Reading, Writing

Recipe for a Book Title -the Final Installment

Here are a few more stories about how books got their titles. I find the genesis of book titles totally fascinating -hopefully you do too!

Thanks to all my author friends who shared their stories!

Braider“The Good Braider was always The Good Braider and my editor and editorial staff all thought of it that way.
A novel coming out in a few months was always Rabbit in the Moon to me.  I was terribly committed to it, having found myths and symbolism around rabbits and the image of the rabbit in the moon in Cambodian culture. But now it’s called Either the Beginning or the End of the World,  taken from a Carolyn Forche poem.” -Terry Farish

Fletcher“With my debut, the title began as The Family Furnival. And then, fairly late in the game my editor told me that “some people” thought Furnival sounded like “funeral” and they couldn’t get beyond it. I polled literally dozens and dozens of people and no one else heard “funeral.” I got “carnival” “festival” “fun” and even (my favorite) “fur carnival” but no one (other than my editor’s “some people”) heard funeral. However, it was not a battle worth fighting, so I embarked on a name hunt. I wanted alliteration with family, but Fletcher actually has another secret meaning. My aunt is children’s book author Elizabeth Levy, and her first book series, back in the 1970s and 80s, were a series of picture books called Something Queer is Going On, and they featured a basset hound named Fletcher. So my book’s title -The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher – was ultimately a little inside joke with her!”  -Dana Alison Levy*

*Another gorgeous author website!!

No place to fall“My original title was Sing To The Wind. The editorial staff was concerned it sounded too young, so my editor pulled all sorts of phrases from the manuscript and No Place To Fall is what we kept coming back to. Now I can’t imagine any other title.” -Jaye Robin Brown
“Typically when I come up with my titles, I think of the simplest elements that represent my story, and I try to give it a more poetic meaning.  My story is about a lesbian girl in a small town in the rural south.  Since rainbows are the symbol for gay pride I wanted a title that represented rainbows without using the word.  After playing around with some words I came up with SOUTH OF SUNSHINE.  Rainbows are south of the sun, it’s set in the south and I named my fictitious small town Sunshine, Tennessee.  I think it accomplishes what I was going for very well.” -Dana Elmendorf
Water Castle“Secrets of Truth & Beauty was Just Like Mama Cass (changed because marketing didn’t think teens would know who Mama Cass was.)
The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill was The Remarkable Adventures of the Girl Detective, the Boy Genius, and the Spy
The Friendship Riddle was Letter Bee
Very in Pieces was Bottle Cap.
So that makes one book — The Water Castle — that kept the title that I gave it.”  -Megan Frazer Blakemore
5to1“I named my book 5 TO 1 because it’s about a world with 5 boys for every 1 girl and I honestly couldn’t think of anything better. I kinda assumed they’d change it but they didn’t. In retrospect, I wish I’d spelled it out as search engines don’t handle numbers very well.”
RealMermaids3TitleChange (2)“My first Real Mermaids book was always ‘Real Mermaids Don’t Wear Toe Rings’ from submission to publication but the other three titles in the series went through some debate, especially my third book (as did the cover art!). Here’s a comparison of the first title ‘Real Mermaids Don’t Have Two Left Feet’ (which the sales team thought young readers wouldn’t ‘get’) and the second ‘Real Mermaids Don’t Need High Heels’ (which is what went to print).”  -Helene Boudreau

May I recommend?

One of my favorite questions to be asked and answered is;

“Do you have a good book for me?”

I like to think I can recommend a good book for any occasion. Dentist office? Train ride? Broken down chair lift? And of course I love it when my students ask me for a recommendation. Recently I took a good look at my collection of YA books lining my classroom shelves. It’s a pretty solid collection -skewed slightly to contemporary realistic fiction but a good mix of science fiction and fantasy too.

Before recommending a book to a kid I usually have a brief Q and A that goes something like this.

Me: So what do you like to read?

Kid: I don’t know.

Me: What was the last book you read and liked?

Kid: I don’t know.

Me: Can you name any book you liked?

Kid: Oh yeah, that one we had to read last year was pretty good.

Me: The Outsiders?

Kid: Yeah, that one.

