Thank you Chicago, ALA, and The American Writers Museum!

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Chicago was anything but the windy city this weekend. It was warm and welcoming as it greeted thousands of librarians, publishers, editors, writers, illustrators, and literary aficionados for ALA’s 2017 Annual Conference and Exhibition.

It’s hard not to feel like a kid in a candy store when attending ALA. And like a well-prepared kid ready to take home a treasure trove of loot, I came prepared with my empty bags. In my years of attending ALA, I have also learned that the extremely patient Fed Ex worker, who is silently laughing at my creatively wrapped packages, has become my new best friend. (At this time, I would like to shout out a very big thank you to my Grandpa Harry for teaching me how to defy the laws of physics with masking tape.)

Here are a few photographic highlights from #alaac17:

 

Creston Books

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Detectives Wilcox & Griswold, me, and Marissa Moss

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Nancy Churnin

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Marcia Goldman and Princess Lola

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Laurie Wallmark and Sue Conolly

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Marissa Moss and Kathryn Otoshi

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Carol Weston

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Monica Edinger and Donalyn Miller

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Tracey Baptiste

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Me and Emma Otheguy

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The AWESOME Mr. Schu!

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Laurie Wallmark, Mr. Schu, and me

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Panel discussion, “Women Aren’t Funny (And Other Essential Untruths for Middle Grade Readers) with Sharyn November, Erica Perl, Betsy Bird, Cece Bell, Rita Williams-Garcia, and Andrea Beaty

During this literary palooza of a weekend, I also had the privilege of being invited to do a reading at the The American Writers Museum. With the mission of “celebrating American writers and exploring their influence on our history, our identity, our culture, and our daily lives[,]”[1] The American Writers Museum opened its doors on May 15, 2017.

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While walking around and gazing at the words and portraits of many of my writing superheroes, it was impossible not to reflect upon the impact each of these authors have had on all of us—how they’ve stirred our imagination; comforted us in times of grief; given us a serious case of the giggles; and put us to bed night after night.

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As a writer, I also couldn’t help but think about the number of rewrites each of these authors had to do. How many authors were on the brink of giving up when they finally got their lucky break? What’s the tally on the number of rejections vs. successes?

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Untitled Mural by Paul O. Zelinsky

Next time you’re in Chicago be sure to stop by this inspiring magical place. I promise. You won’t be disappointed.

[1] Source: http://americanwritersmuseum.org/history/

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American Booksellers Association’s Winter Institute #WI12 ROCKS!

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We’re all familiar with that “online bookseller who shall be nameless,” who’s been huffing and puffing and trying to gobble up the independent-bookstore market. Well, let me tell you a little secret. It’s not working. Indie bookstores are here to stay. And best of all, they are thriving!

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Lesley Stahl and Ann Patchett

I had the privilege of attending my second American Booksellers Association’s Winter Institute. In a nutshell, it was AWESOME!

I attended some terrific sessions about:

  • Starting a children’s book festival (I have this fantasy that the North Fork of Long Island will some day have a children’s book festival of its own); and
  • Working with small and university presses.

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Left to right: Wendy Morton Hudson, Nantucket Book Partners (Nantucket, MA); Cathy Berner, Blue Willow Bookshop (Houston, TX); Todd Dickinson, Aaron’s Books (Lititz, PA); Tom Roberts, Ye Olde Warwick Book Shoppe (Warwick, NY).

I also sat in on two wonderful lunches. The first was an education lunch for authors conducting events at independent bookstores. Some takeaways from the lunch were:

  • It’s never too early to contact a bookstore. Contact the store 5-6 months before a book releases.
  • Be sure to be honest with the bookstore regarding the number of people you believe will be in attendance.
  • People expect to be entertained at a bookstore event.
  • Do not read the entire book at an event (unless it’s a picture book). If you read the entire book, there’s no incentive to purchase the book.
  • Some bookstores like PowerPoint presentations. Others, not so much.
  • Presentations for kids generally follow this formula: 15 minutes to read a story; 15 minutes of Q & A; and 20 minutes to sign.
  • Be sure to engage kids and their parents during a presentation.
  • Multiple author events need cohesion. E.g., An evening of alligator stories, etc.
  • And always be sure to work social media. Make sure you put links to the bookstore on your website.

The second was the small and university presses lunch. The highlight for me was listening to Marissa Moss, publisher and editor extraordinaire of Creston Books, present the spring titles.

Below are a few photographic highlights:

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Marissa Moss, Editor and Publisher of Creston Books, discussing the spring releases. 

