do justice by those who suffered in Andersonville Prison and died on the Sultana without making the ending bleak. I hope I have achieved that.

Augusta: I think young readers will agree that you created the perfect ending. Now, what’s next for Kathy Wiechman?

Kathy: I recently signed a contract with Boyds Mills Press for a second novel and am still working on revisions of that. It’s called EMPTY PLACES and takes place in Harlan County, Kentucky during the Great Depression.

Augusta: I think I may have heard a tiny thing or two about that book! Another intriguing topic young readers will be eager to know more about.
Are there any other things about writing your debut novel that you'd like to share?

Kathy: During the early stages of writing the book, I found out that the husband of a friend is the great-great grandson of  a survivor of Andersonville and the Sultana. He shared with me the family papers on his ancestor, and that ancestor (Jacob Zimmerman) became like an angel sitting on my shoulder as I wrote, urging me forward.

Augusta: That's a terrific thought to inspire other writers, Kathy. We never know what we'll turn up when we embark on a subject, but it always helps to have an angel sitting on our shoulders.

Here's Kathy's website:

You can order her book from your all the usual places, especially your local independent bookstore. Thank you to her publisher and editor, Carolyn Yoder at Calkins Creek, for supplying me with an advance reader copy. 

Here's one of my favorite passages from the book. Powerful words.

      "The army isn't a lark, son," the doctor said. "Our country is at war, and you'll be expected to work hard."
      "Yes, sir," Leander said and forced the grin into hiding. But deep inside he was still smiling, thinking only of what folks would say when they saw him in uniform.

Monday, April 27, 2015


Hurry on over to FROM THE MIXED UP FILES blog.
Wendy Shang and I are chatting about our 70s books.

And giving them away!

All you have to do is leave Wendy a comment about your favorite 70s memory.
If you weren't around way back then, you can leave her a memory from books, TV shows, whatever you think is fun. 
(So far Pet Rocks seem to dominate.)

Giveaway ends Wednesday!

Here's the link:

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

More from Mississippi

Who says you can't go home again?
NOBODY who ever lived in Mississippi.
Maybe no true southerner.

(Oh, wait. There's that whole Thomas Wolfe thing.)

But I did go home. And I spent some terrific days visiting bookstores, schools, and friends and family. Here it it, in large living color!

After a great time at the Kaigler Book Festival, I headed north to family, a morning gathering at Square Arts in Batesville, and a whole lot of good food. I'll leave that to your imagination since I didn't take pictures of the fried green tomatoes and shrimp and grits, etc.

Then off to Square Books Jr., on the square in Oxford. 

 We loved the sign!


I signed a lot of books.
If you'd like a signed copy, I'm sure
SQUARE BOOKS can accommodate.

(Wow. Just noticed the great pictures on your Facebook page, Jill and others at Square Books- Thanks!)

Books. Lots and lots of books. All signed.

There was a lot going on in Oxford, MS, that Saturday. But when I arrived at Square Books, Jr., this smiling face was waiting by my table. Her mom said she'd read Glory Be and couldn't wait to meet me. I was thrilled to hear her enthusiasm.
(That's what it's all about, right? That's why we write books!)

After that amazing weekend, I took off driving through the Delta on a drizzly morning.

I promise I was the only one on Highway 61 when I took this picture.

A quick stop in Cleveland always includes a walk along the railroad trail.
When I grew up there, the Illinois Central came through town on a regular basis.
Right through the center of town. We'd have to stop at the tracks and wait for trains to pass.

Now there's a neat Train Museum.

I arrived in Greenwood in time for pie.

(I did not eat them both. My sister, always agreeable to coming along for a road trip, had the chocolate. Hers was better than mine, we agreed.)

Next stop: TURNROW Books.
What a beautiful spot!

Of course, I had to snap this shot of cute, young Elvis.

A favorite moment at TurnRow. These smart girls had come with their creative writing/ storytelling teacher from the DELTA ARTS ALLIANCE. 

(For those of us who grew up in Cleveland, that would be the Ellis Theater. folks.)

They told me all about what THEY are writing. I loved talking to them and signing their books.)

This picture of my brother, sister and me was taken by the sister of a childhood friend, one inspiration for Miss Sister.

My friend's name was Sandra. She added a lot of fun to growing up.

Next stop- LEMURIA in Jackson!

