Saturday, October 1, 2016

Story Behind Write This Down - Guest Post

Mills, Claudia. Write This Down. Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR, Macmillan), 2016. 256 pages. $15.99. 978-0-37430-1644.

Affiliate Links: Amazon | IndieBound | Book Depository

Read my review - Write This Down Blog Tour

Read on to find out how Claudia Mills learned from her character, Autumn Granger, as well as her own life to pen Write This Down.

The Story Behind the Story

Most authors get their ideas in some way from their own lives. I know I do. I draw on childhood memories of growing up in New Jersey with my sister; I steal incidents my two sons brought home from elementary and middle school; when I do author visits at schools around the country, I think of myself as an undercover agent, there to scout for something wonderful to write about.

But when stories are inspired by real life, authors face tough ethical questions. Do we have the right to borrow material from other people’s lives? What if the stories we use are embarrassing or painful (which, after all, tend to be the best ones!)? But if we decide that we shouldn’t draw on real life, how on earth are we going to write stories that have that deep believability, that essence of truth?

The desire to explore this ethical dilemma was the impetus for Write This Down. At first I knew only that I wanted to tell the story of a girl who loves to write, who yearns to be published, and who faces a wrenching choice when she finally has the chance to achieve her dream, but at the cost of exposing something intensely personal about someone she loves. I figured that as my character wrestled with what she should do, it would help clarify my own deliberations. I tend to write the books that I most need to read.

I wanted to make things as hard as possible for my character, Autumn Granger; we authors have to harden our hearts to amp up the difficulty of any choice a character needs to make. So I thought. . . what if one of the main reasons Autumn is so determined to be published is to impress her idolized older brother, Hunter, who used to be her chief protector, but now openly mocks her writing? What form of mockery would be most painful? Ooh, what if he takes a secret poem she’s written to her crush, and reads it to his friends, who include the crush’s older brother? I saved notebooks filled with love poems I wrote in junior high to various boys with whom I fell in and out of love. I copied one of them, almost verbatim, to be the poem Hunter mocks in the book.

Still brainstorming, I asked myself: what if Autumn has the chance to be published by writing something about that very brother? What if her essay reveals what she herself discovers in the course of the book: the reason why her brother has changed so much toward her, a reason that has to do with Hunter’s own past heartbreak, his own inner demons?

Autumn and Hunter are both fictional characters, of course. I had a younger sister, not an older brother. (I wrote about that relationship in an early book of mine, The One and Only Cynthia Jane Thornton, about a girl who tries to distinguish herself from her one-year-younger sister, Lucy. After reading it, my sister said she now planned to publish her own book called Cynthia and Lucy, The Real Story: At Last It Can Be Told.) But as an aspiring writer, Autumn is nonetheless like me in so many ways. Certainly she smarts under rejections just as I did at her age, and still do. In fact, the program Autumn attends at the public library, where two literary agents scathingly critique attendees’ manuscripts on the spot, was inspired by a similar program I attended recently. Even as the author of almost 60 published books, I left close to tears at the reaction my work received.

I wasn’t sure until I got to the conclusion of the book what I would have Autumn decide about her ethical dilemma. In the end, I felt as if I were merely scribbling down what transpired as Autumn made her own choice, as characters tend to do. But watching Autumn weigh the joys of publication against its costs and betrayals helped me sort through these issues.

We base our characters on ourselves. But we end up learning from them, too.

Write This Down by Claudia Mills - Blog Tour

Mills, Claudia. Write This Down. Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR, Macmillan), 2016. 256 pages. $15.99. 978-0-37430-1644.

Affiliate Links: Amazon | IndieBound | Book Depository

Genre: Realistic, Writing, School Story
Cover Appeal: It's eye-catching but I wonder if students would recognize the almost quote. Will need some book-talking

Immediately After
I know just the 5th graders who will love this.

Autumn is obsessed with two things; writing and Cameron Miller. Her writing is not going as well as she would like and her relationship with Cameron is only in her head. Meanwhile her brother Hunter has changed. He's no longer the loving supportive brother she can talk to, instead he makes fun of her writing and her crush! To his band! Which includes Cameron's brother!

Write This Down has a lot going for it including, a great friendship, loving parents, and a teacher who cares. Autumn and Kylee support each other even if they don't agree. They look out for each other and have more friends than each other. Autumn is well-rounded and makes mistakes. She also cares about her family - even when Hunter doesn't return the affection. I enjoyed seeing her and Cameron's "relationship" evolve.  Her obsession blinds her to some of what's going on around her but she knows she only has herself to blame.