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Kate Warne, Pinkerton Detective by Marissa Moss and illustrated by April Chu (Creston Books 2017). 

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Rumors by Denys Cazet (Creston Books 2017).

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The Case of the Poached Egg, A Wilcox & Griswold Mystery by Robin Newman and illustrated by Deborah Zemke (Creston Books 2017).

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Marissa Moss with her first adult novel, Last Things: A Graphic Memoir of Loss and Love (Conari Press 2017). 

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The Galley Room 

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Emma Donoghue signing, The Lotterys Plus One (Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic 2017).

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William Joyce signing, Ollie’s Odyssey (Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books 2017).

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Josh Funk with his latest book, The Case of the Stinky Stench (Sterling 2017), and me (naturally holding a carton of eggs to celebrate the upcoming release of The Case of the Poached Egg).

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Ann Patchett signing, Commonwealth (Harper 2016). 

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Detectives Wilcox and Griswold are in the house! 

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Thrilled to be signing the latest Wilcox & Griswold Mystery, The Case of the Poached Egg (Creston Books 2017). 

Please support your local independent bookstores. Not to preach (because I would never, ever do that) BUT . . . independent bookstores are anchors in our communities. They bring us together. They keep our kids off electronic devices and get them excited about the written word. Independent bookstores give us opportunities to know and understand worlds beyond our own. They support us in so many ways. Please be sure to support them.

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For comprehensive coverage of #WI12, be sure to check out these wonderful articles from Publishers Weekly.

 

 

 

 

 

ALA 2016 Annual Conference & Exhibition #ALAAC16

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Every time I go to ALA I feel like a kid in a candy store. Where else in the world can you meet your favorite librarians, educators, editors, and publishers; bump into Dan Santat in the hallway; and hear your child scream with delight, “Mo Willems is HERE! HE’S HERE!!!

Below are a few photographic highlights from this year’s INCREDIBLE conference.

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My super excited boys with their super cool exhibitor badges. 

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Mo Willems

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“Hi Mr. Schu!” 

Pam Muñoz Ryan

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Alyson Beecher, me, Lola, Marcia Goldman, Marissa Moss and Kathryn Otoshi 

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Alyson Beecher and me

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Stephanie Bange and me

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Marissa Moss

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Marcia Goldman, Lola and her adorable fans

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Wilcox & Griswold, me and Marissa Moss

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Kathryn Otoshi

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Bethany Buck and me

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Sergio Ruzzier

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Kwame Alexander

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Rita Williams-Garcia and me

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Sara Pennypacker and Jon Klassen

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Jerry Pinkney

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me and Dan Santat

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Lori Degman’s adorable new book. Norbert is one radiant, terrific pig. 

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A well-prepared librarian! 

As my favorite spider might say, ALA is some conference. I can hardly wait for next year. Thank you, ALA!

 

ABA’s Winter Institute 11

 

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It’s “ABA” week in my house. Ironically, as I return from the awesome American Booksellers Association’s Winter Institute 11 in Denver, Colorado, my husband is off tomorrow to that other ABA, American Bar Association, in Los Angeles, California.

Not to judge (because I would NEVER, EVER do that), but I have a feeling my ABA conference is (oh, how shall I put this delicately?) way more fun than his. Let’s face it, Kwame Alexander, Newberry Medalist for The Crossover was the breakfast keynote speaker. I think that pretty much sums up my point.

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Booked by Kwame Alexander (releases April 5, 2016)

Alexander gave an inspirational speech to a standing ovation of booksellers.

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“I believe literature can empower young people . . . Children’s book authors, like teachers, have a responsibility to imagine a better and brighter world. It’s important for each of us to say yes to ideas and thinking out of the box. You all are the way we can continue this legacy of creating beautiful people.” (Quoted from Judith Rosen’s article, Winter Institute 11: Kwame Alexander Becomes the ‘Say Yes Guy’ at the Show, Publishers Weekly (Web.) Jan. 26, 2016.)

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Me and Kwame Alexander

For me, a highlight of the conference was attending the small and university presses luncheon where I had the chance to listen to Marissa Moss, editor and publisher extraordinaire, describe Creston Books’ spring list. And I have to say, I may have been a tad giddy (that’s probably the understatement of the year!) when Marissa started talking about Hildie Bitterpickles Needs Her Sleep.

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It was incredible to finally share Hildie Bitterpickles with so many wonderful booksellers. For this very special occasion, I wore my witchiest Hildie pajamas.

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And of course, no witch outfit is complete without a hat.

Look What Arrived in the Mail!

