TOTAL. DANCE. ANARCHY.

img_26233 Questions about My 7th Grade Life in Tights

What three words would you use to describe your book?

Ooh, this is tough. Okay, three words I’d go with are:

Dancing, football, friends.

Or maybe I should go with:

TOTAL. DANCE. ANARCHY.

I’m not sure…like I said, this is a tough one!

 

What would Dillon’s favorite “So You Think You Can Dance” performance or contestant be? (We assume you watched the show?)

I love that show! My all-time favorite contestant has to be Fik-shun because of how surprisingly versatile he was. My favorite performance, though, is “Fix You” with Robert and Allison. That routine is so gorgeous and heart-wrenching. I’m tearing up just thinking about it.

Although you’ve said Dillon was similar to you, which character was the most fun to create?

Definitely Sarah! I really enjoyed taking the stereotypical “mean girl” and figuring out her backstory. She has so many secrets and reasons for acting the way she does and I can’t help but root for her.

 

3 Questions about You

If you weren’t a writer, what would you want to be and why?

I would love to be an explorer because traveling is something I can’t get enough of. And if I couldn’t do that then perhaps I’d be a librarian. Who’s also a ninja crime-fighting superhero. With an adorable doggy sidekick.

 

What is one book that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?

Hands down, Bridge to Terabithia. That book is the one I read when I need reminding how to craft complex characters and beautiful descriptive language.

 

What is one item in your fridge that tells us about you?

We just had friends over so my fridge is pretty empty. However, it’s rare to look in my freezer and not find a pizza in there. Pizza’s my go-to comfort food and my life wouldn’t be complete without it.

 

To learn more Brooks Benjamin checkout his website or follow him on twitter & instagram

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Meet Lou Lou & Pea

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3 Questions about Lou Lou and Pea and The Mural Mystery

What three words would you use to describe your book?

Friendship, Whimsical, Multicultural

Lou Lou and Pea are such good friends, was their relationship modeled after one of yours? Which character are you most like?

Lou Lou and Pea’s friendship isn’t modeled after one particular relationship in my life, but it is a mash-up of many. I have been fortunate to have many wonderful and supportive friends, both as a child and an adult.  These friendships are some of my most valuable relationships so it seemed natural for them to inspire the book!

I’m similar in many ways to both Lou Lou and Pea. I actually made a little character chart* to determine which friend readers are most like and I ended up with a tie.

*Want to see which character you are more like? See chart below

Did you have the ending in mind when you wrote the book? Was there consideration to not have the mystery and have a book that taught us about the culture and traditions in the town?

I didn’t know the ending until I was very close to finishing my initial draft. I always intended this particular book to be a mystery. However, the second Lou Lou and Pea book, LOU LOU AND PEA AND THE BICENTENNIAL BONANZA is not a mystery (though it has mysterious elements) and focuses a lot on the culture and traditions of El Corazón.

 

3 Questions about You

If you weren’t a writer, what would you want to be and why?

I’d want to be a professional figure skater because they have such beautiful, sparkly costumes and they’re so talented, graceful, and strong! Unfortunately, I’m incredibly uncoordinated and I don’t do well in the cold.

What is one book that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?

I have a special place in my heart for the Ramona Quimby books. I recently found my copies of The Ramona Quimby Diary (yes, I have two copies) from first and second grades and reading through them was hilarious.

What is one item in your fridge that tells us about you?

Sriracha. I’m a little bit fiery, but I can be a good complement for others, and I like to wear red.

 

Character Comparison Chart – Created by author Jill Diamond

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To learn more about Jill Diamond checkout her website or follow her on twitter

Choosing Kindness

If my children learn anything from me, it’s that they learn to be nice, good human beings. Sure, I work on letters, colors, shapes, but more importantly, I work on manners, showing kindness, and thinking of others. This I find to be the harder of the two. At four years old, my daughter, A, has plenty of time to learn the academics, and what she does know has come through books, play, and conversations. But it’s the social pieces, the pieces that I feel are way more important, take longer and are harder to develop. It might also be directly correlated with the amount of gray hairs popping up on my head.

