Getting nerdy in Michigan

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to participate in nErDCamp. Located in Parma, MI, and hosted by Colby Sharp and his wife Alaina, nErDCamp is an unconference — two jam-packed days of teachers and librarians, authors and illustrators, learning from and teaching each other. It was unlike anything I’d ever been to before — and in the best of ways.

Day One (Monday)

It kicked off with the Nerd Run 5k (how many conferences have their own road/trail race, right?), in which I came in second foScreen Shot 2016-07-15 at 3.42.04 PMr the ladies (and received a most awesome Nerd Run 5k pint glass as an award). The pancake breakfast was next, but I missed out on that as I dashed back to my hotel to shower. The keynote included brief 5-8 minute speeches from a range of speakers, many of which brought tears to my eyes. They were by turn empowering and poignant and deeply meaningful. Following were three break-out sessions. I’ve always been a fan of hearing picture book illustrators talk about their process, and learned so much from the discussion with Deborah Freedman, Lauren Castillo, and Greg Pizzoli. Next up, I attended a session with Gae Polisner and Nora Raleigh Baskin, about their two 9/11 books and the research involved in them. And finally, I got to watch as Raina Telgemeier helped turn an audience member’s true life story into a comic. (So! Cool!)

Next up was, for me at least, one of the most exciting parts of the conference. Yes, it was hot and hectic in the crowded high school cafeteria, but it was also simply amazing to meet in-person soooo many of the educators I’ve connected with over Twitter the past several months in-person. SO. MANY. SELFIES!pjimage

After the signing was the Nerdy Dinner / Nerdy Party, where I got to hang out with fellow authors Abby Cooper, Melanie Conklin, Josh Funk, Jen Malone, Gail Nall, and the lovely Jess Keating, who I hadn’t met before. And of course: teachers & librarians!

Day Two (Tuesday)

Day two involved a lot of firsts for this author. I participated in my first panel/group session led by Jenni Holm and Josh Funk, where authors shared their writing mistakes with educators so that students can understand how messy the writing process is. I also recorded a future podcast for the Nerdy Book Cast. Little did I know, that was the calScreen Shot 2016-07-15 at 3.47.31 PMm before the storm! Literally. At 5 pm, hundreds of kids from surrounding communities participating in Nerd Camp Jr. flooded into the school. I had the pleasure of teaching three classes of enthusiastic 5th graders. I told them we were cooking people, which got some gigglesScreen Shot 2016-07-15 at 3.46.46 PM. Together and then individually we cooked up characters from scratch. I was so impressed with their unique creations — and also reminded of how pumped up 5th graders get about a good thunderstorm. Yep, we lost power briefly in our classroom, leading to some excited yelping and chair twirling! It was thrilling to sign books and bookmarks for a bunch of actual kids. (Yes, it’s starting to settle in, at two weeks past pub date, that The Distance To Home really is out in the world.)

All in all, it made for a most magical and nerdy two days. Another nerd may have spotted me dancing to my car under a rainbow and posted it to Twitter.

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The ten best things about 6/28/16

For more than a year, I’ve had that date on my calendar: 6/28/16, the pub date of my first book. At first, time crept slowly toward it. Then, in the last month or so, time sped up. It was moving too fast! I wanted to press pause and savor it.

Now, I’m on the other side, two days past my launch date. My out of town guests have all flown back home and the quiet has taken over my apartment once again. (I also may have slept from 10 pm – 8:30 a.m.. last night.)

I thought it’d be fun to share the ten best things about my launch day, in no particular order.

  1. Celebrating with my family. In addition to my parents and my brother, I also had aunts, uncles, cousins, second-cousins, and my nephew to share in the day. It was a pretty amazing experience to look out into the audience at Porter Square Books and see them as I read aloud from The Distance To Home from a real, published book for the very first time.

2. The Distance To Home trended on Twitter! Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 9.23.26 AM

3. The flowers! I felt so loved to receive gorgeous flower arrangements from friends and family near and far. The final time he stopped by, the florist asked, What’s going on here? So I told him about my book, to which he replied, “Now I’ve met someone famous.” Hardly, but I didn’t want to bursIMG_9685t his bubble.

4. Porter Square Books sold out of copies! I felt so in-demand.

5. Celebrating with my writer buds from my MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts. My M.A.G.I.C. I.F.s — where would I be without them?picwithMFAbudsandKai




6. Caaaake. My husband wondered if maybe I was crazy to offer three kinds of cake (baseball cake pops, sheet cake, and cupcakes). He joked that Quinnen would approve for sure (and Casey!) but that we’d end up with a fridge full of leftovers. Well, ha! He underestimated the crowd and their appetite for cake!IMG_9693

7. Getting the local Sweet 16s gang together again!

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8. I asked folks in attendance to sign my copy of The Distance To Home. So many sweets notes in there, but I think this one has to be my favorite. Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 12.04.23 PM

9.  All the love on FB, Twitter, email, etc. from friends and family far-flung. I felt so loved. And overwhelmed! I hope I responded to every single message. I sure tried to!

