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Summertime and the reading is prescribed

I have already seen numerous postings about summer racing programs. Now I know about the "summer slide." According to RIF (Reading is Fundamental), the summer slide, "describes what happens when young minds sit idle for three months. Children who do not read over the summer will lose more than two months of reading achievement. Summer reading loss is cumulative. By the end of 6th grade children who lose reading skills over the summer will be 2 years behind their classmates."

I certainly support having kids read over the summer months. What I am not so keen about are the "programs." Giving kids a prescribed list of titles to read, having them tested over the content when school returns in the fall, and the like is counterproductive if we are aiming not only to stop the summer slide but also keep kids motivated about books and reading. Too many SRPs have narrow lists from which kids can pick their books. Worse, some have ONE book for each grade level. Here is the fallacy of one size fits all:

me and moose

I cannot squeeze into a one size fits all. College Girl would swim inside something marked one size fits all. Why do we have to take this approach? Do we fear choice? Do we not trust kids to select books on their own? How could we ever expect kids to become or remain readers if they always have books selected for them?

This summer I plan to read as I always do: #bookaday. I will read picture books, graphic novels, professional texts, journals, YA fiction and nonfiction, and more. I hope we give kids the same freedom (freedom) to read, too.

Here are some good resources from RIF: http://www.rif.org/us/literacy-resources/brochures.htm

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Picture books beyond primary grades

A few weeks ago, Karin Perry and I spent a great deal of time talking about picture books. We had not planned to spend quite as much time as we did. We had loads of other topics we wanted to cover in a day long workshop. However, there was tremendous interest. Then this week I saw this post to the YALSA Hub: http://www.yalsa.ala.org/thehub/2014/04/17/young-adult-picture-book-pairings-cinderella-stories/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+yalsathehub+%28The+Hub%29.

Pairing picture books about Cinderella (and there are hundreds of versions of Cinderella and other fairy tales out there) with YA novels with Cinderella themes is a terrific idea, one I plan to incorporate into future presentations. Libby Gorman's pairings are a great place to begin. How about taking themes from other fairy tales or fables or folk tales and pairing them with YA books with similar themes?

I have used WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE for a LONG time to work with theme with middle school kids. Theme is abstract, but a good picture book can help make the concept more concrete. WTWTA also underscores that books can (and do) have more than one theme.

I am working right now on a half day session on using picture books with K-12 students. I am exploring the ideas here and a few others. I find I am not running out of ideas or books. I love when a germ of an idea leads to something bigger. I know many of my friends are already using picture books in all manner of inventive ways. I salute them for not abandoning picture books and start pushing kids into other works earlier and earlier. My new campaign is to replace the word "push" with "lead" or "assist" or "guide" or "encourage." I spoke to a reporter this week who talked about getting kids into harder and tougher and more complex books. There are plenty of complex books that have only 32 pages (the average picture book length). Let's explore these books without the push into something else. Reading easy, a phrase my friend Kylene Beers uses, is a good thing. We all need time to read easy, to relax as we read, to access text easily, to ENJOY the reading.

Rock the Drop TODAY!


Rock the Drop 2014

Operation Teen Book Drop 2014 is being held TODAY!

readergirlz started this event seven years ago, and it is held annually in April, on Support Teen Literature Day. Feel free to share the banner (above) at your blog and on social media, then print out copies of the bookplate (below). Slap the bookplates in your favorite YA books and leave the books in public spaces for lucky readers to discover.
Want to join in the fun? 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 17th, 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!
(If you think people won't pick up the book, slap a Post-It or note on the front cover that reads, "Take this book - IT'S FREE!" Bonus points for using recycled paper and/or making your own funky design!)
* 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.

Visit our blog, Facebook page, and Twitter for more news and pictures before, during, and after the event!

Here's the bookplate - save, print, and paste.

Rock the Drop 2014

Thank you to everyone who participates and supports the event! Remember, ANYONE may participate. If you miss the drop on Thursday, no worries - drop a book tomorrow or this weekend, and share and donate books whenever and wherever you can!

Poetry Friday: The Messenger by Mary Oliver

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird - equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect?
Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium. The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,
which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes, a mouth with which to give shouts of joy to the moth
and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam, telling them all,
over and over, how it is that we live forever.