Then I usually bring out some of my can’t miss favorites for teens and get them to read the back covers. Okay, okay, a few kids can name a book they read and liked, but they’re not usually the ones asking for help. Often I’ll ask a few questions about genre because kids (and adults) tend to have strong opinions about whether or not they like books with things that “can really happen” or “magic stuff”.

If you’re looking for a good YA read I highly recommend the winners of this year’s Printz and Morris Awards. These are kind of like the Newbery Award but for YA books.

Gabi A Girl In Pieces by Isabel Quintero  This book features the incredible voice of its Latina protagonist.

I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson An incredibly beautiful story told from the alternating voices of twins Noah and Jude. It annoys and offends me that this book is recommended for fans of John Green -because (snooty face nose in the air) it’s SO much better!!!!

I cannot say enough good things about either -I highly doubt you would be disappointed no matter where or when you chose to read them.


Great Expectations and/or/of The Goldfinch

Confession number 1: I came within 150 pages of finishing The Goldfinch and had to put it down.

Confession number 2: I’m purposely avoiding googling comparisons of Donna Tartt with Dickens because I’m sure there are much more astute ones out there.

Confession number 3: I do believe that better living is possible through enhanced biochemistry.

Back to number 1. I know I’m not the only one who got bogged down in The Goldfinch especially the long passages related to relentless drug and alcohol abuse. But that wasn’t why I ultimately had to set it aside. It’s very rare for me to read that much of a book and not finish. But the only time I really have to read is the evenings and I just couldn’t stomach the book before bed. It wasn’t so much the drug and alcohol abuse as the world of pain occupied by the main character and his inability to deal with that pain in any other way.  It just got so bleak. So hopeless.

Then I started thinking about Dickens -whom I’ve always loved. So many of his novels are epic in length and rather bleak in outlook. But there is always hope (and incidentally far less xanax). Even at the end of a Tale of Two Cities when Sidney Carton is about to sacrifice his life for the happiness of the woman he unrequitedly loves, he goes to his death believing it is a “far better thing” he is doing then what he had ever done. In Dickens there is always someone willing to share their last crust of bread even if it’s moldy. Not so with Tartt. What is shared in her novels is pain, the experience of it and the brief chemically induced escape from it. Again and again, in her other novels too, this stands in for friendship and even for love.

I bet Donna Tartt is a Dickens reader and admirer. How could she not be when so many of her characters share his characters’ pedigree. Theo -the orphan, Hobie is like a Miss Havisham and of course Pippa (a Dickensian name if ever there was one) is his Estella. Even Boris, arguably the most life-embracing, entertaining character of the novel has something of an artful dodger in him.  All the ways that Tartt plays with class in this novel are themes right out of the pages of any great Dickens novel.

So what? Is Tartt a great writer and a great story-teller? Undoubtedly. I suppose I wish she could take one more page from Dickens and find the hope in her stories. I made it through The Secret History and The Little Friend but ultimately The Goldfinch lost me or rather I lost hope in it.


Perfectly Good Reasons to be Open and Honest About Sex


My fellow lab rat Carrie Mesrobian has a new book out this week. Her awesome debut Sex & Violence came out last fall and this year’s Perfectly Good White Boy is a fabulous successor, though not a sequel.

Carrie’s writing about teen sexuality is frank, open, honest and in my book quite refreshing. Here’s the little spiel from goodreads:

Sean Norwhalt can read between the lines.

“You never know where we’ll end up. There’s so much possibility in life, you know?” Hallie said.

He knows she just dumped him. He was a perfectly good summer boyfriend, but now she’s off to college, and he’s still got another year to go. Her pep talk about futures and “possibilities” isn’t exactly comforting. Sean’s pretty sure he’s seen his future and its “possibilities” and they all look disposable.

Like the crappy rental his family moved into when his dad left.

Like all the unwanted filthy old clothes he stuffs into the rag baler at his thrift store job.

Like everything good he’s ever known.

The only hopeful possibilities in Sean’s life are the Marine Corps, where no one expected he’d go, and Neecie Albertson, whom he never expected to care about.

“We’re something else. Some other thing. I don’t know what you’d call it. Maybe there’s a word, though. Maybe I’ll think of it tomorrow, when it won’t matter,” Neecie said.