This is a good middle grades read. The relationships were plausible, including the loved teacher and the parents doing whatever it takes to get their son back on track. A few writing scenarios seemed contrived and a tiny bit repetitive. The resolution was satisfying and had a little bit of a surprise. Loved the dilemma of who your story belongs to if you include other recognizable people. I give this a 3 out of 4. Will definitely purchase for the LS library.

Book Excerpt
Claudia Mills online Author Page | Blog | Twitter

Read The Story Behind "Write This Down" - A Guest Post by Claudia Mills

Blog Tour Stops
September 27: Ruth at ruth ayers writes
September 28: Cindy at Charting By the Stars
September 29: Melanie at Two Writing Teachers
September 30: Niki at Daydream Reader
October 1: Kathy at The Brain Lair
October 2Maria at Maria's Mélange

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Paths and Portals by Gene Luen Yang - Blog Tour

Yang, Gene Luen. Paths and Portals (Secret Coders, 2). First Second (Macmillan), 2016. 96 pages. $10.99.  978-1-62672-0763.  

Affiliate Links: Amazon | IndieBound | Book Depository

Genre: Fantasy, Graphic Novel
Cover Appeal: It's not as bright as other graphic novel series, the red is pretty faded looking. Kids who loved Secret Coders, 1 will definitely be looking for this but others will need a bit of convincing. 

Immediately After

WHAT??!! And the next book doesn't release until 2017??!! ARGH!

Paths and Portals picks up right where book 1 left off, with the answer to the code! We jump in with Eni (must be named for the ENIAC right?) and Hopper (Grace Hopper, computer programmer) are joined by Josh and start writing code using Logo. The coding will lead them to solve the mystery of Stately Academy. We know it involves Principal Dean, with the help of the rugby team, but what do they want?


The novel itself is two color - green and black. Because this is a graphic novel that is also teaching you programming, many of the pages have side by side panels of Hopper thinking and the robot turtle moving in accordance with her thoughts, which will help students "see" her thoughts in action.

There are also full-sized pages where students can write in their solutions to the given coding problem.

Don't miss more inside shots at Macmillan's Path and Portals page!


These books score on both the story and the coding activity. The activities are woven naturally into the book and will not push you out of the action. Each book in the series, so far, seem to stick to one narrative so they are straightforward. The books, however, are super short. You barely get into the story before you are left with a giant cliffhanger. This would not be so bad if the books were being released shortly after one another. With a count of less than 100 pages though, it seems unnecessary. I give this a 3.5 out of 4 copies. I would buy it for both my LS and MS libraries as well as the coding option classroom.

Want more Secret Coders? Check these places out!

A special short comic story featuring Eni, Hopper and Josh! Lost and Found (scroll down and don't miss any pages!)
Gene Yang online: Blog | Twitter | Secret Coders (lots of fun activities and programming!)
Mike Holmes' online: Blog | Twitter
Macmillan Gene Yang page.

Visit other great tour stops below!


August 31: Colby at Sharp Read
September 1: Jess at Reading Nook Reviews
September 2: Samantha at Forest of Words and Pages
September 5: Jennifer at YA Book Nerd
September 6: Maria at Maria's Mélange
September 7: Gigi at Late Bloomer's Book Blog
September 8: Jen at Starry Eyed Revue
September 9: Cheyenne at The Hollow Cupboards
September 12: Anya at On Starships and Dragonwings
September 13: April at Good Books and Good Wine
September 14: Cindy at Charting by the Stars
September 15: Erica at The Book Cellar
September 16: Sandie at Teen Lit Rocks
September 19: Asheley at Into the Hall of Books
September 20: Daphne at Gone Pecan
September 21Mary Ann at Great Kids Books
September 22: Kathy at The Brain Lair
September 23: Michelle & Leslie at Undeniably (Book) Nerdy
September 26Laurie at Reader Girls
September 27: Margie at Librarian's Quest
September 28Victoria at Art, Books, & Coffee
September 29Cee at The Novel Hermit
September 30: Amanda at Forever Young Adult

Monday, September 5, 2016

Playing for the Devil's Fire by Phillippe Diederich - Review

Playing for the Devil's Fire
by Phillippe Diederich
Cinco Punta Press
Audience: Middle School and above
Mexico City * Lucha Libra * Drugs * Poverty

"I guess that's what I always liked about these movies. They weren't about heroes with supernatural powers. They were about real people. They gave me the feeling that I too could be like..."