10. And last but not least, my biggest dream came true.  Mike Napoli, the former Red Sox first baseman from 2013 – 2015 retweeted about my book. (There miiiiight be a character in The Distance To Home named after him.) Day. Made.Screen Shot 2016-06-28 at 10.14.04 AM

Hopes, dreams, and fanciful wishes

We’re one week away from the publication of The Distance To Home, and part of me wishes I could press pause. After months of feeling like time was crawling, now it’s speeding past me. I want to savor this experience, but it’s slipping through my fingers. The truth though, I guess, is that the debut experience doesn’t stop when the book publishes. In truth, that’s where it starts! And like that, it’s sort of like birth and weddings, those big days in our lives that are only just the beginning.

Earlier this year, when June felt so, so far away, I sat down and drafted some of my hopes and wishes for The Distance To Home. Maybe that sounds a little cheesy, but what I hoped at the time was that the act would keep me grounded . . . or at the very least give me some perspective. What I could see happening after the book sale was the shift of expectations. For the longest time, the dream was to get an agent, then for the book to sell. I didn’t want to get wrapped up in things I couldn’t control (like sales and reviews), but at the same time, it didn’t feel honest or true to the experience to not at least have dreams for the book.

As I look over the list now, I’m surprised at the things that have already happened (for The Distance To Home to be named a Junior Library Guild selection, for “fan mail”), and how many are yet to come (to sell my option book, book school visits). I’m also finding it useful to remind myself of the goals I set out for myself:

  • to enjoy & savor the experience — be mindful
  • to not obsess over Goodreads or Amazon
  • to not waste mental space w/ envy
  • to do nice things for other writers without expecting anything in return
  • to nurture writing friendships

It’s amazing to me how naturally some of them came, while others are still a daily (or hourly) struggle — I’m side-eyeing you, Goodreads and Amazon!

My biggest hope and dream for The Distance To Home now? Okay, this is pretty unlikely given how many books there are in bookstores to choose from, but for my book to somehow, magically, be one of the books President Obama selects on his annual summer bookstore trip. A girl can dream, right? (I mean, he is a baseball fan.)

It’s all happening

What nobody tells you about publishing (or maybe it’s what everyone tells you, hehe) is that there’s a lot of waiting. But now that we’re just three months away from The Distance To Home hitting bookshelves, it’s starting to feel . . .  well, real. Reviews are coming out (in both this month’s Kirkus and School Library Journal) as well as other assorted news. It’s also available for request on NetGalley and continuing to make the rounds through several ARC tours (#bookjourney).

JLG_sealI was thrilled to learn a few weeks ago that The Distance To Home has been named a Junior Library Guild selection! As a former librarian, this honor means a lot to me, and I am so happy to know that my book will be making its way into so many schools and libraries thanks to this selection.

In non-publishing news, something extra special and long-awaited is happening next week. Yup, OPENING DAY! While I’ve enjoyed tuning in to the occasional spring training game, it’s just not the same as regular season baseball, when all the games count. Come Monday afternoon at 4:10 p.m., I can guarantee that my television will be tuned to NESN and I’ll be glued to David Price’s first official start for the Boston Red Sox. I’m really, really hoping for the Red Sox to pull themselves out of the basement this year and get back to playing great baseball. I’ve got some serious concerns about our starting pitching beyond David Price (should Rick Porcello still be a major league pitcher? will Clay Buccholz stay healthy? can Joe Kelly keep up his spring training excellence?), but I believe in the youth of our team. My prediction: this is going to be a huge (yuuuuuge?) year for Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts and (fingers-crossed on this last one) Jackie Bradley, Jr.. Hoping the boys can put together a great season for Big Papi’s finale.

(Fort Myers , FL, 02/17/16) Boston Red Sox starting pitcher David Price warms up during Spring Training at JetBlue Park  on Wednesday,  February  17, 2016.  Staff photo by Matt Stone

Book Review: The Maypop Kidnapping by C. M. Surrisi

Quinnie Boyd’s teacher, Ms. Stillford, has gone missing and Quinnie is convinced it’s a kidnapping. Mom is Maiden Rock’s town sheriff (and the postal worker and the realtor — it’s that kind of small town) and quite possibly the more reasonable of the two of them. Mom’s pretty sure Ms. Screen Shot 2016-03-01 at 9.57.30 AMStillford left of her own volition, even though she doesn’t yet have an explanation for it. But Quinnie’s just not so sure. Breaking in to Ms. Stillford’s place in search of answers is just the beginning of this delightful middle grade whodunit. Has Ms. Stillford skipped out of town? Or could she be just under their nose? And if so, who nabbed her?