What I loved about this book was the way the character navigated the worlds of sex and relationships -the ways they used each other and even allowed themselves to be used. Mesrobian explores these ideas with a thoughtfulness and nuance usually reserved for “so-called” adult fiction. Perfectly Good White Boy is a book about adolescents as much as it is written with them in mind. I can hardly imagine a more eye-opening and thought-provoking book for teens.

About the sex stuff: Mesrobian’s style sets her apart from other YA authors who may glitz or glamour over the messy, awkward, bodily fluids parts of things. I wanted to ask her about that part of her writing in an interview I jokingly titled the Squishy Bits. Here’s what she had to say.

You have a very frank, honest style when writing about “the squishy bits”. How did this develop for you? Particular influences? Hippie parents? Lots of National Geographic? 

I grew with parents who didn’t talk about sex very much Neither were they very affectionate people. They did explain How Babies Were Made but it was all with a great deal of discomfort and seriousness that made me never want to discuss it ever again with them. It was sort of hard to believe that they had sex themselves, given the way they acted toward each other, actually. It almost made me think there was something fiendish about them, or about all grown-ups. Some secret identity they all had. Something depraved. Something completely at odds with their normal behavior.
Actually, my father never discussed sex with me. Ever. It was only my mother who did. I never ever saw my father naked growing up. It was all a mystery, male nudity and female desire and sex itself being this Thing that everyone giggled about but adults didn’t think was funny at all. My parents are progressive people about politics and what not, but they are personally extremely conservative in their own behavior and what topics they consider appropriate.
So I guess my honesty regarding sex is a reaction to that. To people withholding information. To people not wanting to talk about this thing that clearly EVERYONE wanted to talk about. My mother was quite insistent that my sister and I remain virgins until marriage. “Sex is for married people” was one of the first lies from my parents that I uncovered. And it was pretty much the beginning of the wall coming down in terms of Who Was Right. Because sex for only adults? That was so untrue! It was so GOOD. It was so FASCINATING. Once you uncover a lie that adults tell you during adolescence, it’s as if everything else is also worthy of questioning. At least that was the case for me.
In terms of influences, well, the same mother who spoke infrequently and uncomfortably about sex? She also took me to the library on a weekly basis. She loaded up on books and let me wander and do the same. She didn’t seem to care what I read, either. So I read a lot of romance and a lot of adult fiction that probably was way over my head, but she never said a thing. I don’t know if that was disinterest on her part or just hoping that these books would fill in the cracks or what. Either way, it gave me a special interest in how people describe sex or romance in general.
Wow, very interesting. As I mentioned before I grew up in a household on the total opposite end of the spectrum -everything discussed, nothing particularly taboo. I mean we went to nude beaches on summer vacation. You get the idea? But here we ended up in sort of a similar place in that regard. Curious, very curious.
Do you recall any particular books you read as a teenager that you were like “whoa” that! “That’s what I want to know more about?” Any books which were particularly sexually educating?
I read a lot of genre fiction as a teenager. Tons of Stephen King. I re-read his short story collections over and over. The thing I love about Stephen King is probably everything. His books also contain some sex but not in a breathy, goopy way. More in a way that says, “yes, we all fuck/want to fuck, here it is, relax.” Stephen King, to me as a teenager, was an adult I could trust to be honest with me.

I read Judith Krantz and John Jakes and Sidney Sheldon and Lawrence Sanders (the deadly sins novels!) and Jacqueline Susann’s Valley of the Dolls. Like, if they made some sleazy TV movie of it, I read it. My mother has a pretty steep true-crime bent so things like that flew through our house without much incident.
Those books featured sex but mostly in a scandalous, gritty way. I don’t remember being particularly caught by any of the details. It was more the whole experience – there’s sex in here! woo! – that made those books memorable.

I also did a lot of reading that was all about me being snobby and hoity-toity about how smart I was. So I blew through Thomas Hardy, for example, even though I doubt I absorbed a 10th of what was going on there. I cannot recall one single assigned book in my entire high school career that I enjoyed, however. I suffered through most of that crap. Even when we read A Separate Peace in class – which I’d already read – the class discussion of that book managed to kill everything I loved about it.
I did discover Anne Tyler in high school and I loved her books so much. I loved how nothing seems to “happen” in her books. Yet everything happens at the same time. Small still moments. The kind of thing that puts my husband to sleep, to be honest.
Another relevant thing is that I re-read The Catcher in the Rye like a billion times. That book NEVER gets old to me. I can remember passages of it, exact phrases, even now.
Oh my goodness, Stephen King -totally! It’s funny but when people ask me what YA I read as a teenager I always scratch my head a bit because there was just so much less that was considered YA then. So you just kind of graduated to highly digestible adult stuff like Stephen King. 

