November is… Picture Book Month

Picture Book Month is an international literacy initiative celebrating print picture books during the month of November. Founder Dianne de Las Casas (author & storyteller) and Co-Founders Katie Davis (author/illustrator), Elizabeth O. Dulemba (author/illustrator), Tara Lazar (author), and Wendy Martin (author/illustrator) have pulled  their worldwide connections to make this book celebration happen.

As a former elementary school teacher and current mama, I am a huge fan of picture books. Even though my girlie is capable of reading on her own now, we still love to snuggle up on the couch with a stack of colorfully illustrated stories. Our collection is pretty extensive — I’m sure you’re shocked :). Here are a few of our favorites… (Summaries from Goodreads. Covers lead to Goodreads pages.)

The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler – One tiny snail longs to see the world and hitches a lift on the tail of a whale. They go on an amazing journey, past icebergs and volcanoes, sharks and penguins, and the little snail feels so small in the vastness of the world. But when disaster strikes and the whale is beached in a bay, it’s the tiny snail who saves the day.

Bear Snores On written by Karma Wilson, illustrated by Jane Chapman – A whole host of different animals and birds find their way out of the cold and into Bear’s cave to warm up. But even after the tea has been brewed and the corn has been popped, Bear snores on! See what happens when he finally wakes up and finds his cave full of uninvited guests — all of them having a party without him!

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle – One sunny Sunday, the little caterpillar was hatched out of a tiny egg. He was very hungry. On Monday, he ate through one apple; on Tuesday, he ate through two pears; on Wednesday, he ate through three plums–and he was still hungry. Strikingly bold, colorful pictures and a simple text in large, clear type tell the story of the hungry little caterpillar’s progress through an amazing variety and quantity of foods. Full at last, he made a cocoon around himself and went to sleep, to wake up a few weeks later wonderfully transformed into a butterfly!

Edward the Emu written by Sheena Knowles, illustrated by Rod Clement – Edward is tired of being an emu, so he decides to try being something else for a change. First he spends some time swimming with the seals. Next, he lounges with the lions. He even slithers with the snakes. But Edward soon discovers that being an emu may not be so bad after all. So he heads back to his pen, only to find a big surprise awaiting him . . .Sheena Knowles’ upbeat, rhyming text and Rod Clement’s deliciously droll illustrations are sure to make readers laugh out loud in this whimsical picture book.

Corduroy by Don Freeman – When all the shoppers have gone home for the night, Corduroy climbs down from the shelf to look for his missing button. It’s a brave new world! He accidentally gets on an elevator that he thinks must be a mountain and sees the furniture section that he thinks must be a palace. He tries to pull a button off the mattress, but he ends up falling off the bed and knocking over a lamp. The night watchman hears the crash, finds Corduroy, and puts him back on the shelf downstairs. The next morning, a little girl buys him with money she saved in her piggy bank and takes him home to her room. Corduroy decides that this must be home and that Lisa must be his friend.

Madeline by Ludwig Bemelmans – Set in picturesque Paris, this tale of a brave little girl’s trip to the hospital was a Caldecott Honor Book in 1940 and has as much appeal today as it did then. The combination of a spirited heroine, timelessly appealing art, cheerful humor, and rhythmic text makes Madeline a perennial favorite with children of all ages.

Tell me: What’s your favorite picture book?


Banned Books Week

Banned Books Week begins today…

From BannedBooksWeek.orgBanned Books Week is the national book community’s annual celebration of the freedom to read. Hundreds of libraries and bookstores around the country draw attention to the problem of censorship by mounting displays of challenged books and hosting a variety of events. Banned Books Week was launched in 1982 in response to a sudden surge in the number of challenges to books in schools, bookstores and libraries. More than 11,300 books have been challenged since 1982. According to the American Library Association, there were 464 challenges reported to the Office of Intellectual Freedom in 2012, and many more go unreported. 

As a writer of young adult fiction that’s intended for an older teen audience, book censorship is an issue that hits close to home. Books are most often challenged by people and groups who, at their core, have the best of intentions: To protect children from explicit and/or difficult material. Still, censorship in any form is wrong. Parents have every right and responsibility to educate their children as they see fit, and to keep them from material they deem inappropriate. Librarians, teachers, religious organizations, and politicians should not.