Fourteen year-old Liberio's, aka Boli, daily struggles include his love for the much older Ximena (19) and trying to pull together enough money to see one of his favorite luchadors, El Hijo del Santo, wrestle in the upcoming fair.

Mosca and Boli spend most of their afternoons in the plaza and around the City of Izayoc shining shoes and playing marbles. Then someone discovers the head of el profe Quintanilla and, not long after,  the body of Rocio Morales.  Troubles seemed to have arrived with the appearance of Joaquin Carrillo. Soon many of the stores in Izayoc start shutting down and people close to Boli start disappearing. Can Boli and, a down on his luck lucho libre, Chicano find out what's happening without putting themselves or anyone else in danger?

The mystery of Playing for the Devil's Fire sucks you in slowly. As Boli's fear for his life and those of his loved ones increases, so does the readers fear. You want to warn him. As the true motivations of the characters are revealed, Boli's innocence is threatened as he doesn't know who to trust. The love of money changes almost everyone but has a deep and dark influence over the law enforcement. No one is trying to help, believing they will be the next to lose their businesses or their lives.

There were a couple of times I wondered how old Boli and his sister were, based on their actions as well as the celebrities mentioned (Pancho Villa, El Chavo di ocho, and the calendar of Tania Rincon). Gaby is seventeen but doesn't go to school. She practically runs the bakery and enters into a contract.

Overall, it was an exciting window into another culture. Since there is a glossary in the back, Diederich doesn't stop the story to translate any words or phrases, many of which you can glean from context clues.  He lays out the varying levels of poverty and how each affects character. The ending is quick and leaves you wondering about Boli and his future.

About The Author

Phillippe Diederich is a Haitian-American writer. Born in the Dominican Republic, he was raised in Mexico City and Miami. His parents were kicked out of Haiti by the dictatorship of Papa Doc Duvalier in 1963. He spent his youth listening to his parents and friends talking politics and nostalgically dreaming of the day they would return to Haiti. In 1980, the family moved to Miami, where they joined a community of exiles from all parts of Latin America—Cuba, Chile, Argentina, Nicaragua, El Salvador. Like other children of exiles, Diederich grew up without his relatives—grandparents, cousins, uncles, aunts. Diederich traveled repeatedly to Cuba as a photojournalist throughout the 1990s. He has an MFA in creative writing from the University of South Florida and lives in Florida.

Blog Tour

August 31: Rich in Color review (
Sept 1: The Pirate Tree review & interview (
Sept 4: Guest Post for Clear Eyes, Full Shelves (
Sept 5: Review, The Brain Lair (
Sept 6: Rich in Color author interview (
September 7: Edi Campbell CrazyquiltEdi review (
September 8: Anastasia Suen, #KidLitBookoftheday (
September 9: Reading Through Life author highlight plus links to blog tour (
Sept 9: Guest Post, The Brain Lair (
September 12: Linda Washington ( )
September 13: Excerpt, Review, and Guest Post at Mom Read it (

Friday, July 15, 2016

NerdCampMI - Recap

Kups for Kathy courtesy LB
NerdCampMI - Since the Summer of 2013, I've trekked to MI to attend NerdCamp! So proud to be a part of this group!

This year I couldn't wait to drive up on for the pre-game at Olive Garden with my Voxer pals and some friendly authors. Such great conversations are had during this visit!

The Voxers surprised me with Kups for Kathy (short version - I collect mugs, longer version - I told them I stole them)! I'll post them on Insta as I use each one!

The next day was the official start of nErDCampMI! We started the day with 6 NerdTalks from me, Teri Lesesne (author of Reading Ladders), Donalyn Miller (author of The Book Whisperer), Pernille Ripp (creator of Global Read Aloud), Raina Telgemeier (author of Smile), and surprise Kate DiCamillo (author of all the books)!!! Can you imagine how nervous I was! I was so happy to be first but very very nervous! Can't thank my friends enough for their continued encouragement and support.
NerdTalks courtesy Justin
Me and Debbie Ridpath Ohi courtesy Justin
On the first day, after the NerdTalks, there are several sessions you can attend. I decided to sit out the first session and relax with a cup of coffee. After all the sessions were over we went to the Nerdy Dinner where I met Tracey Baptiste!!!! Sadly, I did not take pictures or have someone take pictures but it was truly a dream come true.

On Day 2, people sign up to either teach something, learn something or collaborate on something.  One of my favorite sessions was with Tony Keefer. He shared with us the history of March Book Madness and we chose a theme and started gathering possible titles. It was such a fun time.