- The Messenger by Mary Oliver

View all posts tagged as Poetry Friday at Bildungsroman.

View the roundup schedule at A Year of Reading.

Learn more about Poetry Friday.

Five Things on a Friday



1. My friend, author Tamra Wight, took this great photo of one of the fox kits at their campground (Poland Spring Campground). Tami is the author of the Cooper and Packrat series of mystery books.

2. A week from today, I'll be speaking at the 27th Annual Conference on Children’s Literature in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. It's free and open to the public, though they do ask you to register. The focus this year is on disability, both in books and in creating inclusive programming.

3. We had snow one morning this week and my son woke me up demanding, "WHERE'S MY SPRING?!"  Indeed.

4.  I have received three school visit requests for school visits for Half a Chance, including one All School Read of the book in Tennessee next year. Time to come up for a program for that book!

5.  Happy Easter, everyone, from my two Easter bunnies.

Photo: My cuddle bunnies

Cynsational News & Giveaway

for Cynsations

Christian Slater, Annie Hall, Rejection, and Me (Not Necessarily in That Order) by Shawn K. Stout from the Writing Barn. Peek: "That feeling, right there. Do you know the one? That crushing ache? The one right there in the middle of my chest that tells me in that moment I’m unloved by the universe? That’s what rejection feels like to me. Every. Single. Time."

A Logic Model for Author Success by Sharon Bially from Writer Unboxed. Peek: "Called the 'Logic Model'...its goal is to help writers make the best decisions about where to focus their creative energies and efforts when it’s time to launch their books."

Do I Capitalize "God" in Dialogue and Internal Thoughts? by Deborah Halverson from Dear Editor. Peek: "The only rigid rule for capitalizing 'God' in dialogue and thoughts is that you do so when using it as a pronoun: 'Joe, God won’t like that.' Beyond that..."

Think Before You Write by Ash Krafton from QueryTracker Blog. Peek: "Even if I were to sit down as soon as I can and start banging out the scene, it never feels quite the same as it did during its inception. I feel like I lose little parts of myself every time that happens."

Carol Lynch Williams on The Haven by Adi Rule from wcya The Launch Pad at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Peek: "Treat writing like a job. It's not behind the dishes or taking out the garbage. It's your profession. You write first."

Chukfi Rabbit's Big, Bad Bellyache: A Trickster Tale by Choctaw author Greg Rodgers: a recommendation from Debbie Reese at American Indians in Children's Literature. Peek: "...the illustrations by Leslie Stall Widener are terrific. They provide the visual clues that this is a Choctaw story. The clothes the characters wear accurately depict the sorts of items Choctaw's wear, from tops like the one Chukfi wears to the baseball cap that Kinta wears."

The Emotional Journey of a Novel by Mary Kole from Kidlit.com. Peek: "...what we’re looking at above is the standard three-act structure but instead of tracking how the plot rises and then falls, we are tracking how the character feels during each step of the process."

Editing for Agents by agent Tina Wexler and author Skila Brown from Literary Rambles. Peek: "Maybe the agent’s comments are prescriptive in a way that you don’t really like, but listen hard to what problem s/he is identifying and see if you’ve got another idea on how to fix it."

What "Frozen" Teaches Us About Storytelling & Publishing by Stina Lindenblatt from QueryTracker Blog. Peek: "There are quite a few plot spoilers in this post, so if you’re planning to watch the movie, do so first."

Cynsational Author Tip: You may own the copyright to your book, but not everything written about it.  Keep review quotes short, and as a courtesy, provide a link to the source.

A character on the autism spectrum.
Characters on the Autism Spectrum by Yvonne Ventresca from YA Highway. Peek: "At a time when one in every 68 children in the U.S. is affected by autism, it’s interesting to see how children’s literature portrays autistic characters. ...odds are high that teens will have an autistic family member, or a classmate with Asperger syndrome, or a neighbor on the spectrum."

Keeping Up with the Racing Rules by Emma D. Dryden from Our Stories, Ourselves. Peek: "We can't wish away the fact kids are growing up fast, doing everything fast, wanting everything fast, and getting everything fast."

Shattering the Multicultural Myth of the Market. Let's Go! from Mitali Perkins. Peek: "We are tweeting, texting, status-ing, and insta-ing that book until our friends are convinced they must buy it right now or their quality of life will diminish."