I’d love to know your opinion about age designations in YA? Personally I wear several hats in this regard as an author, 8th grade teacher and parent (even though my own kid is still in picture books). I struggle with it the most as an 8th grade teacher where a lot of kids are really ready to be reading heavier stuff and a lot are still really happy with more MG stuff. 
So there’s a general question in there but more specifically do you think your books should be read by middle schoolers? High schoolers and up? Whomever is game?
I’m guessing most middle school librarians aren’t going to buy Sex & Violence. Or Perfectly Good White Boy, for that matter, even though the title isn’t as blunt.

(Incidentally, I’ve done a grand total of ONE school visit. ONE. Thank you, South High of Minneapolis! So, it goes with blunt, in-your-face titles.)
That said, I think there is no need to pull books away from kids. Certainly, librarians specialize in pushing books toward readers they think might enjoy or need them. But I feel like a kid’s readiness for certain content is something that’s already inside him or her. If you don’t have an interest in sexual or romantic relationships, you’re probably going to be bored by Sex & Violence and put it down.
If you have an interest in that, however, you might keep reading. Reading is a very low-risk way of engaging with high-risk behaviors. A very safe way of exploring risk, if you will. So I don’t know why people get so insane about books being banned or being “inappropriate” or whatever. There is also the claim that “kids don’t read these days!” Well, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t act as if books are unfairly influencing young people while maintaining they don’t actually read them.
Also, having an interest isn’t the same as behaving a certain way, though. A lot of times kids like to read about kids or concepts that are just a little bit above them. Like, their minds are maturing, but their bodies aren’t. And that growth among middle schoolers is wildly uneven, as I’m sure you know.
There are also kids that live lives that are not P-13, and this is not through any choice of their own, either. So those kids need librarians and teachers who can offer up the kind of content that might mirror their own experiences. Again – it depends on the experiences of the reader.
My kid, who is 11, has asked me: “When will you let me read Sex & Violence, Mom?” And I tell her, “Read it right now, if you want.” But she has yet to pick it up. And this is a kid who I’ve been talking to about sex since she was 5 years old and asked me what a condom was.
So when it comes to your middle school students, probably the kids who want a little something more, might not be getting all they want in the school library, and a youth librarian in a public library might be the one to advise.
This is assuming a school HAS a library, anymore. That’s a trend going on in my own district – getting rid of librarians and paper books altogether. Another topic!
As a fellow writer of YA who writes from the opposite gender POV I know I’ve been asked versions of this question before but as it pertains specifically to writing about sex, do you find that more difficult than say writing about eating a sandwich? More difficult? Or challenging? Or interesting? 
I guess it’s not that different than imagining anything else, really. I mean, it’s not like I have to do pull-ups and drink Red Bull before hand. If you can imagine being a boy wizard or what dragons are like or life on other planets or whatever, chances are good that you can imagine being a boy having sex for the first time.

However, these are scenes that require male beta readers. No question. I don’t have a good handle on the specific equipment – like how long can you have an erection? How quick can a penis get hard? What does it feel like to put on and take off a condom? – so I did have to ask the husband some of those questions.
Mostly I thought about my side of things when it came to first sexual experiences: what I was looking at or not looking at, what I was worried about, what freaked me out or surprised me in a good way. It’s nice to be on the other side of that inexperience, too; it’s good to be an adult who has seen the panorama view of sex and can compare what I thought it was about to what I think it’s about now.
The act of first sex can be very symbolic for some kids. It’s not really about sex, per se; it’s more a referendum on their beauty or their competence. Their value, their capability, their “coolness” even – how do I handle this situation for which I have no previous experience? It might not have much to do with feeling good or understanding actual anatomy or even their emotional response.
One technical issue in writing about first sex from a young man’s POV involves how long your prose can expand the event in a way that’s antithetical to the actual real time event. It might be possible to be meditative and reflective and descriptive during some sexual activities, but I’m guessing there’s not a ton of brain space available for most young men when they are about to orgasm. So that’s a difference I had to attend to. When I was a girl, it wasn’t like I was that physically distracted by first sexual activities to the point where my brain stopped working. Unfortunately for me, I guess. But fortunate in other ways: I was able to take note of a whole of lot of details.
This is sort of a two-parter.