 

BOOKS! SPELLBINDINGLY BEAUTIFUL BOOKS!

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I would like to shout out a very big THANK YOU to Marissa Moss, publisher and editor extraordinaire. THANK YOU for taking a chance on my quirky little witch; to my very special agents, Liza Fleissig and Ginger Harris-Dontzin, whose magic touch heralded Hildie Bitterpickles to Creston Books; to Chris Ewald for making Hildie Bitterpickles more adorable than anything I could have ever imagined; to Simon Stahl, whose design magic never ceases to amaze me; and to my amazing critique group for helping me persevere during those really awful rough drafts. THANK YOU!!!

ALA San Francisco Annual Conference & Exhibition #alaac15

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What an incredible week to be in San Francisco! ALA’s Annual Conference and Exhibition was a jubilant celebration of authors, illustrators, publishers, librarians, and of course, books! Where else in the world are there this many people excited about books? Nowhere. And in a nutshell, it was AWESOME!  ala4

At this year’s conference, I had the opportunity to do a cooking demo, making Mollie Katzen’s super yummy carrot cake recipe from The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake. I have to say when I first heard of this I wasn’t sure if it was a joke because (just between you and me) I don’t bake. In fact, over the years, I’ve had a very good relationship with my friends Betty Crocker, Nestlé® Toll House®, and the Pillsbury® Doughboy® and I go way back. The thought of baking,[1] even pretend baking, in front of an audience was terrifying. Fortunately for me, Mollie Katzen’s recipe is so easy that even a bumbling baking novice like myself could do it. And I had a blast! With the headpiece microphone, I felt like a cross between Julia Child and Madonna. So Food Network, if you’re looking for an author who writes about food, but who can’t actually make the food, I’m your gal. Call me. We’ll talk! 🙂 (I also happen to know two charismatic Missing Food Investigators who would love to host a kids cooking show.)

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ala3Detective Wilcox and Captain Griswold enjoying the spotlight on the What’s Cooking @ALA Stage 

Here are more photographic highlights:

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Mug Shot: Me, and librarian extraordinaire, Beth Decker

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Members of the Creston crew: Muon Van, Darlene Beck-Jacobson, Julie Downing, April Chu, me

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Darlene Beck-Jacobson and Georgia Lyon

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Simon Stahl and me

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Dan Santat

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me and Lane Smith

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Marcia Goldman, Lola, and Marissa Moss 

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me and Debbie Ridpath Ohi

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Jon Scieszka and me

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Muon Van and April Chu

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me and Cece Bell 

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Darlene Beck-Jacobson, Jacqueline Woodson, and me 

It was a wonderful conference. And to all the superhero librarians who inspire fledgling readers and turn reluctant readers into avid readers from the bottom of my heart THANK YOU!!! 

Wilcox, Griswold and I have already packed our bags for the next ALA conference. We can’t wait!

p.s. Darlene Beck-Jacobson, Marcia Goldman, Lola, and I also enjoyed a great visit to a wonderful bookstore, Book Passage.

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**Please remember to support your independent bookstores. Thank you!

[1] While practicing the recipe, I learned one thing: grating carrots on a hand grater is a serious workout. You can avoid expensive gym fees by simply buying a bag of carrots and a hand grater.

An Evening of Celebration at The Corner Bookstore for The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake

The old adage, “Good things come to those who wait,” is definitely true in my case. It took just about eight years for Wilcox and Griswold to make their first public appearance. A very big THANK YOU is due to everyone who helped Wilcox and Griswold on their journey, especially Creston Books, Marissa Moss, Deborah Zemke, Liza Fleissig, Ginger Harris-Dontzin, my critique group (Jill Davis, Jacki Morris, Joanne French, Ellen Grogan), and my family. Many thanks to The Corner Bookstore for making the celebration extra special!

Here are some photographic highlights:

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From the bottom of my heart, thank you!!! xoxo

ALA Chicago Midwinter Meeting & Exhibits

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Not even a blizzard and cancelled flights, could dampen the mood at ALA’s Midwinter Conference. And for me, aside from feeling like a kid in a candy store, I had the extra-special treat of finally meeting and spending time with Marissa Moss, my amazing editor and publisher at Creston Books; Deborah Zemke, illustrator extraordinaire, who’s made Wilcox and Griswold more adorable than anything I could have ever imagined; Lori Degman, Darlene Beck-Jacobson, Marsha Goldman, my fellow authors at Creston Books; Lola, the world-renowned, paw-ri-fic, super star of Marsha’s books; and last, but certainly not least, meeting the fantastic, Mr. John Schu.