I’ve been a teacher for fifteen years, have babysat, and now have my own children. So it’s safe to say that I’ve been around a lot of kids. And what have I learned about kids in all those years? That sometimes they suck. Kids can be so cruel and mean, and I often wonder where it comes from?  The other day we were at the pool and A recognized a friend, X, from school. I had the baby, so I was equally excited because that meant I could sit with him and she would be off playing. But it didn’t quite work out that way. As I sat far enough away to let her do her own thing, I was also close enough to see what was going on. And I witnessed her swimming after X, calling his name, as he continued to avoid her and hide. It broke my heart. This isn’t the first time, but it still stings just as bad. In swims this adorable little girl,

B, who bravely goes up to my daughter and asks her to play. Perfect, I think. But was does my darling daughter do? Tells her no, she doesn’t want to play with her. What? After all of our conversations about being a kind friend, she tells this kid no? Trying to avoid being a controlling mom, I call A over to simply have a conversation with her. When I asked her why she didn’t want to play with the little girl, she told me it was because she was playing with X. X, as in the kid that is swimming away from you and doesn’t really seem to want to play? Yes, she replied. After some coaching, she ended up playing with B, and had a blast.  But it was the in-the-moment guidance, me being very blunt in telling her that X is swimming away and doesn’t seem to want to play with her and that she has an opportunity to make a new friend and play with someone that seems interested in her, that helped her navigate through the situation.  And I won’t always be there to help, and she isn’t always going to want to hear her

 

mother’s “lecture”. But if we don’t teach and model positive social behavior at an early age, they grow up not knowing. And I have a feeling these are the kids that I come across, the ones that have “encouraged” me to teach kindness.

So what better way to do this? With books, of course. It’s the conversations around books that offer up the best lessons. There are some books that you can pick out bits and pieces to talk about, where a sibling in mean, a child doesn’t share. I’ve even done voluntary lunch book clubs at school based on books with kids that are different and their struggles with their peers.  And then there are books where you want to frame every single page of the book as reminders of how to be a better a person. Where the book seems to have

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a glow around it and you want to shout, “This, this is what life is about.” So when my copy of We’re All Wonders arrived in the mail, and the light seemed to glow from inside of the box, I knew this one wouldn’t let me down. I’ve already read it to my daughter, and while she heard the message, I don’t think one time through will magically make her a kind and compassionate kid. It takes time. And it takes books like this as a starting point.

We have to teach our kids to be kind, to be accepting of others. Because if we don’t, who will? How will they learn that it’s ok to be different, that if we were all the same, life would be boring? They have to learn it from us. From our conversations, and more importantly, from our actions. When I pick my daughter up from preschool each day, I always ask her, “What is one thing you did today to show kindness to someone else?” Maybe it’s time we all start asking ourselves that.

Are there any favorite books you have that model kindness?

 

Painting rocks to spread kindness, helping her brother, baking Christmas cookies for the fire and police departments.

Perfection in Finding Perfect

We had the Opportunity to meet with Elly Swartz, creator and author of the book Finding Perfect, and the not yet released Smart Cookie, coming out January 2018. All three storymamas agree Finding Perfect is a book that will stick with us forever. Elly chatted about her book, her journey as an author and what you might expect to find in her refrigerator.

THE BOOK


Finding Perfect is a story about Molly who has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It is a story about her difficult and emotional journey trying to navigate through middle school with this disease no one knows she has, including herself.