Two school visits, one fabulous party, lots of family. Does it get any better than Jackson?

We visited Mannsdale Elementary School where it happened to be Famous Mississippians Day.

Check out Oprah.
(Elvis was there, too.)

These kids were reading my new book! They'd chosen it for a book club selection!

Here I am at Lemuria, just before the skies opened up and a storm blew through Jackson. I'm reading from THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY.  After I read, we all gathered at my friend Ivy's house to talk about books, old times and memories, and new friends.

I returned to Lemuria the next day to sign a lot of books. I'm sure if you give Clara Martin, book buyer extraordinaire a call, she'll save a book for you!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Books That Make You Cry

What a book!

THE CROSSOVER by Kwame Alexander.

If you haven't read this newest Newbery winner, Margaret Simon's post does contain a spoiler alert.

If you have read it and loved it as I did, CLICK ON OVER THERE and see how the book worked as a class read-aloud.

Oh my goodness, such a moving a book. Everything a Newbery winner should be.

And if somehow you missed his wonderful GIFT to teachers and librarians everywhere, here's Kwame Alexander's book trailer.

Okay, not exactly a book trailer. Just an opportunity to get to know him and that amazing book. Which I loved. In case you wondered.

All of this talk about sad books stems from a Nerdy Book folks' post about BOOKS THAT MAKE US CRY.

The book is touching a lot of young readers. CLICK HERE for a review by one of them.
Fantastic. Just fantastic.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Kaigler Festival

A few observations and photos from my weekend in Hattiesburg.

The Kaigler Book Festival is a place to make new friends
 and see old ones.


The ever-lovely and brilliant Ellen Ruffin.
Sarah Frances Hardy, who signed her new picture book next to me!

Clara Martin, there from Lemuria to chat about new books with one of my favorite authors, Deborah Wiles.

See how fabulous their lineup is?

Shannon Hitchcock and I presented a workshop: 
about writing novels using family stories, memory, and research.

Gene Yang. 
Amazing presentation about his  journey from comic book kid to artist and writer.

I was taking notes fast and furiously!

I was too mesmerized by Nikki Grimes' talk to take a single picture. But she was there. Among many others.

And the food. Oh the food.

Celebrating the Ezra Jack Keats Award
With Caramel Cake, of course.

If you have an opportunity to attend the Fay B. Kaigler Children's Book Festival at the University of Southern Mississippi, 
just say yes.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Why We Write

I was reminded of this when a young man told me he'd read my new book five times. He's obviously not a kid who's never read a book on his own and that kind of reader also warms a writer's heart. 

But somebody's book made him a reader!
This truly is why we write. 
This says it all. 

What Happened to Your Book Today
by Kate Messner

Somewhere, a kid who has never read a whole book on his own
(Really. Not even one.)
picked up yours and turned a page.
And then another.
And then one more.
And it was pretty cool, turns out.

Click this link to read it all.

(And for my friends who are writing, revising, submitting. This is why you don't give up, right?)

Monday, March 30, 2015

Mississippi, Here I Come!

I'm excited about my trip home to Mississippi. 
Please stop by and say hello 
if you are anywhere near me!

April 8-10. University of Southern MS, Kaigler Book Festival (I'm signing books on Friday morning via Barnes and Noble)

April 11 (3:00). Square Books Jr., Oxford MS.

April 14 (4:00) Turnrow Books, Greenwood MS.

April 16 (4:00) Lemuria Books, Jackson MS.

Friday, March 27, 2015

I Love Anne Tyler's New Book

I don't want to give away too much.
Because I want all of Tyler's fans and some who may not know her yet to read A Spool of Blue Thread.
It just might be her best novel yet.

And it's surely her best cover ever. 

Instead of over-sharing, I'll give you a quote from near the beginning. It's about the family patriarch.

"According to Abby, who had known him since her girlhood, he had a thin, metallic voice and a twangy Southern accent, although he must have decided at some point that it would elevate his social standing if he pronounced his i's in the Northern way. In the middle of his country-sounding drawl, Abby said, a distinct, sharp i would poke forth here and there like a brier. She didn't sound entirely charmed by this trait."