Here are some photographic highlights from ALA:

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Marissa Moss and me

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Ready to sign my first book!

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Darlene Beck-Jacobson, Marissa Moss, me, Lori Degman

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Mr. Schu and me

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Lori Degman

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Marsha Goldman and Lola

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Mary Skiver and me (Bryn Mawr ’89 in the house!!!)

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Alessandra Balzer

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Jill Davis and me

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Jory John, me, Mac Barnett

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Cece Bell and me

Creston was also out in force having a wonderful time visiting Anderson’s Bookshop and The Book Stall at Chestnut Court.

Here’s a clip of Marsha Goldman and Lola at Anderson’s Bookshop. (Lola clearly enjoying meeting her loyal fans!)

Please click link:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ZDDjlYEUTI&feature=youtu.be

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Marsha Goldman, Lola, Darlene Beck-Jacobson, me, Deborah Zemke, Robert McDonald and Lori Degman at The Book Stall at Chestnut Hill

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Me and Deborah Zemke

Despite the storm, cancelled and rebooked flights, missing luggage, and endless hours of waiting at O’Hare and Charlotte-Douglas Airports, it was a memorable trip. And congratulations to all the award winners.

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Darlene Beck-Jacobson and me at Chicago’s O’Hare

Looking forward to ALA’s Annual Conference in sunny and warm San Francisco.

Darlene Beck-Jacobson: Bringing Stories to Life

I am thrilled to interview my friend and fellow Creston Books author, Darlene Beck-Jacobson.

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Teacher, speech therapist, and freelance writer, Darlene’s stories have appeared in Cicada, Cricket, and other magazines. Her debut historic middle grade novel, Wheels of Change (Creston Books), hits bookstores on September 22, 2014. She has also been working on another historic middle grade novel, A Sparrow in the Hand, exploring the coming of age of two sisters growing up in the coal mining area of Pennsylvania during the 1920’s. A chapter from this novel appeared in the March 2001 issue of Cricket magazine. You can also read this story on her website: http://www.darlenebeckjacobson.com 

Here’s what Kirkus has to say about Wheels of Change:

Changes fomenting both locally and nationally during the final year of Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency are seen through the eyes of feisty, bighearted Emily Soper, daughter of a carriage maker in Washington, D.C.

Twelve-year-old Emily loves helping her father in his barn; she even dreams, in futility, of becoming a blacksmith like her father’s beloved employee, Henry. She and her best friend, Charlie, ponder such things as gender roles, women’s suffrage and “horseless carriages.” She dutifully tries to become a lady even while working on a secret that uses her “masculine” skills. As the year progresses, Henry falls ill, and Emily and her family are subjected to the uncertainties of changing times as well as some nasty treatment from white supremacists. Resemblances to To Kill a Mockingbird are strong, especially during a tea party hosted by Emily’s mother. A nice touch: Throughout much of the book, Papa teaches Emily—and vicariously, readers—new vocabulary words. The strength of the text lies in Jacobson’s ability to evoke a different era and to endear readers to the protagonist. The prose is straightforward and well-researched, heavily peppered with historical references and containing enough action to keep readers’ attention.

Readers will empathize with Emily as she goes through her own changes, and they will applaud her heroism in more than one chapter. (author’s note, photographs, recipes, bibliography, websites) (Historical fiction. 8-11)

Darlene, thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview.

It’s my pleasure, Robin.

Let’s start at the beginning. When did you know that you wanted to be a writer, and more specifically a children’s book author?

I’ve loved writing since I was a girl. I wrote letters to everyone I knew and made up stories in my head. Even as a student, throughout school, I was crazy enough to actually enjoy the writing or essay portions of exams. I began writing short stories in the late 1980’s into the 1990’s. Even though the stories were for adult publications at first, there was often a child narrator or main character. I think it may have been my own inner child directing me. There’s something about giving a voice to young people that appeals to me. It was a natural progression to want to write a book for young people.

How did you end up gravitating toward middle grade historic fiction?

It just seemed like a good fit. I love hearing stories of the past from people who lived it. I grew up listening to my dad recount his WWII experiences as a POW in Japan. I listened to my mother tell her childhood stories of life as a coal miner’s daughter during the depression. These are the personal stories you don’t read about in history books. Creating characters in those long ago settings brings the era to life for me.

I think Middle Grade kids like to hear about kids from the pastwhat they ate, wore, the games they played, and what they worried about. While many of the things seem strange to modern children, there is much that remains the same: friendship, family, getting along, fairness, righting wrongs and fighting injustice.

