Monthly Archives: February 2009

Class of 2k9 Author Interview: Lisa Greenwald


Happy Friday one and all! Today Lisa Greenwald is hanging out at Shelf Elf, sharing her thoughts about writing, favourite things and life as a debut author. My Life in Pink and Green is out right now, this very moment, in bookstores near you. I loved it (read my review) and so do lots of other folks, including Kirkus (starred) and Publishers Weekly and Indiebound, which just named Lisa’s novel as a Top 10 Pick for Spring 2009. I’m convinced Lisa’s book is bound to be a hit with all sorts of happy MG readers. Welcome Lisa!

What inspires you? (People, Places, Art, Food, Ideas…)
I think I am most inspired by people. I’ll see a mother and daughter on the subway and I’ll want to know their story. I’ll see a group of friends chatting over coffee and I’ll be so intrigued by what they’re discussing. I love to eavesdrop; I hope that doesn’t come off as creepy.

Describe your path to publication.
My first job out of college was in the BFYR editorial department at Farrar Straus and Giroux. I loved it and loved learning about children’s books. But then I realized that I wanted to be one of the people writing them! So, I started the MFA program in Writing for Children at The New School in the fall of 2004 and graduated in the spring of 2006. However, I didn’t sell MY LIFE IN PINK & GREEN until November of 2007. That probably doesn’t seem like very long, but it felt long to me. During that time I wrote many drafts of a different novel. When I signed with Alyssa Eisner Henkin, we worked on MY LIFE IN PINK & GREEN together and things have been going smoothly ever since. I owe so much to Alyssa; she is a fabulous agent.

Do you have any writing rituals?
I actually really enjoy writing in random spots like bookstores, department stores, the Long Island Railroad and coffee shops. I like to have noise around me, but not annoying noises like tapping or humming or a buzzing refrigerator or obnoxiously loud music. I like to have quiet conversations and quite music around me as I write.

I know that in addition to you writing, you also work in the library at The Birch Wathen Lenox School in Manhattan. How does that work affect your writing?
I love working at BWL. It’s so much fun to talk to the kids and help them find great books. I also think it’s helpful in terms of my writing because I can see first hand how kids act at lunch or during assemblies or in the hallway. I do remember middle school very vividly but it’s nice to see how kids are today.

What books are especially hot titles right now at your school’s library?
Of course the Twilight books are popular. TTYLand other titles by Lauren Myracle don’t seem to stay on the shelves. The students are also big fans of Caroline Hickey; she came to do an author visit at BWL last year.

How did the idea for My Life in Pink and Green come to you? Did it happen in a moment, or did it sneak up on you over time?
It actually began as a tiny idea at my brother’s college graduation from the University of Pittsburgh in the spring of 2006. I saw a little girl with who I’m guessing was her grandfather in the row in front of us and I got an idea about a girl and her grandfather and a family business. However, the grandfather in the story became a grandmother and the story evolved from there. Continue reading


Poetry Friday: Cat Haiku

A little poetry from me today, inspired by the grey kitty who lives at the end of my street (and who I try very hard not to kittynap).

grey morning grey cat
sleep close together waiting
to curl in the door

Happy Poetry Friday!

Elf Envy: Other People’s Reviews

So… I’m drowning in work right now, and wishing I had time to review the books I’ve been reading. Sigh. February is a miserable time in teacher-land. So I am offering a little round up of some particularly fab reviews from around the kidlitosphere. Check them out:

SO excited about Libba Bray’s upcoming release, Going Bovine. Very different from her beloved series. Cool. Reading Rants loved it.

Laurie Halse Andersons’s Wintergirls has been getting much attention all over the blogs. Jen Robinson has some insightful thoughts about it here.

Even though the holiday season has passed, and now we’re nearly through February grayness, Miss Erin still found lots to love in Let it Snow, the collection of novellas by YA hot shots Maureen Johnson, John Green and Lauren Myracle.

I just got an ARC of Carol Lynch Williams’s The Chosen One, and here is a glowy review from Sarah at The Reading Zone. I’m planning on reading this alongside Ellen Hopkins’s Burned. I’m thinking that will make for an interesting pairing.