One of the many reasons we fell in love with Finding Perfect was because it’s a book filled with  emotion through Elly’s words and her development of characters. Elly describes her book using three words: heartfelt, authentic and informative. As non-writers we can only imagine how difficult it must be to write a book with such feeling and emotion, but Elly explained that it wasn’t really an easy or hard book to write, just that it was emotional. Many times she would be writing through tears because the emotions her characters were experiencing were her own. While she doesn’t have OCD, she has friends and friend’s children who do have OCD, and she explained in order to create authentic characters it is important to allow the emotions in your own life to guide your writing. While writing this book she would go back to the places in her own life where her heart was hurting. She went to the difficult or dark places in order to create authenticity.

Elly’s hope after writing this book was for it to become universally relatable, and in our opinion, it completely is. As readers, teachers, and mothers, we were able to connect and feel for Molly throughout the book. This is one of those books that makes you gain a better understanding of not only someone struggling with OCD, but also feel empathy for those struggling with any type of anxiety or stress, which is a part of everyone’s life. Children and adults are constantly looking for how to connect with others and when there is a disconnect it can be very scary. Elly explained that there are moments when we all think, ‘What’s going on with me? I’m so scared to find out, scared to actually know and scared to tell anyone there is something going on.’ We all have to overcome hard and difficult things that can feel scary and Elly wants to make sure kids know they aren’t alone in that journey. She wants kids to know nobody’s perfect and no one’s life is untainted by difficult moments.

THE AUTHOR

When Elly writes she usually has a morning routine that goes something like this…

  1. Walk the dog
  2. Workout
  3. Shower
  4. Get dressed
  5. “Put her brain on”

But when she’s really in it, there are times she doesn’t get out of her pajamas, has her coffee, and the next thing she knows she has missed lunch because she’s in the zone.

However, just like other writers, Elly can sometimes get stuck. When she does, her trick is to go somewhere she usually doesn’t associate with her writing, like a coffee shop or to head to the doctor’s office an hour early. This way she says no one sees her and no one sees what she’s doing and there is no pressure.

After talking with Elly for over an hour we learned she is a very dedicated and persistent person, in all the best ways possible. Fifteen years ago her writing journey began, she had read Mick Harte was Here by Barbara Park with her then 4th grade son, and while reading, she felt so many emotions; she was so moved that she decided she wanted to be a storyteller. She started writing, writing, writing. Young writers would be very surprised to know that her journey to getting Finding Perfect published was a long and hard one. Finding Perfect wasn’t her first book, it was actually the 5th book she wrote and it took 8 years to write. Talk about persistence! Even after getting the book sold she spent four years working with a pediatric specialist to make sure her story was authentic and relatable. She wanted to get it right and it was imperative to do so out of respect for the OCD community.

Interestingly though Elly has had many other jobs as well as being a writer. She’s a lawyer and for twenty years she wrote and edited law books with her father-in-law and her husband. Six years ago she started a business to help families navigate the college entrance process. She has a love for helping kids in such a pivotal time in their lives. But she’s been writing all along.

ADVICE

One would think with the very long, and what sounds like a difficult, journey to publish her first book, she would give up, but no. Like we said, she’s extremely persistent. She has a very strong support system and that helped when she wasn’t getting published. Even with the rejection she said, “I love writing more than I hate rejection.” She would give herself 48 hours to be mad or sad but every time she’d end up back in her chair writing. Elly compares writing to the switchback trails in hiking saying, “you see a lot of gems along the way that you wouldn’t have seen if you went straight down”. During the fifteen year journey of writing this book she was fortunate enough to be a part of a writing community where she learned a lot about herself and met some of her closest friends who helped her writing along the way.

When we speak to our students during their own writing, some advice Elly gives is to use your senses in your writing because it helps create authenticity. How does something taste, feel, smell, etc. But they don’t have to be huge moments, they can be “the little slivers in life.” Use what you have; the emotions you’ve experienced to write. Even as simple as the best pizza ever!

