Reach Out and Read and The Children’s Hospital

Today I visited and read with several of the special children and lovely families served by The Children’s Hospital in Colorado, and I can see that this will be a perfect partnership.

Before any of my books hit the shelves, I designated Children’s to receive a portion of my author proceeds on the sales of TOO PURPLEY! and TOO PICKLEY! In addition, my generous publisher, Bloomsbury, donated boxes of books to the hospital. Thank you to all my wonderful friends there that made that possible.

But perhaps most exciting, is that Children’s is a proud supporter of Reach Out and Read.

From the Reach Out and Read website:

“Reach Out and Read (ROR) is an evidence-based nonprofit organization that promotes early literacy and school readiness in pediatric exam rooms nationwide by giving new books to children and advice to parents about the importance of reading aloud.

ROR builds on the unique relationship between parents and medical providers to develop critical early reading skills in children, beginning at 6 months of age. The 3.8 million families served annually by ROR read together more often, and their children enter kindergarten better prepared to succeed, with larger vocabularies and stronger language skills.”

Dr. Amy Shriver heads up the program at Children’s and was there to introduce me. She supplemented my reading and activities with information on literacy – including library card applications, handouts on local libraries and other literacy based activities. But most importantly, Dr. Shriver makes sure books are everywhere in that hospital.

Thank you Dr. Shriver, Marylou Houston and Jen Darling for your strong support of literacy and making my visit to Children’s much bigger than my books. I look forward to visiting again soon.

Hail to the Hashtag!

I’ve been Twittering for a while. But as for it’s features, efficiencies and value, I’ve been sold on it slowly.

TweetDeck satisfied my CPA column craving, allowing me to categorize and organize those I follow into a tidy format. That tool alone boosted my Twitter presence considerably. But hashtags were always a bit of a mystery. While I understood them by definition, I couldn’t seem to break into their culture or figure out how to shim them in to my already time-thirsty internet life.

Then, just this morning, in a nanosecond between cups of coffee, I gave hashtags another try and HALLELUJAH!

Using my beloved TweetDeck I added columns for two goldmine hashtags. The info packed into these categorized tweets alone would make jumping on the Twitter train worthwhile. They are


If you’re not on Twitter yet and you’re wondering what you’re missing, check out this recent chat transcript from #pblitchat. Yup, that’s right, incredible children’s authors, editors, and agents all hanging out and chatting.

What are your favorite hashtags?

Critiquing out of your Genre

A few months ago, one of my critique buddies, Judith, asked for recommendations for books on writing middle grade novels so that she could more thoughtfully critique middle grade manuscripts. While I was appreciative of her dedication to her critiques, I was hesitant to steer her to my favorite titles for fear that I’d lose her honest and unadulterated impressions of my manuscripts.

While there are several excellent books on the craft of writing for kids, including books that address novel writing, I wonder if those are best used in the process of writing a book, and then only while also reading shelves of current middle grade novels. I say that because so often books on writing attempt to crystallize rules and recipes, that can be dangerous if applied in a vacuum.

So, for me, what’s most important from a critique, is hearing what’s working and what’s not. And even though it’s not always helpful to simply hear “Chapter 1 doesn’t work for me” an ensuing discussion – and yes, it’s important that I have other middle grade writers in my group – usually clarifies why. To me that’s much more valuable then engaging in plot-speak from a novel-writing book.

I think it’s helpful to be able to use novel-writing terminology if it make sense in a particular analysis. And certainly if there’s a writing rule that “explains” discomfort with a particular passage, then knowledge of the craft becomes meaningful.

Consider this example: Critique buddies, Boni and Mimi both felt that my middle grade work in progress needed to begin a little later in the story, when the action of the scene began. Neither reader writes children’s literature, but Mimi mentioned that in her writing workshops instructors are always harping on “beginning in the middle of the action.” This is a well-known novel writing rule. And of course, I was trying to be different – and it didn’t work. But the important point here is that neither of my readers referenced that rule until they could see that there was something bugging them about Chapter 1. If Chapter 1 had worked well for them, the rule about beginning in the middle of the action wouldn’t have mattered.

Just like our picture books, there are thousands of different kinds of middle grade novels out there – I’m talking VASTLY different. And there are so few rules or truths that apply to all. So what needs to remain at the forefront of our thoughts as we critique is “Is it working?”

Don’t get me wrong, It’s certainly important to address the “whys.” And that’s where knowledge of the craft can help. So Judith, I’m not telling you to avoid books on middle grade novel writing. But having the “unadulterated” thoughts of a fresh reader is most important.

Signed copies of TOO PURPLEY! in these stores now!