Throughout the 2 days there were author/illustrator signings and chatting. BookBug was there selling books! I picked up the Mitzi Tulane book and several others.

Like any great conference, the best part are the connections you make! It brings me joy to see my favorite voices in person. I  always have fun hanging with this crazy crew and hope we find more times to be together.
The Voxers! courtesy Justin

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

#WNDB - A Raisin in The Sun

A Raisin in the Sun
by Lorraine Hansberry
Vintage (November 29, 2004)
Audience: Teens to Adults
Drama * African-American Life * Poverty
IndieBound | Amazon | Book Depository

For the first time in forever, I watched the entire Tony Awards show on June 12, 2016. The next morning, after spending several hours trying and failing to get tickets to Hamilton, I ran to Barnes and Noble and bought the book. Not the Ron Chernow Alexander Hamilton biography but the Lin-Manual Miranda Hamilton: The Revolution hardcover of awesome. And, of course, the soundtrack.

On my way to the register, I saw a table of High School Summer Reading List selections and A Raisin in the Sun caught my eye. I've always loved the poem*, A Dream Deferred, and had seen snippets of the televised version of the play.

I didn't think anything of it, just put the books on my ever-expanding TBR pile hill mountain, mountain range...

A week and 1/2 later, I go to ALA Orlando (pics coming soon) and finally get a copy of The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon, which I rave about here. And guess what play consumes the mc's father? Yep! He loves the character of Walter Lee Younger, whose life mimics what he sees as his own circumstances. Serendipity?

Lorraine Hansberry was the youngest person (only 29), first female, and first African-American to have a play produced on Broadway. This story of how poverty eats at your will and limits your ability to rise up still resonates today.

The Evolution of A Raisin in the Sun

*What happens to a dream deferred? 

      Does it dry up 
      like a raisin in the sun? 
      Or fester like a sore— 
      And then run? 
      Does it stink like rotten meat? 
      Or crust and sugar over— 
      like a syrupy sweet? 

      Maybe it just sags 
      like a heavy load. 

      Or does it explode?

I woke up in the middle of the night to find yet another African American killed by police officers and I am afraid that the last line is what we have coming. We cannot deny that #BlackLivesMatter but we also need to show it. #AltonSterling - Here's a great article about the pushing down that is sure to come to no good end, called Heavy Load, that also references A Dream Deferred and A Raisin in the Sun!

Monday, July 4, 2016

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? July 4, 2016

What I Purchased/Borrowed
Zeroes (Zeroes, 1) by Scott Westerfeld, audiobook, borrowed
In Twenty Years by Allison Winn Scotch
Tiny Pretty Things by Sonia Charaipotra and Dhonielle Clayton
The Princess Saves Herself In This One by Amanda Lovelace
Lady Susan by Jane Austen
Half Wild (Half Bad, 2) by Sally Green, borrowed

What I Read
The Sun Is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon, ARC
A Study in Charlotte (Charlotte Holmes, 1) by Brittany Cavallaro, borrowed
Haters by Jesse Andrews, audiobook, borrowed
Spaced Out (Moon Base Alpha, 2) by Stuart Gibbs, borrowed
Heartless by Marissa Meyer, Edelweiss


The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon (11/1/2016) - Ever since I read Everything, Everything (Yoon, 9/15) I've been waiting for the next book by Yoon. And also dreading it, because that book was, well, everything!

And now we have this. It was beautiful and heartfelt. Daniel and Natasha are on fate's rollercoaster and can't get the ride to stop. Daniel is destined to go to Yale and eventually become a doctor while Natasha's family is being deported. Tonight! 

Following a series of signs, they meet. Combine this with The New York Times's quiz, The 36 Questions That Lead to Love (which you can try here). Add in alternating chapters, some fully realized secondary characters, and a strong sense of place and wow, Yoon has done it again!

Find Nicola Yoon on the internet:
Website -
Twitter -
Tumblr -
Instagram -

I say pre-order this one for your middle school and high school libraries. 

Want more reading ideas this week? Check out:

Monday, June 20, 2016

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? - June 20, 2016

We bring you this special edition of It's Monday, What Are You Reading! Today I want to look at what my K-4 students have checked out this past school year.

