BOOK RECOMMENDATION: SUPERFAIL

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I’m officially in love with this book!

SUPERFAIL:

Laser vision isn’t so hot when you’re cross-eyed, and supersonic flight’s a real downer when motion sickness keeps you grounded.

Twelve-year-old Marshall Preston is a Defective–a person with superhuman abilities that are restricted by some very human setbacks. While other kids are recruited to superhero teams, Marshall’s stuck in seventh grade with a kid who can run at super speed but can’t turn a corner, another with a radioactive peanut allergy that turns him into a swollen Hulk, and a telepath who reads everyone’s thoughts out loud.

Defectives like Marshall aren’t exactly superhero material, but when he uncovers a plot to destroy one of the greatest superhero teams of all time, Marshall and his less-than-super friends set out to prove that just because you’re defective doesn’t mean you can’t save the day.
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Illustrated by a Disney animator, SUPERFAIL has such great visual appeal. It’ll immediately suck in any comic book reader. I couldn’t resist snapping a pic of one of my favorite spreads (love his Vans):

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Also, I love the fact that SUPERFAIL isn’t purely a graphic novel; rather than relying only on conversation bubbles, the book includes paragraphs of text, making it perfect for the reader you’d like to edge closer to non-illustrated books:

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This pic’s a little dark, because I might still read under the covers. 😉

And it comes with an uplifting, feel-good story to boot! Highly recommended for those looking for gift books for young readers. Grab your own copy of SUPERFAIL.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION: THE GREAT CAT NAP

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Humor and intrigue aside, A.M. Bostwick’s penchant for literary description is spectacular.

My favorite passage opens chapter one:

“Outside the double pane window, leaves grew crispy and dry in the cold autumn wind. Their pigment was fading, transforming to crimson, copper, and gold. The wind shook the leaves loose and they fell below the barren branches. It was a beautiful way to die.”

What a tale! What a detective! What a cat! (Yes, cat. I’m a total sucker for animal narrators.)

Grab a copy of Bostwick’s THE GREAT CAT NAP.

TAKING A CHANCE

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I took a few chances on my latest picture book, NOBODY SANG LIKE KATY DID. The book is blend of things that, at first blush, shouldn’t go together:

  1. Poetry and rock ‘n roll: The book itself is a story in verse, and the main character is a singer in her own rock band.
  1. Katydids and singing: Of all the creatures on this earth, katydids are not exactly what you’d consider great singers. To me, their voices sound like creaky screen doors opening over and over! And yet, the main character of NOBODY SANG LIKE KATY DID is, in fact, a katydid.
  1. Kids and formal poetry: Poetry, some think, is stuffy. Or hard. And formal poetry? For young readers? And yet, the book is itself a villanelle, a form most readers don’t encounter until later school years, when they read Thomas’s “Do not go gently into that good night,” arguably the most famous villanelle written.
  1. Photos and illustration: Each page of the book contains watercolor illustrations merged with photographic elements.


The thing is, though, mixing up pieces that seem like they belong to two different worlds is, I think, where absolute magic happens. We see things in a new way. We realize some of the best rock songs are really like three-minute poems (and the repeating lines of the villanelle is like the repeating chorus of a rock song). We realize that for kids who are MG readers, straddling the line between grown-up ideas and younger interests, photos and illustrations can make the perfect combination. We realize that the best singing voices are like Katy’s—not technically perfect, but full of soul. And, most importantly, we realize that finding new ways to make poetry (even formal poetry!) accessible to young readers means that they won’t be intimidated by it as adults. We help foster a lifelong love and appreciation of poetry.

Take a chance—find a new “odd-couple” pairing to put in your own WIP! And check out more about NOBODY SANG LIKE KATY DID at my #SCBWIBookStop page.