Just a few good things. My reviews coming soon. Now for report cards!

Destroy All Cars


When I used to work as a bookseller, there were a few books that I loved so much that I could sell them like no body’s business. Give me a stack of The Lightning Thief or How I Live Now and just stand back and watch me. I used to joke with my co-workers that if someone snatched me and locked me in a room and said, “You have to sell this book to the next 10 people I send in here, or else,” I would just laugh and say, “Bring it on.” I think Blake Nelson’s upcoming release, Destroy All Cars is one such magic title. I have so many good things to say about it that I bet I could sell this to just about anyone. I am crazy about this novel. Allow me to convince you.

James Hoff likes to rant. A lot. His rants are variations on one central theme: America’s consumerist culture is the root of all evil. James has a lot to say about the big problems facing the planet, specifically America’s role in creating and perpetuating those problems, and he doesn’t bother sugar-coating his strong opinions. He’ll yell at whoever will listen (and everyone who isn’t listening too). He’s ready to blame Global Warming on just about everybody from soccer moms to aging hippies to people in their twenties with tattoos. Basically, what it all comes down to for James is the “lameness of people in general,” their apathy, and their super-self-absorbed, short-sighted lifestyle choices.

Destroy All Cars follows James as he blasts his point of view all over the place. He is particularly fond of incorporating his worldview into his Junior AP English assignments, which are scattered throughout the novel and make for side-splitting reading. Every paper is followed by a few of his teacher’s comments and instructions for revision (too emotional, not supported by facts…) Hilarious. To top everything off, James is kind of distracted by his ex-girlfriend Sadie, a do-gooder type who shares James’s philosophy and has a far more measured and practical approach for creating social change. He’s not sure how he feels about her these days, which is a bit unsettling for James.

After reading Destroy all Cars, I want to read every single other book Blake Nelson has written. If they’re half as clever and entertaining as this one, then I’ll be entirely satisfied. James’s voice is pitch-perfect. It is utterly convincing, sarcastic and in places, pretty endearing. You might find yourself believing in his point of view, but his approach is so not working because it is way over-the-top. I like how Nelson set that tension up. I thought James’s philosophy was right on in places, but I just kept shaking my head at his way-out approach to getting his ideas out there.

This is a book about believing in things, having opinions about big issues, caring a lot but not really knowing how to do anything productive with your ideas. As much as it’s hard to take James seriously some of the time, Destroy All Cars should definitely get people talking about the problems James sees with American culture, and maybe inspire readers to care even half as much as James does. You’ll laugh, and you’ll take a look at your own choices. Oh, and there’s a little romance to round it all out too.

Destroy All Cars is the perfect teen guy book – quirky, hilarious, intelligent and just serious enough to make you feel smarter. Read it the second it comes out in May 2009.

This review is also posted at GuysLitWire.

Operation Teen Book Drop: The Sequel

Operation Teen Book Drop

In keeping with the neverending coolness of readergirlz, the lovely divas have joined up with GuysLitWire and YALSA and a whole bunch o’ publishers to bring us the second Operation Teen Book Drop on April 16th, 2009 (which just so happens to be Support Teen Literature Day).

Operation Teen Book Drop is an awesome initiative that brings donations of thousands of fantastic YA titles to hospitalized teens all over the States (and Canada too… I think…). There’s more info here and at the readergirlz site, and further details will follow as the date gets closer. It’s exciting, it’s inspiring and it’s all about reading and reaching out to others – the heart of the readergirlz mission. Now watch this snazzy video and start planning to Rock the Drop!

Class of 2k9 Author Interview: Rosanne Parry & Suzanne Morgan Williams


Today it is my great pleasure to host not one, but two Class of 2k9 authors, Rosanne Parry (Heart of a Shepherd) and Suzanne Morgan Williams (Bull Rider). I am such a fan of both of their books. Read my reviews: Heart of a Shepherd, Bull Rider. You’re in for a treat with fabulous insider-info on two talented writers’ debut titles. Let’s get started!

Describe where you write.

Suzanne: Usually I write at my desk looking out at the Virginia Range in Nevada – where the Comstock silver was discovered in the 1850s. I also always carry a tablet or notebook when I travel and then I write longhand wherever I happen to be. Sometimes when I’m driving I pull off the road to write something down that I just thought of.