THE FRIDGE

Inside of Elly’s fridge you can find:

  • Vanilla Coffee-mate because she always starts her day with a humongous cup of coffee
  • In the summer a bottle of white wine because that is how she ends her day
  • Lots of green vegetables, salads
  • Something yummy that she will cook that night because she likes to cook
  • Twizzlers (not in the fridge but around the house all over) because she love them and so does Molly, and she can eat them because of her allergies.

Storymamas highly recommends Finding Perfect and we hope you will pick up a copy because it is truly amazing. It will make you feel so many emotions while reading. It will make you want to hug Molly, the main character. It will make you want to read her next book too Smart Cookie.

Check out Elly’s website http://ellyswartz.com/ to learn even more about her.

Early Chapter Book Favs

Growing up, I do not remember there being a lot of options for chapter books when I first started reading. I remember reading Frog and Toad, and Amelia Bedelia before I got into “real” chapter books that didn’t have any pictures. As I am now reading similar books to my four year old daughter, I have learned just how much has changed. There are so many wonderful options available, but I’ve narrowed down some of our favorites that would be just right for someone beginning to read chapter books, or like in our case, a good book for an adult to read at bedtime. The chapters are shorter, the font is bigger, and there are pictures to help tell the story. Last week I talked about the Dory Fantasmagory series on Instagram for #storymamasbookaday, and here are some others in addition.  Happy reading!

 

Mercy Watson series by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Chris Van DusenIMG_9061

This series tells the adventures of a pig named Mercy Watson, and her human owners/parents, Mr. and Mrs. Watson. Mercy has a love of buttered toast and seems to get herself into a funny pickle in every book. There are six total books in the series, and they have colorful illustrations on almost every page.

 

 

Tales from Deckawoo Drive series by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Chris Van DusenIMG_9064

This is a spinoff series of Mercy Watson. It tells the stories of the other people that the reader was introduced to in the original series, such as Leroy Ninker and Baby Lincoln. Not to worry, the beloved Mercy Watson makes appearances in all of the books. There are currently three books published in the series, with the fourth coming out in October.

 

 

The Chicken Squad series by Doreen Cronin, illustrated by Kevin Cornellimg_9060.jpg

This is a spin-off series from one of Cronin’s other series, The Trouble with Chickens. There are four chicks that make up the Chicken Squad, and despite being adorable and small, they are brave crime fighters, solving mysteries. These little chicks will keep you laughing throughout. The fifth book in this series comes out in November.

 

 

The Princess in Black series By Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen PhamIMG_9065

This series tells the story of frilly and pink Princess Magnolia, who leads a double life as the Princess in Black. Her alter ego uses trap doors, wears a black ensemble to keep her in disguise, and bravely fights monsters. The character is a good, strong female role model for girls, and the illustrations truly make the story come to life. There are currently four books in the series, with the fifth coming out in early September.

 

Are there any early series that are favorites in your house? Stay tuned for more recommendations!

 

 

 

Meet Margaret Dilloway!

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3 ?s about Momotaro Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters

What three words would you use to describe your book?

Imagination, friendship, adventure

What made you decide to change gears and write middle grade books?

I guess it wasn’t so much as I decided to write middle grade books as it was that I had a specific idea, and the best way to execute that idea was through writing a middle grade book. It was a pretty big learning curve for me, with many drafts over several years, but a lot of fun! I worked on it in between other projects.

How did you get the ideas for Momotaro?  I know you visited Japan for your research, but how did you arrive at the Japanese fantasy genre?

I’m half Japanese and I had a Japanese board book about Momotaro that my mom would read (translate) to me. I thought the story could be compelling for Western audiences and I wanted to find a way to present it to them.

Xander’s biracial because I am, and I didn’t read about any biracial characters while I was growing up.  I also thought it’d be a way for a Western audience to relate to the Japanese cultural stuff– Xander’s a bit of an outsider and raised in the West, as well. I was also raised in San Diego, with only my mother as the link to the entire Japanese culture.