The Top Ten Circulated Books

10. Cabin Fever (Diary of a Wimpy Kid, 6) by Jeff Kinney, 978-1419-70223-5.

Cabin Fever Event Guide

9. Fish in A Tree by Linda Mullaly Hunt, 978-03991-6259-6

Educator's Guide

8. The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin, 978-17435-3987-3

The Thing About Jellyfish Educator's Guide

7. A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord, 978-05457-0027-6

A Handful of Stars Educator's Guide

6. The LEGO book by Daniel Lipkowitz, 978-07566-6693-4

5. Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate, 978-12500-4323-8

Crenshaw Educator's Guide

4. Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel, 978-05452-1028-7

3. Cardboard by Doug TenNapel, 978-05454-1873-7

2. Sisters by Raina Telgemeier, 978-05451-3206-0

1. Smile by Raina Telgemeier, 978-05455-4060-5

Here's a great 
from Scholastic. 

Any surprises?

I'm happy that chapter books made the list! After the Mock Newbery Club ended, I booktalked some of our reads to the 3rd and 4th graders.  I'm hoping there's a direct correlation! I am pained with the lack of diversity on the list! Definitely a goal for Fall 2016.

Check out Daydream Reader (@NikiOhsBarnes) for more ideas of what the K-4 crowd is reading. We've got some books in common!

Friday, November 27, 2015

Stepping Into Digital Literacy

Recently I was honored to present at the 34th Annual Sharjah International Book Fair in Sharjah UAE. This was the second annual American Library Association (ALA) Library Conference. It was a an incredible experience.

My presentation was on my starting to integrate Digital Literacy into the library curriculum. It's truly a work in progress and I'll update as I learn more!


Fair Pictures
Showing the route from DC to Dubai UAE

Fair welcome
Students were everywhere at the fair!

Loved the variety in book covers

Presentation tweets

Answering questions about access

 Had a great time learning with other school librarians at the fair! Thank you to ALA for such a wonderful and fulfilling opportunity.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Voyagers Series Giveaway

Samples and prizing are provided by Random House Children’s Books
#VoyagersHQ - check out the site!
All right science fiction fans, there's a new series that already has two books out for you!

Part sci-fi, part eco-mystery, all action-adventure.

As the young heroes in VOYAGERS journey into outer space to save planet Earth, you are invited to become part of the story by joining the crew through the multi-platform, VOYAGERS HQ. 

The HQ extends the adventure beyond the page, unlocking games and activities on your device!

Each book has clues and codes that lead to world extensions to be explored, played, and shared. Your online profile tracks your progress through the VOYAGERS universe, and gives you rewards, ranking and virtual currency for each product code redeemed.

You can create your own custom VOYAGERS character, follow the team and experience this space adventure through the eyes of your own virtual droid.

Book 1 - Project Alpha by  DJ MacHale

Earth is in danger! Without a renewable source of clean energy, our planet will be toast in less than a year. There are 6 essential elements that, when properly combined, create a new power source. But the elements are scattered throughout the galaxy. And only a spaceship piloted by children can reach it and return to Earth safely. First the ideal team of four 12-year-olds must be chosen, and then the first element must be retrieved. There is not a mistake to be made, or a moment to lose. The source is out there. Voyagers is blasting off in 3, 2,1!

Credit: Gayle Goodrich

About the Author
D.J. MacHale is the author of the bestselling book series Pendragon, Morpheus Road, the SYLO Chronicles. He has written, directed and produced numerous award-winning television series and movies for young people including Are You Afraid of the Dark?; Flight 29 Down and Tower of Terror. D.J. lives with his family in Southern California.

Website: DJ MacHale Books
Twitter: @DJMacHale
Facebook:  Author DJ MacHale

Book 2 - Game of Flames by Robin Wasserman

The Alpha team has been chosen and they've already snagged the first element on planet J-16. The second is hidden on Meta-Prime, a planet filled with metal mazes, catapults of fire, and warring alien robots. But what our Voyagers don't know is that there is another ship, the Omega team, following hot on their trail...

About the Author
Credit: Sonya Sones

Robin Wasserman is the author of several acclaimed books for children and young adults, including The Waking Dark, The Book of Blood and Shadow, Hacking Harvard, the Cold Awakening Trilogy, and the Chasing Yesterday Trilogy. A former children's book editor, she lives and writes (and frequently procrastinates) in Brooklyn, New York.

Website: Robin Wasserman
Twitter: @RobinWasserman
Facebook: Robin Wasserman

The Giveaway

Get both books in the series AND a special prize pack: A branded iphone 6 case with a home GadgetGrip button! Open to US addresses only. Giveaway closes Wednesday November 18, 2015, 11:59 pm.


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