New Release: CHRISTMAS AT RUBY’S

Welcome to Ruby’s, where the Christmas spirit is alive and well…

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Ruby’s Place (the classy family-friendly nightspot that once lit the night sky in tiny Sullivan, Missouri) is no more—closed for decades—but that doesn’t keep those who once shared an eggnog or plate of homemade marshmallows from remembering the tinsel-wrapped moments Ruby’s supplied come Christmas.

On a snowy holiday evening, feeling a bit down on her luck, a middle-aged Angela finds herself back at Ruby’s, staring through its foggy, grimy window to remember the Christmases she spent there with her favorite aunt as a child. Could the best Christmas present of all simply be spending one last moment with that special loved one, in a place where memories were born?

At Ruby’s, it seems, the “spirits” are not confined to just the dusty liquors behind the bar, and such a Christmas wish might not be made in vain.

Available as an e-book or paperback.

I wanted to be sure to make the e-book affordable for the holidays; you can snag one for $.99. But I also love the design possibilities of print. The Christmas at Ruby’s paperback features some additional magical, sparkling, holiday  elements that I just can’t put in my e-books (people read on so many devices, I really have to keep e-books as simple as possible in order to ensure they’re readable).

At $6.00, the paperback is still affordable, as well. And you get the benefit of holding the book…to me, there’s something about print that just seems right for the Christmas season. Maybe it’s the old-fashioned-ness of it, which is so much like the tradition-filled holidays. Or maybe it’s just that print seems extra special these days. And the holidays are when we bring out the good china, the nice dresses, the ornaments collected by the family for decades. It’s when we pull out all our sentimental, special, story-filled trinkets. Print books just seem to fit in so nicely with all of that.


I get such joy from writing my holiday tales. And Christmas at Ruby’s has emerged as my favorite of all the holiday tales I’ve written.

I hope you love visiting Ruby’s as well!

WINNIE AND THE TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD HOTELS

In honor of ALL ROADS, my latest release (a mysterious story of family and, yes, dogs), a post about childhood dogs and book vacations:

This is Winnie:

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Actually, her full name was Winnie D. Pooch, and she was my childhood dog (like that name didn’t already totally tip you off).

And she is the reason why we stayed in the nastiest, scariest, weirdest hotels on the planet.

We never boarded her. Not once in 17 years. It honestly never crossed anybody’s mind. She was just always with us. She was in the car when Mom picked me and my brother up from school—or dropped us off in the morning. She went to the grocery store (weather permitting), she went on weekend camping excursions in the RV (which is where she’s standing here), and she was along for the ride on every extended family vacation we ever took. She went to Texas and Fort Gibson, OK and Branson, MO—etc., etc., etc. She was a Maltese, really small (maybe 6 lbs at her heaviest), easy to carry, totally innocent looking, and she was allowed into every single museum or shop we ever went to. Every. Single. One. Once, we took her to an outdoor restaurant in Texas. It was hot as hades, and all we wanted was something to drink. At first, waitstaff was going to kick us out (just couldn’t have a dog in a place where food was being served), but after about thirty seconds, we were getting bowls of water all around.

It wasn’t like she was an angel. She was prone to mad barking fits (once, she tried to “kill” a lifesized concrete buffalo on a trip to Oklahoma). She wouldn’t have known “sit” or “stay” or “c’mere” were ever words that applied to her. She sure knew “go,” though. (As in, “Do you want to go?”)

Always.

Anyway, when we were on the road (sans-RV), back in the ‘80s, we generally ran into dog trouble when it came to finding hotels. Honestly, part of the reason for that was that my dad would never push it when told “no dogs.” He would never explain she was housebroken or wouldn’t bother anyone (as long as there was no concrete wildlife in the room or walls of mirrors—THAT was a disaster, don’t get me started). He never even offered to pay a pet fee / deposit. If someone told him no, that was that. And we were on to the next place down the road. Which was every bit as likely to say no dogs, too.

Where we wound up? Oh, man. Places where headboards fell off, where no one was allowed to walk barefoot on the carpet, where the cleaning crew once left this note for us taped to the bathroom mirror: “THIS PLACE SUCKS!”