Still, year after year, people and groups continue to challenge books, most often for the following reasons*:

1. The material is considered to be “sexually explicit.”

2. The material contains “offensive language.”

3. The material is “unsuited to any age group.”

It’s all pretty vague and subjective, isn’t it? 

Most Challenged Books of 2012*:

  1. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey – Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group.
  2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie – Reasons: Offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group.
  3. Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher – Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited for age group.
  4. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E. L. James – Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit.
  5. And Tango Makes Three, by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson – Reasons: Homosexuality, unsuited for age group.
  6. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini – Reasons: Homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit.
  7. Looking for Alaska, by John Green – Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group.
  8. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwart – Reasons: Unsuited for age group, violence.
  9. The Glass Castle, by Jeanette Walls – Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit.
  10. Beloved, by Toni Morrison – Reasons: Sexually explicit, religious viewpoint, violence.

And, a few Classics that have been challenged at one time or another*: The Great Gatsbyby F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Catcher in the Ryeby J.D. Salinger, The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, Ulysses by James Joyce, Beloved by Toni Morrison, The Lord of the Flies by William Golding, and 1984 by George Orwell.

How can we stand up to book challengers?

1. By defending our right to intellectual freedom — the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular. We can talk about the danger of restraining the availability of information in our free society.

2. We can voice the importance of the First Amendment and the power of literature.

3. We can support librarians, teachers, booksellers, and members of the community to who fight to keep “inappropriate” books in library and school collections.

4. We can continue to buy, borrow, loan, read, talk about, and recommend banned and challenged books. (Twenty Boy Summer and Speak and To Kill a Mockingbird and The Hunger Games and The Grapes of Wrath and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian!)

Tell me: What’s your favorite banned book? And, how will you celebrate Banned Books Week?

*Statistics and lists borrowed from the American Library Association’s Banned and Challenged Books page. Please do visit the ALA’s site for more information.

July Reading Wrap-Up

I feel like it’s been ages since I read some of these…
July was a loooong month! 

Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood – Paranormal romance is not normally my thing and witch stories, especially, don’t usually hold my interest. That said, I absolutely adore Born Wicked. Jessica Spotswood writes beautifully and even though her story has a historical setting, her protagonist, Cate, is no delicate flower. She’s smart and strong and determined — I love her. Also, I’d heard a lot about the steamy kisses in this book. They do NOT  disappoint. Born Wicked‘s ending was a heartbreaker. I can’t wait to read its follow-up, Star Cursed.

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo – My heart broke a thousand times while reading this gorgeous middle grade story, and the final pages gave me chills. Edward Tulane‘s themes of giving and accepting love are relayed with such nuance, and main character Edward, a ceramic rabbit who likes fine clothing (YES), is incredibly compelling. This book’s chapters are short and its language is unembellished, but the story is so profound. If you’ve got kiddos, I highly recommend reading Edward Tulane with them.

Dare You To by Katie McGarry – Pretty much what I expected. Entertaining, sexy, and full of drama. I like a dual narration in romance novels, and Katie McGarry pulls of both Beth’s and Ryan’s voices fantastically. If you’re a fan of Pushing the Limits, you’ll like Dare You To. Noah and Echo even make a few appearances!

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin – The Westing Game was an entertaining  middle grade read. The characters were interesting and the mystery was cool, but the story didn’t have the emotional impact necessary for me to fall truly in love with it. My full YA Book Club post is HERE.

The House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods by Matt Bell – This is a strange novel. It’s very literary — beautifully written, but unconventional. The story centers around a husband and wife who live in seclusion and struggle through some intense (and graphically described) fertility issues. Their marriage is a trip — I was never quite sure what was real and what was conjured by the damaged imaginations of the characters. If you like a book that’s different and dark and surreal, The House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods might be the story for you.

The Darkest Minds by Alexandra Bracken – Yowza… This book was a wild ride. It’s a dark dystopian thriller with tons of twists and turns, and a core group of four characters who I came to truly adore. Chubs, especially, won my love, and Liam is a total heartthrob.  The Darkest Minds is a complex book with heavy themes and heavy moments. It left me with plenty of questions, most of which will hopefully be answered in the next installment of this trilogy, Never Fade.