Rosanne: In a word—outside. Sitting still has never been a talent. I love to work outdoors. My tree house is my favorite place,


but I also write in Forest Park


Gabriel Park, Tryon Creek State Park and the Tualatin Hills Nature Park. Thank you fellow Portlanders for funding and maintaining my outdoor offices—just one of the 500 things I love about Portland!

Tell us about the initial inspiration for your debut novels.

Suzanne: The idea for Bull Rider came following a long day of storytelling about Nevada, cowboys, and Indian legends. Our SCBWI Region was hosting some speakers prior to an IRA meeting in Reno, and one of them suggested I write a series for young kids – maybe second grade – about rodeo and set it in Nevada. I had no idea then that it would turn into the book for older readers that it became.

Rosanne: My dad taught my son to play chess when he was in kindergarten—a task requiring heroic patience! It was quite hilarious to watch so I wrote a sonnet about them. Years later I wrote a short story about a boy and his grandpa playing chess on the back porch of a ranch house, but those characters were nothing like my family. I liked that short story very much and it won a Kay Snow Award from the Willamette Writers. I sent it to my editor, Jim Thomas, who I’d met a year before at the Oregon SCBWI fall retreat. He said, “This is great writing. Send me something else.” I put it aside and worked on other things but I really liked the boy and his grandpa so I kept thinking about how to integrate that chess game into a larger story. There are plenty of opportunities for conflict on a ranch, but it wasn’t until I added the military family aspect that I knew the story would work. Even so I got stuck just a few chapters in and was fortunate enough to get a critique from Wendy Lamb, another editor from Random House. She was very insightful and encouraging. I finished a first draft about nine months after that.

Both Heart of a Shepherd and Bull Rider demanded some serious knowledge of rural life – the worlds of ranching and rodeo. Describe your research process.

Suzanne: I’ve never lived on a ranch or ridden in a rodeo but I have some serious horse people in my family, a couple of farmers, and my husband’s family includes a group of orchardists who live in a small rural town. We’ve visited there a lot over the years and I’ve seen how things work when you know practically everyone in your community. I honestly can’t remember when I first went to a horse show or a rodeo – probably when I was about five or six. For the bull riding portion of my research, I was able to interview some professional bull riders, to get behind the scenes at the Event Center here in Reno, to see the bulls come off the trucks for the day’s rides – including one called Ugly. I visited a local bull riding ring and saw some kids take their first bull rides and talked to the guy who ran it. I was lucky enough to do an extensive interview with a local ranch family and they passed my manuscript on to a bull riding rancher. I did a LOT of research and checked and double checked. Oh, and I can ride a horse, and they used to brand calves across the street from my house until the land went to smaller horse properties.

Rosanne: I have been to eastern Oregon several times and it has never failed to impress.


Most of what I know about ranching comes from friends who grew up on ranches. The landscape and larger towns in Heart of a Shepherd are true places, but Brother’s hometown, the creek and the reservoir are fictional. I took a topographical map of Malheur (Mal’-yer) County and put the town in a spot that would work for my story.

I have no ranch skills to speak of. I am able to sit on top of a horse that is moving. People who know assure me that what I’m doing is not riding. I couldn’t rope a fence post from standing on the ground if my life depended on it, but I did bottle feed a lamb once. Fortunately there are agricultural colleges and many people willing to describe in detail their working life on a ranch.

I have lived in small towns in rural Washington, Arizona and what Germans think of as rural Bavaria. The small town spirit was strikingly similar in all those places. In fact my neighbors in the tiny town of Unterafferbach, Bavaria had more in common with small town Americans than they did with their urban-dwelling countrymen.

Writing Heart of a Shepherd and Bull Rider meant you had to think like teenage boys. How did you do that?

Suzanne: For the last several years our house has been full of our son’s friends, and the men from our neighborhood who gather to work on a car or weld a fender or set a toilet – whatever – there’s a group of them who call on each other for help. Most of the time they forget I’m around and I just absorb all that testosterone based dialogue.