C. M. Surrisi has a knack for storytelling. Quinnie, her crush Ben, and her new maybe friend Ella are a delight, and Maiden Rock? Well, let’s just say I’m seriously disappointed that Maiden Rock is only a fictional coastal Maine community. Otherwise, I’d be pulling a Stillford and driving up to Maine for some lobster fries. (In case you thought that was a spoiler alert, it isn’t. She also is not stuck in a waiting line for those hard-to-get L.L. Bean boots either.)

Readers should be pleased to know there’s at least one more Quinnie Boyd book in the works! Until then, I guess I’ll just have to dream about lobster fries and try my hardest to not be super skeptical of everyone I see. You can never be too suspicious!

available now wherever books are sold

On connecting with classrooms and the R-word

One of the really fun parts of getting closer and closer to publication has been connecting more with classrooms. This January and February, I’ve had the pleasure of Skyping with classes in Washington state, Ohio, and Texas. The first visit was with a class of 5th graders who had listened to The Distance To Home as a class read-aloud. Their teacher was a colleague of mine from the ALA Best Fiction Committee, and I’d mailed him an ARC of the book. I loved answering their questions about the inspiration behind the book, sports (we had to talk about baseball!), and Haley’s death.

Screen Shot 2016-01-27 at 9.01.06 PMOne thing that came up in both that chat and the chats I had with classrooms who hadn’t yet read my book, as part of World Read-aloud Day this week, was revision. (Oh, and my cat! If at all possible, she likes to work her way into these Skype visits.) But back to revision! Teachers and students alike really wanted to know how much revision goes into a published book.

My answer:

(Were they ready for it?)


Of course, I told them about how there were more drafts of The Distance To Home than I could count. And that my first published book was actually the fourth full-length book I had written. And how a lot of re-writing isn’t fixing words and sentences (that fun comes later), but re-envisioning the whole story. I think it boggled their minds. I know it does for mine some days.

As I was watching Colby Sharp share his thoughts about TDTH, I was struck by how much he enjoyed the timeline — how the chapters alternate between “last summer” and “this summer.” Guess what? That aspect of the book: not really there so much in the first draft. Or the second. In fact, it was my agent, Katie Grimm, who suggested that instead of just a few chapters set in the past, I should actually have half of the book set in the past.


That was a pretty big revision. But, the more I thought about it, I could see how it would work. It took some re-tooling. And outlining. Imagining and drafting scenes that ended up on the cutting room floor a few months later. But eventually we got there.

The truth about revision is that you need to think outside of what you have on the page. Often there’s a way to enhance your story that you wouldn’t necessarily think of on your own. That’s where critique partners and agents and editors come in. At some point in the process, you lose yourself in the story. You can’t quite see what you’ve created. Can’t separate what you think you wrote (the story in your head) from what you actually set down on the page. Only someone else can do that.

There’s no magic number with revision. I wish I could say, oh yes, once you revise it 5 times, it will be done! But it doesn’t work like that. Not for me, not for any writer I know. You just keep at it, trust the process, and at some point, it starts to all make sense. The story coheres in a way it didn’t before, the disparate parts becoming a whole.

The things I told the kids in the classroom this week, well, I needed to hear them too. As I continue to revise what will be my second published book, 14 Hollow Road, I’m reminded that revision isn’t easy. It’s hard work. But it’s worthwhile in the end. I wouldn’t want that first version of The Distance To Home to go out into the world. But the version I revised and revised and revised some more? That one I’m proud of.

ALA Youth Media Awards predictions

Tomorrow morning at 8 AM, librarians, authors, publishing folks–really, all variants of book nerds will be tuning in to the ALA Youth Media Awards. I am no exception. Honestly, as fun as everything at ALA Midwinter was yesterday, I think my favorite part will always be Monday morning. There’s a palpable energy in the room when they announce the winners. Gasps! Cheers! Shrieks of joy! (And again, this is usually the librarians that love these books. They aren’t even winning anything!) Love it, love it, love it. Bah! LOVE IT!

Okay, so as I read picture books and MG and YA novels this year — as well as lots of blog posts and reviews about them — in the back of my head, I’ve been working on my  list. Now, these aren’t the books I would necessarily want to win (though there is often an overlap) but this is who I think will win. Having served on the ALA Best Fiction for Young Adults committee, I know what it’s like to intensely discuss books with librarians. Everything really comes down to the makeup of the committee and how the discussions go down — as well as how a book holds up over multiple re-reads. We’ll never know what happened behind the closed doors of those committee meetings. Oh, but the thrill of it. Okay, okay, time for the predictions.