All I Need by Susane Colasanti – This book came at just the right time — I was looking for something airy and beachy and romantic, and All I Need is those things and more. It’s a fast read, dual narration, and very sweet. It reminded me a bit of Judy Blume’s Forever… in its earnestness and portrayal of two real teens just trying to make their love work. Check it out of you’re looking for a contemporary YA to set the tone for your summer.

Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys – I love this book so, so much. Main character Josie’s life is brutal, but she experiences moments of such sincere beauty. Out of the Easy is layered with a cast of fantastically riveting characters, and its setting (gritty 1950 New Orleans) is enchanting. I urge you to pick this one up if you’re looking for a historical novel that’s equal parts mesmerizing and affecting.

OCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu – More on this book next week in a pending Bookanista/Debut Author Challenge post, but for now I’ll just say that OCD Love Story is outstanding — one of my favorite debuts of the year. The voice is contemporary YA perfection. Main character Bea’s struggle with OCD is gripping and distressing, yet she possesses an irresistible quirkiness that makes her a narrator you’ll want to befriend. A big ol’ recommend!

Tell me: What’s the best book you read in July? 

Ready. Set. WRITE!

Recently, one of my CPs (and a favorite friend), Alison Miller sent me an email about how she’s been considering summer and how she really wants to do some serious writing on her new work-in-progress. She’s not really a NANO person, she said, but she thought she could probably manage to write 1000 words a day. She wondered if I’d be interested in setting some summer writing goals as well.

Of course I am! I have a new WiP that I need to do some major work on, and I could totally use the motivation (and peer pressure) of my writing friends to keep me on track. So when Alison suggested that we set up some sort of summer writing intensive, and WOW, wouldn’t it be cool if we got a lot of other people to join us so we could encourage each other and hold each other accountable and cheer, cheer, cheer each other on from our writing corners, I was totally onboard.

And so, Ready. Set. WRITE! was born.

ready set write button

Alison Miller, Elodie Nowodazkij, Erin Funk, Jaime Morrow, and I are hosting a summer writing intensive called Ready. Set. WRITE! and we’d LOVE for you to join us! We plan to kick off our summer of writing Tuesday, June 11th and write, write, write for 2 full months. We’ll update weekly about what we’ve been writing and share our goals for the coming days.

Care to join us in our writing bliss?!

Totally what I wear when I’m drafting during the summer…

More specifics on Ready. Set. Write!

Purpose: Drafting/revising/writing novels, flash fiction, or short stories — whatever! As long as we’re writing!

What We’ll Do: Set weekly (or monthly or overall) goals — whatever works for each individual. We’ll update weekly on What’s Up Wednesday? (you know, in the What I’m Writing section). We’ll share what we’ve accomplished and set goals for the new week, and maybe include an excerpt or some gushing about our amazing works-in-progress. (Never heard of What’s Up Wednesday? You can check out some sample posts HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE.)

There’s More! We’ll also host occasional (optional) drafting/revising parties on Twitter, providing lots of support for each other, and… We’ll be sponsoring a fantastic writer’s giveaway!

Ready. Set. WRITE! will kick off Tuesday June 11th with sign-ups on our blogs. We’ll set our first goals as a part of June 12th‘s edition of What’s Up Wednesday? and update each other each consecutive Wednesday. In the meantime, start thinking about what you want to write/revise. Set some goals. Write a little — or a lot. Grab our button and help spread the word! And be prepared to…

Ready. Set. WRITE!

ready set write button

Rock the Drop, 2013

Yesterday I dropped four fantastic young adult novels in random public places around my town in the hope that four lucky readers would find and enjoy them as much as I have.

April 18th was Rock the Drop, a celebration of Teen Lit Day sponsored by ReaderGirlz, in collaboration with FigmentI Heart DailySoho Teen, and 826NYC. This was my second year participating; I’ve had such a blast with this event, and I love that it supports an amazing cause.

Last year I selected books for the drop rather haphazardly. This year I put a little more thought behind my choices. I went with a dystopian theme, and I dropped first books in trilogies with the idea that perhaps the person who happened upon each book would love it enough to either purchase the subsequent books in the series, or check them out from the library. Smart, right? 🙂

My first drop was on Cannery Row, a very touristy area of my very touristy town. The John Steinbeck bust was begging to have Divergent propped up against it.