Rosanne: Twelve is a great age—one I often teach. I volunteer every week in my local schools. I have a son and lots of nephews, so boys of this age are not an entirely foreign country.

Part of writing outside of your personal experience is being attentive to the things people at that age, of that gender, in that cultural group have in common. It’s the small details that tend to resonate most so getting them right matters. For example, at 12, lots of boys have a fascination with yet revulsion at the prospect of shaving. It’s a very small moment in the second chapter, but it feels familiar enough to boy readers that they buy into the character and are willing to go along when he does things that are less typical of a 12 year old boy but essential to the character of this particular boy. Continue reading

Poetry Friday: The Orange

I’ve enjoyed many of Wendy Cope’s poems. This one is a favourite, and feels especially right at the moment. When I have a terrifying To-Do list, it helps to remember that simple, daily pleasures matter a lot and sometimes restore perspective.

The Orange – by Wendy Cope

At lunchtime I bought a huge orange
The size of it made us all laugh.
I peeled it and shared it with Robert and Dave—
They got quarters and I had a half.

And that orange it made me so happy,
As ordinary things often do
Just lately. The shopping. A walk in the park
This is peace and contentment. It’s new.

The rest of the day was quite easy.
I did all my jobs on my list
And enjoyed them and had some time over.
I love you. I’m glad I exist.

From the Poetry Out Loud site.

(photo © Darren Hester for CC:Attribution-NonCommercial)

The Graveyard Book


What can a girl really say about a Newbery/Cybils award-winning book that hasn’t already been said by other mega-fans? Pretty much the whole children’s lit universe is in love with The Graveyard Book, and let me tell you, I get it. I wouldn’t have imagined it possible to love a Neil Gaiman book as much as Stardust or Coraline, but I think this one may even nudge past those two very beloved books. I mentioned last week that Neil was whispering the story in my ear late at night (thanks to the miracle of the audiobook. By the way, the audiobook is up for two Audies, according to the author over at his journal ). Well, I listened to the last little bit of the story a few nights ago, and the very first thing I did (after sighing and pressing my Ipod to my heart), was race out to the bookstore to grab a copy so that I could see the illustrations. Then I pressed the book to my heart and sighed for a while. Love it. A lot.

Even though it’s most unlikely that Mr. Gaiman would ever venture over here to my teensy corner of blog-land, I’d like to send out this thank you to him, just the same.

Thank you for finding a way to write a story full of creepiness and fantasy, and life and crypts, and epitaphs and goodbyes and ghosts (oh… and hounds of god. We like those too.).

5 Headstones out of 5.

The Possibilities of Sainthood


The Possibilities of Sainthood by Donna Freitas is a completely touching and funny novel, with a witty and quirky central character who is so full of life that you’d swear she might live in your neighborhood or work down the street at your local Italian grocery store. This book charmed me from beginning to end, and I’m not the only one piling on the praise. It received starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus and School Library Journal. You can read those reviews here, at the Possibilities of Sainthood site. Impressive.

I’d been wanting to read Donna Freitas’s book since I first heard about it at the Class of 2k8 website. It’s the premise that caught me. Antonia Lucia Labella is a good Catholic girl. She lives with her mom and her grandma in an apartment on top of the family grocery store, Labella’s Market of Federal Hill. She’s not exactly ordinary, since every month for the last eight years Antonia has sent a petition to the Vatican suggesting a new patron saint and presenting herself as the best girl for the job. Whether it’s the Patron Saint of Figs and Fig Trees, the Patron Saint of People Who Make Pasta, or the Patron Saint of the First Kiss, Antonia is convinced she’s up for becoming the Catholic Church’s first living saint (especially if it will help her to bury the family fig tree, or make better ravioli, or finally get kissed). When she not consumed by researching all things saintly, and coming up with more Patron saint ideas, Antonia thinks a lot about her crush, super-hot Andy Rotellini, and tries to avoid her sort-of-friend Michael McGinnes, the boy she almost kissed last summer. Mix in some wonderful Italian cooking and plenty of rich details of a close-knit, lively Italian-American community, and the whole package is as satisfying as a steaming bowl of spaghetti bolognese (or squash ravioli… or Fettuccine Alfredo…)