1. What parts of Perfectly Good White Boy do you think would have interested you most as a teen?
2. Who do you imagine as the “ideal” reader for this book? Who do you envision as your ideal reader?
1. The sex parts, definitely. Though I KNOW I would have been fascinated to be inside a guy’s mind at that age. To me, nothing was more opaque than a boy’s thoughts and feelings. I wasn’t actually sure ANYTHING was going on in their heads. To be fair, I tended to like silent boys who rarely spoke. But also, they just seemed so imperious. And cool. I had no idea that they were sitting there with their post-lunch boners in math class, twitching internally.

2. You know, if I had to pick, I’d pick a kid who doesn’t like to read, for one. And I’d pick a kid that isn’t that interested in college or academic life. I think we need more books for such kids. About such kids – kids who aren’t college-bound, kids who aren’t going to grow up to be writers or academics. Maybe that’s a crazy wish for a market – I want to write books about non-readers, for non-readers – but I think kids who are readers have plenty of opportunities to see themselves in books. Another way of looking at the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement could be this – we need books that aren’t just for the smarty-pants over-achievers. We need books for everyone, if we truly believe reading is an activity that all people can and should enjoy.
Okay, lastly, what books would you like to read/see in YA that aren’t out there yet or are under-represented? What topics do you think could be addressed more/better? It doesn’t have to be anything you would want to write yourself necessarily, but you know your hopes and dreams and all that good stuff.
I would like to see more characters that aren’t themselves readers. That would be an interesting challenge for in author voice.

I would like to see more girls enjoy sex that’s not about LOVE. Right now I’m working on a book with a girl, for the first time, and I’m hoping she’ll turn out to be a girl who gives a blow job and LIKES it, instead of being victimized or duped or manipulated by it.
I would like to see gay kids in stories that aren’t solely about them coming out or being bullied. I would like kids of color in stories that aren’t solely about racism or life in “urban” settings. And I want them to be the main characters, not best friends.
I love YA stories that include first jobs. I’d love to see more stories where the world of work as not just another quirky benign setting for the protagonist to pass through but as it is for many young people: a perilous, highly-fraught place where they meet and possibly bond with adults who they’re not related to, as well as learn about “adulthood” in a more hands-on way.
And, on a purely silly note, I’d like to see more Halloween activities, including trick-or-treating, depicted in YA. Halloween’s one of my favorite holidays and there are ALWAYS kids that are certainly teenagers who come to my door in half-assed costumes, asking for candy. I want to know their story!
Thanks Carrie for your candor and general fabulousness. You should all hustle out there and read Perfectly Good White Boy. You inner or outer teen will not be disappointed.
Order online
????Carrie Mesrobian is an instructor at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis. Her debut novel, Sex & Violence, was called one of the best books of 2013 by Kirkus Reviews andPublishers Weekly and was a finalist for the American Library Association’s William C. Morris Award for best debut young adult novel. A native Minnesotan, she lives with her husband, daughter, and dog.


Reading, Writing

10 YA Books Which Won’t Let You Down

I’ve been a bit busy lately. Blah -dee, blah, nothing worth blogging about or I would be blogging. It’s been a good kind of busy the kind where you’re certain you’re learning something even if it will take months of processing to figure out what it is. In the mean time I feel very lucky to have the friends and family I have. I may have mentioned it before but it’s been incredible how many people have reached out to tell me, in one way or another, how much they enjoyed The Other Way Around. It’s really the best part.

So here’s a little gift back. This is not meant to be a comprehensive must read of YA fiction. It’s totally skewed to my tastes (mostly contemporary, a wee bit of light fantasy and sci-fi). These are ten YA books I think have real punch and literary merit and are amazing page-turning reads to boot. I hope you’ll enjoy. I did.

Short silly blurbs are my own. Links are to Amazon/Goodreads, but you should buy them at your local Indie if you can -or check them out at the library!