"Ariel" by Katherine Catmull: a new story from The Cabinet of Curiosities. Note: "about a mistreated bird and its shadow."

This Week at Cynsations

Enter to win a signed copy!

More Personally

My Week: Travel, Events, Revision! Thank you to TLA, LATFOB, librarians, YA readers, and Candlewick Press for a blurry flurry of bookish fun.

I sent my editor my Feral Pride revision on Wednesday, and she sent notes back on the first half on Thursday. Notes on the second half will come Tuesday. I've been focusing on chapter one, the target of her most substantive suggestions. My goals are to orient the reader, kick off the action, and maintain in the narrative continuity--all of which are more challenging with book 3 in a trilogy and book 9 in a universe. We're almost, but not quite there.

With authors Laurie Halse Anderson & Cecil Castellucci at The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books.
Texas Teens for Libraries at the TLA Annual Conference in San Antonio (that's my back in white).

See also Nikki Loftin and Lupe Ruiz-Flores on the Texas Library Association annual conference.

The post on my mind this week? The Best Bums in Children's Fiction -- Or Why Are So Many Children's Books About Bottoms? by Emma Barnes from An Awfully Big Blog Adventure. Peek: "...for the average five year old, toilet training and bed wetting are still very immediate issues, and getting oneself to the toilet on time can be a source of pride (or sometimes an embarrassing failure)."

Greg models Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn at the Macmillan booth at TLA.
Congratulations to Greg Leitich Smith on a rave review from Publishers Weekly for Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn (Roaring Brook, 2014). Peek: "...an engaging, humorous look at humans learning that they’re not alone in the universe."

Author blurbs also are in:

"Aliens, government coverups, bionic limbs, kooky scientists, luau pigs, conspiracy theories, and mysterious patio furniture—I don't know about you, but these are the things I look for in a great story. Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn has all of them, plus a huge dose of humor. Read it and enjoy, but be warned: You may never want to eat roast pork ever again." —Matthew Holm, co-creator of Babymouse and Squish

“Here is a story for everyone who has ever wondered if that brilliant green light was a UFO. It's for everyone who has ever imagined living on Mars. In short, it's for everyone who has ever asked the question, 'who am I, really?’ Read it, then make your reservations at the Mercury Inn. Just don’t be alarmed if you find an alien in the refrigerator."—Kathi Appelt, Newbery Honor author of The Underneath

Don't miss my Q&A interview this week at The Horn Book. Peek: "...of late, I’ve become intrigued by wereorcas and Dolphins. I’ve lived a largely mid- to southwestern, landlocked life, so even though most of our world is covered by water, to me it’s as alien and fantastical as anything we’d find in fiction."

Reminder: E-volt is having a sale on Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick) for $1.99 and Feral Nights by Cynthia Leitich Smith, $2.99--discount prices will hold through April! Listen to an audio sample of Feral Nights and read a sample of Eternal.

Cheers to Dr. Sylvia Vardell on receiving the 2014 ALA-Scholastic Library Publishing Award!

Personal Links

Cynsational Events

Join Varian Johnson, Greg Leitich Smith and Jennifer Ziegler in celebrating their new middle grade novels at 2 p.m. June 14 at BookPeople in Austin.

Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers will be held June 16 to June 21 at the Waterford School in Sandy, Utah. Keynote speaker: James Dashner; faculty includes Cynthia and Greg Leitich Smith. Learn about the WIFYR Fellowship Award. See also Alison L. Randall on Choosing a Writing Conference.

Join Cynthia Leitich Smith in discussing Feral Curse (Candlewick, 2014) with the YA Reading Club at 11 a.m. June 28 at Cedar Park Public Library in Cedar Park, Texas.

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Words Words Words

Some disconnected observations today:

1. Saw an ad for the Word Whisperer. Of course, I already know the Book Whisperer, aka Donalyn Miller, so I wanted some more information. Basically, the WW is a pediatrician turned reading expert. I am thinking of a career change. Why not move from being a reading expert to a pediatrician? How hard could that be? I was once a child. I went to see the doctor. Seriously, I want to track down these folks and find out just why they believe they can advertise themselves as experts.

2. I found something in common with Ted Cruz! Calm down. Recently he declared that CCSS must go. I am on board with that totally. Not for the same reasons, of course, but the sentiment is one I can share.