I dropped Ship Breaker at the middle/high school bus stop in my neighborhood, and The Pledge at Pinkberry (YUM) just after school let out.

After all that book dropping (not to mention teaching a painting lesson to my daughter’s kindergarten class), I was very thirsty. A Starbucks iced tea did the trick, and I left Wither, my final book, behind for a lucky reader.

Tell me… Did you Rock the Drop yesterday? Which books did you leave around your town?


I had so much fun Rocking the Drop last year, I’ll most definitely be participating again this year. In fact, I’ve already printed my book plates and selected the novels I plan to drop (I’ll share more about my choices in the few days). This week my mom is visiting from Phoenix and I plan to enlist her help in my covert book dropping plans. I’m sure she’ll be thrilled!

Here are the details about this year’s Rock the Drop from the ReaderGirlz site:

Rock the Drop 2013

ReaderGirlz are happy to announce Operation Teen Book Drop 2013! On April 18th, ReaderGirlz will be teaming with FigmentI Heart DailySoho Teen, and 826NYC to celebrate YA lit in honor of Support Teen Lit Day on Thursday, April 18th. We can’t wait! 

This year, in addition to rocking out and dropping our favorite YA titles in public spaces for lucky readers to discover, we’re directing supporters of teen fiction everywhere to consider a book donation to 826NYC to help grow their library.

Here’s how you can get involved:

* Follow @readergirlz on Twitter and tweet #rockthedrop
Print a copy of the bookplate and insert it into a book (or 10!) On April 18th, drop a book in a public spot (park bench, bus seat, restaurant counter?) Lucky finders will see that the book is part of ROCK THE DROP! 
Post the banner at your blog and social networks. Proclaim that you will ROCK THE DROP! 
Snap a photo of your drop and post it at the ReaderGirlz Facebook page. Then tweet the drop at #rockthedrop with all the other lovers of YA books.

Tell me… Will you Rock the Drop in 2013?

Five on Friday

1. Have you heard about the Jan Plan? It’s my friend Christa Desir‘s idea, and it’s very simple: Finish a project in January. Any project. At your pace, in your time, for your own benefit. Originally, I’d planned to finish the first draft of my NaNo WiP, but I just got at editorial letter from Super Agent Victoria (yay!) and I’ve decided that the project I’ll complete this month will be a revision of Cross My Heart. Nothing too crazy needs to be changed, but Victoria has given me some awesome ideas for upping the tension and tightening the pacing in the first half of the story. I’m all in. I hope to have Cross My Heart submission-ready before February. And when I do, I’ll tackle my NaNo Wip.

2. I’ve read some amazing books lately. Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor, which I mentioned during the YA Superlatives Blogfest but never officially reviewed (it’s disturbing and gorgeous and heartbreaking – read it!), and Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, which is captivating and romantic and gritty, not to mention beautifully written (thanks for the recommendation, Tracey!). Currently, I’m reading Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. While dragons aren’t usually my thing, so far I’m enamored by this book’s unique concept and incredible world building.

3. Speaking of books, I’ve got some highly anticipated novels in my very near future. I’ve preordered Shades of Earth by Beth Revis, Through the Ever Night by Veronica Rossi, and Just One Day by Gayle Forman (one of my literary heroes!). Plus, I’ve recently been told that The Age of Miracles and The Sweeter Side of Amy’s Bread (a pastry cookbook!) are must reads. Thanks for the recommendations Erin and Jess!

4. I signed up for the Debut Author Challenge! I haven’t signed up in previous years, but I always do my best to support new authors. Often debut releases end up being some of my favorites. 2013 is a huge year for debuts, seeing as how some of my friends have their first books coming out: Erin Bowman, Christa Desir, Ann Rought, Amie Kaufman, and Cristin Terrill, to name a few.

5. My husband, girlie, and I went to Phoenix to visit my parents for the New Year. I love the desert…

My girlie fed ostrich, and I let a bird land on my head. Yes.

Sunrise loveliness.

Happy New Year from us. 🙂

Oh, and this happened. Don’t forget to be awesome!

Tell me: What’s new with you? Are you participating in the Jan Plan? What are you reading these days?