Scorpio RacesScorpio Races – (Maggie Stiefvater) mythical carnivorous horses, a race to save one’s life, a slow simmering love story.

WingerWinger – (Andrew Smith) Rugby, prep school, puberty, and love for the unreachable girl.

Everybody Sees the Ants – (A.S. King) heart-breaking bullying laced with magical realism. This book made me want to be a better grown up person. nuff said.
Eleanor and Park (Rainbow Rowell) -Incredible misfit love story.
JellicoeOn The Jellicoe Road (Melina Marchetta)- A boarding school at war with itself, a parent’s myeterious death, a girl left to sort out the pieces.
Will Grayson Will Grayson – (John Green and David Levithan) One is gay, one is not. The intersection of their lives is incredible entertainment.
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks  (E. Lockhart) More prep school pranking madness.
In DarknessIn Darkness – (Nick Lake) Set in both present day and colonial Haiti, a boy trapped in the earthquake rubble imagines he is Touissant Louverture.
Feed – (MT Anderson)Best first line of a book ever. “We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.” Frighteningly prescient science fiction.
Story of a Girl – (Sara Zarr) The fall out, with friends and family, from one girl’s first sexual experience.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what makes YA, YA and not just an adult book with a teenage protagonist or narrator. It’s fodder for a future post but I think it has something to do with layers and density (uh oh science teacher overlap here). I hesitate to use the word complexity because each of these books is beautifully complex and yet still definitively YA. More on that later. In the mean time, start reading! Or add your own “must read” in the comments.

Random musings, Reading

YA Movie Wish List

I love going to the movies. In my life pre-kid, Hubs and I went to a lot of movies. And YA makes for some good movies. Because YA tends to be plot focused, and moves more quickly then some “so-called” adult fiction I think it translates well to the cinematic form. The worst thing about the recent TFIOS (The Fault In Our Stars) movie, in my humble opinion, were the annoying teenagers who filled the movie theater. Oops, silly me, a teen movie is really marketed at teens. However, I did not think that this book or movie were really just for teens. Too bad they didn’t have a special showing for middle school and high school teachers, YA authors and other freak half-adult half adolescent creatures. Oh well. I was that lady shushing the kids behind me repeatedly. I did not threaten to get the management, but I would have.

But the movie got me thinking about other YA books that I think would make fantabulous movies. And I came up with the following list and potential pitch lines. Hollywood are you listening?

Scorpio Races

1. The Scorpio Races -young people with nothing to lose race mythic beasts to the death every November. (Maggie Stiefvater)


2. Feed – In a futuristic world dominated by implanted media chips 2 kids dare to defy the system and fall in love. (MT Andersen)


Jellicoe3. On the Jellicoe Road – At a boarding school in the Australian wilds every year an organized war breaks out between cliques. But will winning the war solve the mystery of a girl’s missing family? (Melina Marchetta)

Are you tempted? What YA novels would you like to see in cinematic form?

Reading, Writing

Big Success

I wonder sometimes if John Steinbeck sat around obsessing about whether or not F.Scott Fitzgerald had more twitter followers than he did. Or if more people added his book on goodreads. But I jest, because these weren’t the problems of authors even twenty years ago, much less fifty.

And they don’t have to be a consideration for authors today either, except that they kind of do. Children’s authors (YA included) have a huge social media network including twitter, tumblr, blogs, and probably a whole lot more I’m unaware of because I’m not young or techy enough. (Full disclosure; when my students use a noun as a verb or a verb as a noun, I generally keep quiet and  assume they’re talking about something on the interwebz.) A social media presence is pretty much an expectation for authors trying to reach a younger audience.

And it’s not all bad. Being part of social networks as an author can be an incredible community builder and a great networking and promotional tool. It’s also a slippery slope for the green-eyed monster. You have instant access to everyone’s book deals, promotions, festival appearances, etc.  And because you have that access you have the ability to compare yourself and your success to that of everyone else in the kidlitosphere. Not so helpful.

What I would like to share this evening is the best piece of feedback I’ve gotten since my book hit the shelves just a few weeks ago. It comes from a friend who sent me this email about her teenage son who was reading my book. And it reminded me of why writing and telling stories is so powerful and so important to me.