It’s Antonia’s voice that really makes this story shine and sneak into your heart. She’s hilarious and honest and smart, and she’s also a bit geeky and strange and unsure. Her letters to the Vatican Committee on Sainthood are a riot – one of the best aspects of the novel, that’s for sure. You will laugh out loud. Freitas succeeds brilliantly in capturing a fifteen year-old’s voice, her hope, her innocent self-absorption and her impatience for life to just do what she wants it to. You don’t find a character as believable and real as Antonia everyday. The next best thing about The Possibilities of Sainthood is the feeling that you are snatching a glimpse of real life. It’s about everyday life, what makes it ordinary and exceptional and sometimes perfect. It’s also about doing good, and being good, and looking for what’s good in your life right now. This is a rare story that manages to balance lightness with depth. I think that’s the definition of heart-warming right there.

All that’s missing? A couple of recipes at the back of the book. The novel begs for it. I think it would complete the warm and welcoming tone of the story, and bring readers even more into the heart of Antonia’s family, neighborhood and culture. I’d read more about Antonia in a heartbeat. Here’s hoping that Freitas has more books like this cooking for all of us.

The Possibilities of Sainthood is published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Cybils 2008 Winners


The winners of 2008 Cybil Awards have just been announced over at the Cybils site. How exciting! I look at this list of winners and I can’t help but think that 2008 was a cracker year for books: The Hunger Games, The Graveyard Book, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, and toss in a little Naomi Shihab Nye and Mo Willems and Shannon Hale and wowza! It’s like everybody who’s anybody is on this Cybils list.

I’d like to post here the description of the winning book in the category I was organizing and helping to judge: Middle Grade Fiction. This year’s winner is Siobhan Dowd’s, The London Eye Mystery. Here’s our teaser:

londoneyeBrother and sister, Ted and Kat, take their cousin Salim to see the London Eye, the city’s gigantic Ferris wheel. While Ted and Kat watch, Salim gets into one of the glass pods, but thirty minutes later he doesn’t get off. So the siblings set out to find their cousin. Complicating the situation, Ted’s brain “runs on a different operating system” from other people’s, which makes him a lot better at facts and figures than he is at reading people. Narrated in Ted’s voice, this is a page-turner that brings London to life and takes readers inside a powerfully rational mind. The London Eye Mystery shows off kids’ natural ingenuity and proves that difference can be a strength, as Ted and Kat work to solve the irresistible riddle of their cousin’s disappearance.

I enjoyed Dowd’s book immensely, and I think many kids will feel the same way. It’s exciting and clever, narrated by an engaging and unusual kid and it offers readers a look into a quirky, and extraordinarily real-seeming family. I remember when I put down the book after reading it, I immediately felt so sad that we won’t be seeing any more stories from Siobhan Dowd, who died very young in August 2007. This book inspired me to read Dowd’s YA title, A Swift Pure Cry, further proof of her outstanding talent for storytelling. The London Eye Mystery will make you want to visit London and fly the Eye for yourself, and you’ll root for Ted and Kat as they put their natural sleuthing skills to the test.

It wasn’t easy to choose a winner in our category, as all of the titles offer something so different and worthy to this age group. I hope many kids read the other finalists: Diamond Willow (Helen Frost), Alvin Ho (Lenore Look), Shooting the Moon (Frances O’Roark Dowell) and Every Soul a Star (Wendy Mass).

A huge thank you again to the wonderful group of MG Fiction panelists and my fellow judges, who all worked very hard (and read even harder) to whittle many fantastic reads down to one winning title. It was a treat working with all of you and getting to chat and share opinions about such fine writing. Cybils 4-ever!

Middle Grade Fiction Panelists
Sarah Mulhern, The Reading Zone
Alysa Stewart, Everead
Mary R. Voors, ACPL Mock Newbery
Sherry Early, Semicolon
Kim Baccellia
Melissa Fox, Book Nut
Matthew Wigdahl, The Book Club Shelf

Middle Grade Fiction Judges
Kelly Herold, Big A little a
Eric Berlin
J.L. Bell, Oz and Ends
Kerry Millar, Shelf Elf (go me!)
Julie M. Prince, Off to Turn Another Page