I LOVED Wheels of Change! I could not put it down. It has a timeless feel, akin to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie, and from page 1 found myself rooting for 12-year old Emily Soper, who unlike some of the adults in her life, was unafraid to take a stand for what is right. What makes Wheels of Change even more special is that it was inspired by the real life experiences of your grandmother, Mary Emily Soper. When did you realize that you wanted to tell her story?

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There were two family facts I discovered while researching my family tree. One was that my paternal grandmother’s father was a carriage maker in Washington DC at the turn of the Twentieth Century. The other was that grandma received an invitation to a reception held at the White House by Theodore Roosevelt. She attended that reception and met TR. The story grew from there.

While this was the catalyst for Wheels of Change, I want readers to know the story is NOT a biography of my grandmother’s life. Everything else that occurs in the story is made up. I like to think of it as a re-imagining of grandma’s childhood. The grandmother I knewand the Emily Soper in WOCare two entirely different people.

You also explore the socio-economic, political, and industrial changes facing the United States in the early twentieth century. Was this your intention at the outset?

It was. I wanted to show how change affects us all and can bring welcome and unwelcome things into our lives. It’s up to each of us to decide the importance of those changes. We can’t stop changeit still happens all around us. But, if we make it work for us, we can see a better outcome.

From start to finish how long did it take you to write and research Wheels of Change?

It took about five years from the “idea” to a picture book that was too long and complex, and then to the final middle grade manuscript.

I’ve been fortunate enough to read your picture book, Together on Our Knees, about a young abolitionist, Matilda Joslyn Gage. Can you tell us how you became interested in her story?

I found Matilda’s name on a poster of The Alternative Alphabet For Big and Little People under the letter G. When I researched her online, I discovered she was a prominent abolitionist and suffragist who worked alongside Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, yet few people know about her. There are some wonderful books written about her adult life: She Who Holds the Sky by Sally Roesch Wagner, and Sisters in Spirit also by Sally Roesch Wagner. There is nothing featuring her as a child. Together on Our Knees is my attempt to rectify that.

Can you share some insights into your writing process? What’s a typical writing day like for you?

One of the few consistencies in my process is the first draft which I always do with pen and paper. I lose a measure of creativity trying to get the original ideas down on a computer, so I don’t use one until I have a written draft. That frees me up to make mistakes, scribbles and jot down ideas in margins or on sticky notes as I go. I try to write something every daywhether it’s a blog post, letter, a few pages of editingand on days when I can’t or don’t write, I read or review ideas or plot points in my head to keep the story going, and to work through problems I’ve encountered.

How did you meet your agent?

I am especially happy to answer this question for you Robin since you and I share the same agent: Liza Fleissig of the Liza Royce Agency. I met herand her co-agent Ginger Harrisat our NJSCBWI annual conference in Princeton, NJ in 2010. I pitched the idea for WOC to Ginger who requested 30 pages. Liza then asked for the full manuscript and made an offer of representation not long after that.

Liza selling the book to Marissa Moss of CRESTON BOOKS is another serendipitous thing we share, since your books, The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake, A Wilcox & Griswold Mystery (illustrated by Deborah Zemke), and Hildie Bitterpickles Needs Her Sleep (illustrated by Chris Ewald), will be coming out with CRESTON next year. It’s fun having that connection.

I couldn’t agree with you more! 🙂

Do you have any words of wisdom for new writers?

Two things always come to mind and have become a sort of life philosophy with regards to writing: Nothing ventured, nothing gained, which means you can’t be afraid to dive in and write, edit, pitch, ask for critiques, and do what needs to be done to get your manuscript out into the world. The second is, persistence. How many times did Edison fail before he got a light bulb to work? How many other authors faced multiple rejections before a success? If you learn your craft, do the revisions that are necessary and keep trying to improve your writing, YOU WILL GET PUBLISHED.

Lastly, how can your fans get a hold of you if they would like you to do a school visit?

Twitter@dustbunnymaven

Website: http://www.darlenebeckjacobson.com

Blog: http://www.darlenebeckjacobson.wordpress.com

If anyone is interested in pre-ordering Wheels of Change, it is available on Amazon or Barnes & Noble, and at a number of independent bookstores.

Darlene, many thanks for doing this interview. And congratulations and much success with Wheels of Change.

It’s been a pleasure Robin. Thanks for having me.

And to learn more about Darlene, Wheels of Change, and toys and candy from the early 1900’s, please don’t forget to stop by Tara Lazar’s awesome blog, Writing for Kids (While Raising Them), www.taralazar.com, on September 19, 2014.