(Thank you to my friend Marilyn who took me to her favorite "independent Bookstore by the Sea," THE BOOKMARK, where I spied a display of signed copies of A SPOOL OF BLUE THREAD and of course had to have my own.)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Outlining or Not


Here's the link to the WENDY MASS technique of semi-outlining!
Since a couple of writer friends have asked me about this, and the original link seems to be broken, I'll repost:

I still like this method and think it works on many levels. 
Getting unstuck.
Figuring out important scenes.
Adding details.

Here's my original, almost five-years-ago post:

Being a relatively organized person, the kind who loved to outline (and to diagram sentences, but that's a different story, for another blog post), I've struggled with the concept of writing fiction without outlining first. On the one hand, I'd like to know where I'm going with a story. On the other, well, I often don't.

This post by Neil Cross says all I wished I could have said! And it pretty much sums up the technique of kids' writer Wendy Mass. Check that link to her website for a similar way of brainstorming that ends up as a neat little outline. I adore her books. If that process works for her, it must be good.

From Neil Cross, I loved this especially:
Currently I’m about halfway up the mountain. If I crane my neck to look up, I get vertigo. If I look down, I feel quietly satisfied with the progress made.

Progress! Now back to that outline.

Related post: Every Soul a Star

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Book Fair Time!

Tomorrow I get to go to another BOOK FAIR. I love these days!

If you are near Dunedin (and who wouldn't want to be there on a beautiful sunny day?), stop in and say hello.

You can purchase the Scholastic Book Fair edition of THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY. My first book, GLORY BE, will also be available.

(Stay tuned for pictures.)

Everybody's welcome- hope to see some of you there. I'll be signing books from 1-3:00.

Curtis Fundamental Elementary
531 Beltrees St.
Dunedin, FL  34698

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Check it out!

 There is a LOT going on over at Kirby Larson's beautiful website and blog.

HERE'S the link to her blog.
I'll wait till you come back. Go ahead. Click on over.

During April, she's got a great giveaway going to celebrate strong women.


The very first on the newly-designed blog.
I am so proud.

If somehow you've missed her books, there are many. Most recently, DASH, the story of a dog and the young girl who owns him.  Set during the early years of World War II, this middle-grade novel just won the prestigious Scott O'Dell Award.

If you'd like to really get to know Kirby, here's an interview from a few years back, just as one of my favorite of Kirby's books, THE FRIENDSHIP DOLL, was about to be published.

It's tricky to navigate the world without friends! Any world!
But writers need advice, support, connections, which can be hard when you're sitting by yourself in a rooftop garret staring out the window all day long.
Well, scratch the garret thing.
Maybe Starbucks with a laptop.

If you're interested, I've written a few words about WRITER FRIENDS. Click on over there.

And once more- don't forget to enter Kirby's giveaway!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Just for fun.
A piece I wrote a few years ago about NOT being Irish but wishing I were.

Here it is, in the Christian Science Monitor.

And it got picked up a bunch of places, including this site that includes a video of a guy from Tennessee showing us how to make colcannon.

CLICK HERE for that link.  

Hope you remembered your GREEN today!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

What I'm Doing Now: Reading Wendy Shang

Although you might assume differently from the picture, no, I'm not reading while sipping a lime-flavored drink and watching the birds.

But I am doing a spring-like thing. Reading a book about a spring sport!

I just finished Wendy Wan-Long Shang's new book-to-be. Thank you, Scholastic, for sending me the Advance Reading Copy (ARC). I adored this one!

I have added it to my list of favorite baseball books. 
Which, come to think of it, consists of TWO baseball books. 

PLUNKED (by Michael Northrop).

What I like about this new book (coming April 2015 but ready for pre-order now):

1. The subtle baseball references. Even the title!

2. Wendy managed to sneak in some timely (1972) references that kids might not totally get or even care about but I sure laughed.

Ms. Rowe is the first teacher at my school to use Ms., which , as far as I could figure, was meant to blend Miss and Mrs. What no one has been able to explain to me though is what Ms. is short for.

Oh, how I often wondered that myself, Peter!

3. There's a plot twist that surprised me. At first, I wasn't sure it was going to work. But under the masterful hands of Wendy Shang, it was perfectly executed. She convinced me and I know young readers will totally buy it. And love everything about this book, as I did.

Although baseball is a huge part of this middle-grade novel, THE WAY HOME LOOKS NOW is about so much more than baseball.

Anybody have more books to add to my growing list of spring sports/ baseball books? You know, we are gearing up for spring training down here!