“I heard my son laughing to himself up in his room tonight on my way up to say good night and saw that he was reading your book. As I walked toward his bed he looked up from the book with a huge grin and said, “How did she write this? It’s like…she knows what boys does she know what it’s like?”.”

And that my friends is big success – suck it F. Scott.

Reading, Uncategorized

The Clan MacLeod is Infinitely Fabulous!

It’s fair to say this is becoming a tradition; when one of our agency siblings has a book released into the world we like to send it out in style!

Today is the book birthday for our own Jodi MeadowsInfinite; the third and final book in the Newsoul series! To quote fellow agency sibling Valerie Cole “Fantastic finale to a great series. The last chapter had my jaw on the floor!”

Here are our photographic tributes/interpretations of this amazing book!

Lizzie Friend
Lizzie Friend
Chanelle Gray
Chanelle Gray
Bria Quinlan
Bria Quinlan
Valerie Cole
Robert Lettrick
Robert Lettrick
Monica B.W.
Monica B.W.
Holly Bodger
Holly Bodger
Dana Elmendorf
Dana Elmendorf
Lauren MacLeod
Lauren MacLeod
Yers Truly, Sashi Kaufman
Yers Truly, Sashi Kaufman

Helene Boudreau
Helene Boudreau

Special gratitude to Robert Lettrick for his mad-wizard photoshop skills!

   A  very tremendous happy book birthday to Jodi and Infinite! We think she is infinitely awesome!

Reading, School

Empathy vs. Evil, Bonk!

Lois Lowry recently published her 4th and final book in a loose collection of YA novels called the Giver Quartet. The Giver is the most famous and beloved of the four and the one which most frequently appears on middle school required reading lists (including mine). Many people credit The Giver as being a more subtle and artful predecessor to more violent dystopian novels like The Hunger Games.

Regardless, she’s been interviewed a lot lately with the release of her new book. And she had this to say about the main character of her new book who fights evil with empathy.

“The ability to understand other people’s feelings,” Lowry said. “As an encompassing gift that a kid could have — or a human — that could be the one that could save the world. If we could all acquire it to the extent that boy had it, no one would go into a movie theater with a gun.” It’s a powerful lesson, and one that I’m eager for my children — so often so quick to think only of themselves — to learn. It’s surely one I still need to learn. Perhaps these books are for adults after all.

I’ve been thinking about it a lot because empathy is such an important thing to have and such a difficult thing to teach. Sometimes, like last week –when I had to deal with a group of girls who were being mean to each other — I wish I had a giant foam empathy hammer and I could just bonk them over the head with it. So that they could see that the crappy way they feel on the inside is a direct result of the way they treat each other. Until such a tool exists I’ll keep listening and talking and being the best grown-up-type-person I know how to be.

Reading, School

Response to the Ants

I have some YA writer heroes out there and one of them is A.S. King. In honor of the paper back release of Everybody Sees the Ants, I’m going to tell you why you should read this book and why it made me want to be a better teacher/grown up/human being. At least I’ll try to.  You should really just read the book.

You can read a synopsis of the book here. But I’ll summarize by saying the book is about a young man who’s being bullied.  It’s also about the adults who are well intentioned but unaware of the extent of the abuse he’s experiencing. It’s also about his Grandfather declared MIA in Vietnam and the magical realist dream sequences in which he interacts with his lost Grandfather. It’s a badass book.

Beyond its literary merit Everybody Sees the Ants reminded me that we don’t always see the abuse. As hard as teachers try to be in tune with their students, as hard as parents try to know their kids, as hard as friends try to be there for one another, sometimes things slip through. The result can be disastrous and scarring.  After reading this book I vowed to try harder and follow up when I see students joking, pushing, shoving, and teasing. I have  made more of a point of checking in with students about the true nature of their interactions, and maybe I’ve prodded a little more than I have in the past.

Are you guys really friends?

Are you sure he’s just kidding?

Did she mean that?

Are you upset by that comment?

I try and give kids multiple chances to let me know what’s going on, and then I remind them that I’m here and I’m always willing to listen.  But still I know it’s not going to be enough. Nonetheless I try because I know sometimes that’s all you can do. I try, and books like this one are good reminders of why it’s important to keep trying.