3. A phrase from news this morning: "If you can't see it, you can't BE it." In a nutshell, this is why teachers need to be readers and writers. Kids need to see us read and write. Every day.

4. Headline proclaims that reading E-Books means losing out: http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/04/10/students-reading-e-books-are-losing-out-study-suggests/?_php=true&_type=blogs&smid=tw-nytstyles&seid=auto&_r=0. Problems here: small sample (never mentioned how small); interactive books with widgets are not what all eBooks are; little mention of the data about comprehension. I hate to see this. Someone will pick this up, ignore all of the limitations and proclaim it fact.

Happy Wednesday!

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By Melissa Walker of readergirlz
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

In conjunction with Support Teen Literature Day, top young adult authors, editors, teen lit advocates, and readers will “Rock the Drop” by leaving their books in public places for new readers to discover and enjoy.

In recognition of the readergirlz’s seventh birthday of promoting literacy and a love of reading among young women, our fans and followers are also encouraged to donate YA books (or time, or even monetary contributions) to seven very worthy literacy philanthropies.

Cyn supports Reading is Fundamental!
The groups include: First Book, The Lisa Libraries, Girls Write Now, 826 National, Room to Read, Reading is Fundamental, and World Literacy Foundation.

For this year’s Drop, we are also teaming up with Justine Magazine and I Heart Daily to help spread the world and build enthusiasm for this always-enjoyable kick off to spring reading season!

A nationwide effort of authors, publishers, librarians, educators, and readers

In its sixth year, Rock the Drop is part of a massive effort by librarians, young adult authors, educators, publishers, and avid readers to spur reading on a nationwide scale. The day aims to encourage teens to read for the fun of it.

Cyn is dropping...!

  • In past years, more than 100 young adult authors—including David Levithan, Sara Zarr, Libba Bray, Sarah Dessen, and Cynthia Leitich Smith—have “rocked the drop,” leaving copies of their books in public places for teens to find.

  • Publishing houses both “Big Six” and indie alike have donated tens of thousands of books to dedicated literacy philanthropies, in addition to rocking the drop, too.

  • Teens, librarians, teachers, and other fans of YA literature are also invited to rock the drop, on their own or as a group.

  • Participants are encouraged to donate to any of our seven suggested philanthropies – or one of their own! Post on the Readergirlz Facebook page to update us on some of your favorite worthy causes.


Operation Teen Book Drop aims to reach a large number of teen groups,” rgz diva Melissa Walker said. “We’re thrilled to be celebrating our website’s seventh birthday with this fun, festive day!”

How to support Rock the Drop:

Learn more!

About Support Teen Literature Day

In its sixth year, Support Teen Literature Day is April 17, 2014, and will be celebrated in conjunction with ALA’s National Library Week. Librarians across the country are encouraged to participate in Support Teen Literature Day by hosting events in their libraries. The celebration raises awareness that young adult literature is a vibrant, growing genre with much to offer today’s teens. Support Teen Literature Day also seeks to showcase award-winning authors and books in the genre, as well as highlight librarians’ expertise in connecting teens with books and other reading materials.

About readergirlz

Lorie's new release!
readergirlz is a literacy and social media project for teens, awarded the National Book Award for Innovations in Reading. The rgz blog serves as a depot for news and YA reviews from industry professionals and teens. As volunteers return full force to their own YA writing, the organization continues to hold one initiative a year to impact teen literacy.

Launched in March 2007, in celebration of Women's National History Month, readergirlz was cofounded by acclaimed YA authors - Dia Calhoun, Lorie Ann Grover, Justina Chen, and Janet Lee Carey. Readergirlz is currently maintained by awarded YA authors - Micol Ostow, Melissa Walker, and co-founder Lorie Ann Grover.

rgz Operation Teen Book Drop has donated over 30,000 new YA books to under-served teens.

No wonder I'm tired

I know I have one of the best jobs in the world. It involves loads of reading and writing and talking: three of my favorite things to do. I get to travel and meet new colleagues. I have the opportunity to speak to groups of all kinds. And did I mention the reading?