Yes, it did.

But the thing is, I remember every single one of those places. I remember every shady character I met at an ice machine. I remember every long-winded story one decidedly wacky guy told me poolside while Winnie dog paddled (actually, Mom said she was just walking on top of the thick pool sludge). We still joke about that housekeeping note and about being sure, in Wentzville, that the stuff on the rug was actually leftover chalk (from a recently deceased body’s chalk outline).

Maybe you do remember the bumps in the road more than you remember the times of smooth sailing. Well—the bumps and how you dealt with it, or the sheer fact that you all got through it. Maybe we all even get hungry for disruptions and surprises working their way into the everyday humdrum—and that’s part of the reason we go on vacation in the first place.

Maybe, too, that’s why we gravitate toward fiction—maybe that’s also a trip, a vacation from the norm.

Maybe, in the end, we most like winding up in the places we least expect.

NEW RELEASE – ALL ROADS

One Thanksgiving.
One family’s devastating story.
One answer they all seek.
Do all roads really lead home?

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Twenty years ago, Louisa’s twin disappeared. Twenty years ago, Jesse entered the foster care system under a mysterious set of circumstances.

Just days before Thanksgiving, the two cross paths, both claiming to own the same dog. Questions and strange coincidences quickly begin to mount.

Is Jesse just another scam artist out to prey on a family’s long-held hopes?

Is Louisa so overly suspicious that she can’t see a miracle staring her in the face?

They’ll never guess who holds the key to it all…

Available now on Amazon as an ebook or paperback.

All Roads is my first book set during Thanksgiving–a slightly mysterious story of love and hope and family.

I so enjoy writing for the holiday season. That cozy feeling that surrounds the holidays–the feeling of magic and the sense that anything’s possible–just bubbles up inside me every time I sit down to write a new holiday tale.

In a few weeks, I’ll be releasing a new Christmas read, which may very well be my favorite Christmas story yet.

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In the meantime, I’ve also put together a print version of my holiday story “Come December” as a stocking stuffer.

Maybe it’s writing the new holiday material, but I’ve actually been in the midst of Christmas shopping myself! My splurge this year’s transferring old family 8mm film to DVD. I can’t wait to see what’s on it…

 

 

Happy Fall, everyone! I hope you fall in love with All Roads

 

 

TEACHING HIGHLIGHT: FAILURE FRIDAY

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Today, I’m joined by Jennifer Mitchell, a second grade teacher at Three Trails Elementary in the Independence Public School District in MO. Jennifer recently posted a few images on Twitter of her “Failure Friday,” which I instantly fell in love with.

Language doesn’t just impact students via the page; it impacts them verbally in their day-to-day lives. “Failure Friday” helps to reinvent the word “failure,” taking the sting out of it, making it a process word rather than a final results word.

I wanted to know more, so Jennifer and I recently had a conversation about all things “Failure”!

HS: Where did the idea come from? How did the whole thing originate?

JM: I would like to take credit for coming up with the idea of Failure Friday, but it was one of my grade level partners [Cara Cahill] that came up with the concept.  I think it was born out of a conversation trying to figure out how to get students to work on their growth mindset in a nonthreatening way.   When she introduced the concept to our grade level team she had already tried it with her class.

HS: Tell us about some of the most memorable activities.

IMG_2567JM: One of my favorite activities was an art lesson from last year, all of the students created “Max” from the Secret Life of Pets.  The drawings were so amazing that I went out that evening and bought 20 frames and framed all of them!  When they came in the next day it was amazing to see the excitement on their faces.  They were proudly displayed in my room for a couple of months and then I gave them to parents during conferences.

One of the most challenging Failure Friday activities was trying to stack 3 golf balls on top of each other— free standing.  It could have been a frustrating activity, but instead students started using strategies that they saw were working for other students.  They also became great “cheerleaders” for each other.