I’ve been traveling in the Midwest and Northwest these past two weeks and stopped in to sign TOO PURPLEY! stock at the following bookstores:

Barnes & Noble (Near the Notre Dame Campus)
6501 North Grape Road
Mishawaka, IN 46545

Borders (Near the Notre Dame Campus)
4230 Grape Road
Mishawaka, IN 46545

Barnes & Noble
2619 Miamisburg-Centerville Rd
Dayton, OH 45459

Powell’s Books
1005 W Burnside
Portland, OR 97209

Barnes & Noble
Pacific Place
600 Pine St Suite 107
Seattle, WA 98101

I met loads of lovely bookstore managers and children’s book buyers who welcomed me into their incredible stores. If you’re in any of these cities, stop in and browse or buy – and tell them Jean sent you.

Coming of age in black and white – WHAT I SAW AND HOW I LIED

Before G, PG and PG13 movie ratings, we had As and Bs. I was quite young when the rating system changed but I still remember my parents talking in whispers about B movies.

Unlike PG13 movies which often ride the popular wave of slapstick sex and references, a B movie might have been more subtle – as though you were viewing lives – broken or criminal or sensual lives – through a veil. They were salty and sultry – like a lipstick stain on a cigarette butt – and usually not slapstick. So much implied, so little exposed. And if done well, the noir black and white B-rated movie ended with unease.

That’s what makes WHAT I SAW AND HOW I LIED so special. It’s Bogart and Hitchcock coming together for a coming of age.

Here’s what Blundell says about it at

Then once I had the story elements in place, I realized that I had incorporated some of the elements of film noir — the mysterious stranger, the blonde, the fact that nobody is telling the complete truth.

And now I’m taken with figuring out how she did it. What are the elements that created this unique voice? That set the story not only perfectly in the historic time frame but also in the tone and manner of storytelling back in the day?

It starts with the cover and the title – masterfully executed.

Then consider this language

“She took a cigarette pack out of her apron pocket, then her gold lighter. She tapped out the cigarette, then placed it between her lips and lit it. She took a fleck of tobacco off her botton lip. She was wearing Revlon’s Fatal Apple lipstick – the most tempting color since Eve winked at Adam.

Or my favorite:

“I was part of the hot, dark night. The night was all breath and air. I was all skin.

Then there’s the superficial glitz and underlying sleaze of the off-season Palm Beach setting:

“I got to know how a hotel worked. I saw closets that the maids disappeared into to fill carts top-heavy with towels and stinky with soaps. I saw the bored clerk at the desk sneaking looks at a girlie magazine. I saw the valets sitting on the white stone wall, smoking cigarettes. I peeked into the lounge with the stuffed sailfish where Mean Fat Man sat drinking alone every night.”

Finally consider the pacing and scene jumps. Blundell places little focus on the hurricane itself, even though it happens at the climax. The story isn’t slowed down. The speed and scarcity of the of the detailing creates cinematic snapshots. Just like back in the day when special effects weren’t all that special.

But I want to hear more. What were your favorite lines? How did you feel about the film noir tone? And what else worked or didn’t work in this story for you? Let’s discuss.

Annie Leonard and THE STORY OF STUFF

There’s a great interview, today, in the School Library Journal online edition, with Annie Leonard, creator of THE STORY OF STUFF. Annie’s self-deprecating admission of her lack of intellectualism, provides humble humor alongside her movie masterpiece, which has been viewed in classrooms and homes all over the world. For those of you unfamiliar, THE STORY OF STUFF, is simply about the things we throw away. But it’s far from simple. Annie just makes it look that way. In her own words, she’s “translating for these brainiacs.” With everyday language, brilliant transitions and linked themes, Annie covers a lot of STUFF in just a few minutes.

If you haven’t seen it – here it is!!

Picture Book Peek Week #7 Coming March 1st!

Picture Book Peek Week #7
Free critique of a selected Picture Book manuscript!

Picture Book Peek Week #7 begins March 1st. Here’s how it works:

Sign up for a critique by entering your PICTURE BOOK WORKING TITLE in the comment section of this blog post anytime (midnight to midnight Mountain Time) on March 1st. Titles submitted before or after March 1st will not be considered. If you are posting as an “Anonymous” entrant, you must include your full name with the title.

I’ll throw all titles into a hat and pick 1 for critique.

Keep in mind:

* I accept only one title per author per Peek Week.

* Manuscripts must be 1000 words or less.

* I accept only fiction.

* Level of detail in the critique will vary based on my impression of the caliber of the writing.

* Please understand that I’m not an editor and will not be providing line-editing of your work. My critique will be comprised of suggestions for improving your manuscript. So please send me your most polished piece.

* The critique winner may e-mail me the manuscript as a Word attachment. Manuscripts are kept completely private. When I receive the manuscript, I’ll let the author know when they can expect my critique.

* As with any art form, likes and dislikes are entirely subjective. Please understand that my critique is only one reader’s/writer’s opinion. It’s always wise to seek feedback from a few different readers. If my ideas resonate with you, they’re yours to use. If you disagree, I encourage you to compare my comments with those of other readers. But in the end, it’s your book. Stay true to your vision.

I look forward to reading your work.
P.S. For little “fashionistas” everywhere- TOO PURPLEY!Order it now!