So, sharing this recent article is not really a complaint; it is an observation. Sometimes I wonder why I am so tired at the end of the day. Here is why:

http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/04/09/research-shows-professors-work-long-hours-and-spend-much-day-meetings#sthash.EoesElGC.dpbs

Some of this does not apply to me. Take this conclusion: "The study also gives insight into exactly where professors are carrying out their work. Some 59 percent of work – or 36 hours per week – takes place on campus, with 24 percent of work taking place at home and 17 percent of work taking place at other off-campus locations." When I first began to work as a university teacher, I did indeed spend time each day, Monday through Friday, on campus. Then, I spent only two days on campus, then one day on campus and one out in the field. Now, since our program is online totally, I spend one day in the office generally (8 hours) and then the rest of the week working from home. However, in terms of the number of hours, it is still applicable.

I report this here because there is a misconception on the part of some (and I think the leaders of the reform movement from outside of education are generally the most misinformed folks about this aspect of my job) that we do little work for massive pay. Wrong on both counts, I am afraid.

So, some food for thought. I wonder what would happen if I cut back to 40 hours of work each week? What would not get accomplished? What tasks would be left incomplete? How much of the TO-DO list remain at the end of each day?

BTW, I know if we were to do a similar study of teachers at ANY level, these numbers would hold true. Grading, parent contacts, duties, lesson plans, etc. They take time and sometimes in ways of which we are not always aware. Did you spend time this weekend on Twitter in chats? Yup. How about posting links for fellow educators on Facebook or your blog? Bet you did. Did you read? Write? Have an idea that caused you to stop "relaxing" and begin planning. I have no doubt.

So, after you read this, take a break. Go outside if weather permits. Deep breath. Mental image of this beautiful spring. Or sit back, enjoy a frosty beverage of your choice. Eat a leftover Girl Scout cookie (if there are any left) or a piece of Easter candy. And know that the time you invest is so incredibly important. The time you give to the kids is immeasurable in so many ways.

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for Cynsations

What fun it was to chat with The Horn Book about creepy cuisine, werecats and the kind of shape-shifter I'd most like to be!

Pop over to check it out and join in the conversation!

See also a review of my latest novel, Feral Curse (Candlewick, 2014) from The Horn Book. Peek:


"Debut character Kayla — level-headed, religious, but also quietly proud of her shifter nature — holds her own, nicely complementing Yoshi’s swagger, Wild Card shifter Clyde’s newfound confidence, and human Aimee’s resourcefulness. Witty banter peppered with pop-culture references keeps the tone light even as the stakes ramp up."



Cynsational Notes

Reminder: E-volt is having a sale on Eternal by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick) for $1.99 and Feral Nights by Cynthia Leitich Smith, $2.99--discount prices will hold through April! Listen to an audio sample of Feral Nights and read a sample of Eternal.

Milo

Why did those joggers laugh when they saw me barking at them?!

TAX-ing

Thank goodness for electronic filing. We met the deadline yesterday at the accountant's office. Taxes filed. Now we wait for the return. After we got back to the house, I settled in for some work at the computer. This was the first link on Twitter and Facebook: http://www.ala.org/bbooks/frequentlychallengedbooks/top10. Each and every year, books are challenged, censored, banned. Here are the Top 10 from 2013.

2013

Out of 307 challenges as reported by the Office for Intellectual Freedom

Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence

The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James
Reasons: Nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group

A Bad Boy Can Be Good for A Girl, by Tanya Lee Stone
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit

Looking for Alaska, by John Green
Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

Bless Me Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
Reasons: Occult/Satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit

Bone (series), by Jeff Smith
Reasons: Political viewpoint, racism, violence

Aside from the two adult titles, this list has some eerie resemblance to my required reading lists for children's and YA literature (hard to imagine, I know). Compare the books on this list with those from past years. Some appear more than once or twice or even three times. Other titles come and go.

Check out some more news about censorship at the ALAN web site: www.alan-ya.org and be on the lookout for my first turn as editor of the column about censorship in THE ALAN REVIEW coming in May.

Last week, I renewed my membership in NCAC and FTRF. I urge all of you who stand up for books and the FREADOM to read to do the same.
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

I have a quote taped on the wall above my computer so it's the first thing I see every morning when I sit down to write.

"Comparison is the thief of joy."

That little gem comes from some guy named Theodore Roosevelt.

What a simple, true, and startling piece of advice. The idea that comparison is a thief, and it can steal your joy, take away your happiness.