Additionally, I wanted to explore some ideas about being mixed race, and also what that would mean for a mythological hero that was always the same race. Will his powers be weaker? Stronger? Different? How does his mother’s heritage affect him?  It parallels ideas and fears people have in the real world about races and cultures intermingling. And, I wanted to leave open the possibility that Xander’s mother’s myths would cross-pollinate with the Japanese myths.

 

3 ?s about You

If you weren’t a writer, what would you want to be and why?

A detective, because I observe things and make connections other people commonly do not, and I am extremely nosy!

What is one book that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?

That is like the #1 Impossible Question for writers! I will say THE ABSOLUTELY TRUE DIARY OF A PART-TIME INDIAN by Sherman Alexie because after I read it, I had a breakthrough about Momotaro.

What is one item in your fridge that tells us about you?

The big ol’ jar of coffee.

 

Follow Margaret Dilloway on Twitter @mdilloway or on Instagram @margaretdilloway.

You can learn more about her and her other books by visiting www.margaretdilloway.com

 

Abby Cooper Talks About Her Babies

 

3 ?s about Sticks & Stones
What three words would you use to describe Sticks and Stones?

Quirky, magical fun!

How did you come up with the disease cognadjivisibilitis?

It took a lot of thinking and a LOT of revision! I knew I wanted to explore what it would be like if a character had words on her body. But that can’t just randomly happen – there needs to be some sort of explanation. I thought a skin disorder seemed like the most natural cause. From there, I brainstormed the longest, most complicated-sounding name I could think of (because most real disorders have them), came up with symptoms, causes, treatments, etc., and cognadjivisibilitis was born.

What do you want readers to leave your book thinking?

I wrote this book to remind readers how important it is to be kind to others, and how important it is to be kind to themselves. Developing positive self-esteem can be a major challenge for kids (and grown-ups!) I hope Sticks & Stones helps readers appreciate all the wonderful, unique qualities that make them who they are.

 

3 ?s about You

If you weren’t a writer, what would you want to be and why?

I was a school librarian before I was an author, and that was the best job in the world (besides this one, of course!) I would happily do any job that allowed me to work with kids and books. I would also love to be a professional cupcake baker, though that’s more of a fantasy as I have very few kitchen-related skills. (Maybe I could be a professional cupcake taste-tester instead. Is that a thing?)

What is one book that has stuck with you since you’ve read it?

Frindle by Andrew Clements is my all-time favorite book, and it has been ever since my third grade teacher, Mrs. Huntley, read it to my class. There was just something about it, and whatever that something was, it inspired me to read like I had never read before. It’s interesting, because I’ve gone back to re-read it several times over the years, and each time I discover something new or take away something different. I love that books can do that.

What is one item in your fridge that tells us about you?

I’m kind of a dessert-o-holic. It’s bad. And yet so good. I currently have a giant Ziploc in my fridge filled with cookies, brownies, fudge, so on and so forth. Besides the fact that I’m obsessed with dessert,  I guess this would also tell you that I am strange (in a good way, obviously) and like to think outside the box. I’m pretty sure most people don’t keep these things in the fridge. I’ve arbitrarily decided that doing so will somehow make them last longer, even though desserts never last long around here regardless of where they’re stored.

BONUS ?: What can fans of Sticks & Stones expect from Bubbles?

Bubbles is similar to Sticks & Stones in that it falls in the magical realism genre; it’s a realistic novel except for one magical element, something you typically wouldn’t see happening in our world. In Bubbles, you’ll find another tween girl experiencing something very unusual. Like Elyse in Sticks & Stones, Sophie must navigate her magical challenge and the ways it impacts her relationships. I hope readers will enjoy Bubbles as much as I enjoyed writing it!

Get your copy of Abby’s book Bubbles next week, release date: July 3rd

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Photo credit: Abby Cooper

 

Follow Abby Cooper on Facebook, Twitter, & Instagram. Also, check out her website to learn more about her.