The students also loved the task of taking an index card and cutting it to make it large enough to fit your body through, the catch was that it had to remain attached.

Playing kickball with their non-dominant foot was also a crowd pleaser 🙂

(Once we started having students lead sessions those were probably the biggest hit though : ) ).

HS: You’ve indicated that one of the most exciting parts of Failure Friday is kids coming up with ideas themselves (karate, origami, making bookmarks). Have you noticed kids changing a bit as you do more with Failure Friday? Are they getting more receptive, braver, etc.?

JM:  The answer is a BIG YES!  Failure Friday has been such a powerful tool to help kids get out of their comfort zone and to feel safe to “fail.”  Today was the 15th day of our school year and with only having two Failure Fridays so far I have been amazed at the connections they are making with Failure Friday and when things get hard academically.

I think before Failure Friday language and discussions of growth mindset students would have shut down when an assignment got hard.  I think now they have to tools to not only advocate for themselves when things get hard, but they also have the language and understanding to support each other.

HS: I think it’s so important that the teachers participate. What’s the farthest out of your own comfort zone you’ve been on a FF?

image5JM:  Hands down any of the Failure Friday activities that include art or drawing.  As a teacher I wish with all of my heart I had been granted the talent of being artistic, but that wasn’t in the cards for me.  I have explained to the students that drawing makes me feel uncomfortable and embarrassed sometimes— and how I wish I was more talented at it.

That leads to the conversation that if I never attempt drawing/art I will never get better— SOOOO I participate sharing my uneasiness at times.  I think it is important for students to know that adults get nervous about things just like students!

HS: Has Failure Friday had an impact on your overall classroom dynamic? (And / or: Do you find that it’s had an impact on you? Do you find yourself trying new lesson plans or classroom activities? Do you even find yourself more willing to try new activities on your own, outside of the classroom?)

JM: Failure Friday has had an impact on the classroom dynamic positively, I feel like the students are more supportive of each other, have more empathy and feel more like a family/ community.  It is no longer embarrassing to fail at something, we now have the tools and language to support others in helping them grow to get better.

I do think I have been more willing to try new things because of Failure Friday.  Last year as a grade level we embraced the Cardboard Challenge— that is a whole other topic (LOL).   I will say that it brought out such a creative side of our students!  We also do a lot more STEM activities as a grade level which lead very nicely into Failure Friday ideas/ challenges too.  The good news is that we are in a school that supports the teachers trying new things with our students and they also promote things like FF.

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Failure Friday has changed my mindset as an adult, and I do believe I am more willing to try new things.  I feel like if I ask my students to have a growth mindset I need to have one too.  I think I was the student that was shy and embarrassed to try new things when I was in elementary school and I think feeling supported to try new things would have helped me get out of my comfort zone a little earlier than I probably did.  By nature I tend not to be a risk taker and I need someone and or the mindset to push me sometimes.  I think kids have the false notion they have to be good/ perfect at things the first thing they try them and I want my students to know that isn’t reality.

HS: Do you have any tips for teachers looking to implement a Failure Friday?

JM: I think just building the background knowledge of growth mindset and making sure students are truly understanding what “Failure Friday” means.  I also think explaining it to parents helps too so they can support the concept. For me the parent support has been amazing!

HS: How would you like to see your Failure Friday grow or change?

JM: I would like to have more of my students involved in leading sessions this year.  It was amazing to see how empowered students were to share the skills they are good at with other students last year.  Some of my most introverted students can become extroverts when they are able to share something they are successful at.

It also helps you as the teacher get to know your students strengths/ interests outside of school.  This year I have already talked to one of my students about leading a session in sign language, I can’t wait for her to be able to teach me!

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You can keep up with Jennifer Mitchell (and the rest of the Three Trails #dreamteam, who all participate in Failure Friday!) and get in on the Failure Friday chat via Twitter: @jenmitchell3TE