My mother had a more delicate, loving way of putting it: "Appreciate what you have, Little Miss Smarty Pants."

This, in fact, seems to be my life lesson. I wish I could have told it to my younger self.

In this photo of me at five years old, I must have received a gift (what are those? pants? pajamas?) and so did my friend. I'm the one closer to the door. A picture is worth a thousand words, right? There I was, caught in the moment, looking at what she got, not what I got. Comparing.

And as you can see, I'm not smiling.

In high school, I compared my unruly, crazy curly hair to girls with seemingly carefree, straight locks (oh, their swinging ponytails!). In my early twenties, as I struggled to find a job, I compared myself to friends whose careers were taking off.

And later on, when I went after my dream of writing a book, I compared myself to authors who secured an agent and got published easily and quickly, while I stumbled and made endless mistakes.

Let's not even talk about those early query letters. Or those early manuscripts.

Don't get me wrong. I've had many happy, non-comparing moments. And I'm sure that comparison is somewhat human nature. Heck, I bet even cave women compared their hauls when they gathered herbs and berries.

But since authors live (and write) in a world of superlatives, comparison is all too easy to fall prey to. Scroll through your Facebook news feed or your Twitter timeline or the latest Publishers Weekly. It's all there for us comparison-junkies.

Six-figure deal! Auction! Trilogy sold in 44 countries. Starred reviews. Best-seller. Award-winning, must-read, most unbelievable book ever to be published in the history of time; plus it's being made into a movie! OMG!

While I readily and happily applaud my fellow authors' successes, I know I'm not the only writer out there who sometimes feels daunted. And intimidated. And like maybe it's a better idea to spend the day under the covers.

But then I look up.


COMPARISON IS THE THIEF OF JOY.


I have another quote taped next to that one: "I wish that I had duck feet."

That's the title of a favorite book I had when I was little, an early reader by Theo. LeSieg. It's the humorous and insightful story of a young boy who wishes he had various animal parts, like duck feet, a whale spout, and an elephant trunk. But as he imagines the pros and cons of life with these seemingly fun but ultimately troublesome additions, he decides that he's better off just being himself.

Good choice. That's probably my other life lesson. And perhaps, everyone's.

The ideas of comparison and being yourself are themes that run through both of my middle grade books, Calli Be Gold (Wendy Lamb Books, 2011) and my new release, The Summer I Saved the World...in 65 Days (Wendy Lamb Books, 2014).

In Calli Be Gold, Calli, the youngest child in a super-achieving "golden" family, struggles with the fact that she's a regular kid and isn't talented at sports like her siblings. She finds out what she's good at when she bonds with an awkward second grade boy in a peer helper program at school. In her own quiet way, Calli stands up to her intense, overbearing dad and makes him understand that talent comes in many forms.


In The Summer I Saved the World...in 65 Days, the main character, Nina Ross, questions whether doing good really makes a difference. She gets inspired from her eighth-grade history teacher's parting words and spends a summer doing secret good deeds in her neighborhood and for her family, despite the fact that she knows her best friend won't understand. Nina is confused and somewhat insecure, unsure of her "group" and where she'll fit in to the overwhelming world of high school.

As the good deeds prompt events she wasn't expecting, Nina has to decide whether or not to stay true to her plan and herself.


Creating and getting to know the characters of Calli and Nina has taught me, as an author, to appreciate the satisfaction in small moments.

While glowing reviews and awards are certainly wonderful, I've come to realize that rewards arrive in many forms, and often the best are the most heartfelt, touching, and personal.

Perhaps it's connecting with a child at a school visit, like the boy who admitted he didn't want to read Calli Be Gold because there was a girl on the cover, but now it's one of his favorite books. Or the email I received from a girl who wrote that Calli "inspires me to be open and kind to everyone. She makes me want to be myself." And the boy who was too shy to come up and have me sign his book at a recent event, and sent his friend to my table instead. When I waved to the boy, his surprised, thankful, light-up-the-room smile was absolutely perfect.

It's these moments when I nod silently to myself and think: these are the real superlatives.



Cynsational Giveaway

Enter to win a signed copy of The Summer I Saved the World...in 65 Days by Michele Weber Hurwitz (Wendy Lamb, 2014) at Cynsations at Blogger. Author sponsored. Eligibility: North America. Enter here.

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