Winner: Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

Honor: The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes, Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace, The Walls Around Us by Nova Ren Suma, Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman


Winner: Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena, illus. Christian Robinson

Honor: Finding Winnie by Lindsay Mattick, illus. Sophie Blackall; Boats for Papa by Jessixa Bagley, The Whisper by Pamela Zagarenski


Winner: The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Honor: Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia, Echo by Pam Munoz, Goodbye Stranger  by Rebecca Stead


Will any of these win? Who will actually win? I don’t know! But I will definitely be tuning in bright and early (not an early riser here) on Monday morning to find out.

Out today, the unforgettable and timely MG historical, Paper Wishes

As a 9-12 year old, I couldn’t read enough historical fiction set during World War II. I’m not sure what it was about that era, or if maybe there was just a ton of historical fiction output during my formative years set during WWII, but it became a time period that fascinated me, as heartbreaking and challenging as it must have been for so many at the time. Publishing moves through cycles and it seems that historical fiction is not so trendy these days, as I feel like I see fewer and fewer historical fiction books in the New Books section at the bookstore. It’s a shame because these books are so necessary if we wish to learn from history. They help us better understand where we came from, and how those events have shaped today.

Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban begins with a girl and her dog Yujiin and her grandfather. Born on Bainbridge Island off the coast of Washington state, Manami knows only her peaceful, rural, seaside home, where she lives with her parents and grandfather, her two older siblings off to college in the Midwest. But everything changes one day at school. Whispered rumors. And returning home to learn from her parents, with little explanation, that she and her family have no choice but to leave. Along with all of the other Japanese-Americans, they are sent to the mainland and then further inland, to an internment camp, where they are housed in barracks and regarded with suspicion. In the process, Manami is forcibly parted with Yujiin, who she was supposed to leave behind, but who she sneaks along for the journey. The other parting is Manami’s choice. In the moment and the days that follow, she loses her voice.

Sepahban’s spare, poetic, and economical prose is perfectly suited to this story and this age group. Chapter breaks mark each month as time marches on in the internment camp, where everything is parched and Manami, quieted. Her heartbreak over the loss of Yujiin is palpable, and will move many readers, child and adult alike, but its her eventual recovery that got the tears to spill over for me.

Paper Wishes couldn’t be more timely or necessary, with a current presidential candidate boasting an unforgivable and deep misunderstanding of Executive Order 9066. My nephew, himself Japanese-American and close in age to Manami, was questioning me the other day about good guys and bad guys, asking for confirmation that “bad guys” aren’t real . . . they’re just in the movies. I didn’t know how to answer — the question was so big and I’m not his parent — but I told him, “real bad guys usually don’t look like the ones in the movies.”

Already the recipient of three starred reviews, Paper Wishes has been lauded with so much love, but I have to give it a little more. You can’t say this about every book, and of course, it depends a bit on the reader, but this book is *important*. I can’t think of a better choice for classroom read-alouds. Many, many children will learn and experience so much from this book, without ever feeling like they are being taught.

Paper Wishes is out today from FSG and available wherever books are sold. 

Bounding to a bookstore near you starting tomorrow . . .

Out of this world. No, really!

Debut author Monica Tesler, who just so happens to be a friend of mine and a wonderful earthling, takes us beyond the Earth’s atmosphere in the adventure-filled first book of a new series.

Twelve-year-old Jasper is the first from his family to be a cadet in the Earth Force. Bred especially for this role as a “Bounder,” Jasper and his new peers — all of them neurodiverse — have special capabilities that need to be honed in training. Along with his podmates — some friends, some frenemies, and of course, one weirdo for good measure — Jasper is tested in a variety of ways, far, far away from home. But when they stumble on something they never expected to see, they start to wonder if everything they’ve been told about the EarthBound Space Academy is actually true.

Tesler’s book reminds me a lot of Rick Riordan’s successful series. I loved the camaraderie (and mostly friendly competition) between pod mates and the other pods. Likewise, I appreciated the inventive world-building. I spend so much time immersed in highly realistic stories, it was such a treat to step into a book that took place in a different world. That said, as someone who doesn’t typically read much sci-fi, I’m always looking for a way to root myself in the story. Here, I found it with the relationships between the friends. I was super intrigued by Mira from the start, and appreciated seeing Jasper and his friends come to a different understanding with her over the course of the book.

You can snag it at your local indie, or from Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and wherever else books are sold. Supposedly, new books officially go on sale on Tuesday, but this one has been spotted in the wild at many bookstores this weekend, so, just saying. 😉