Five on Friday: Festivals, Events and Blogs, Oh my!

1. Maine Festival of the Book

The Maine Festival of the Book is a literary extravaganza taking place tomorrow, March 31st. Workshops, presentations and readings are scheduled throughout the day and take place at various USM locations including the Abromoson Center and Glickman Library. Children’s and Young Adult authors and illustrators including Jeannie Brett, Anne Sibley O’Brien, Brenda Reeves Sturgis, Lynne Plourde, Reza Jalali, Maria Testa and others will be present.Click here for a complete schedule and specifics!


If you liked my review of CITIZEN SCIENTIST by Loree Griffin Burns, you’ll probably love Anastasia Suen’s blog hosting creation Nonfiction Monday. Different bloggers agree to host a round of Nonfiction Reviews from blogs all over the kidlitosphere. Take a look!

3. We are on the cusp of April National Poetry Month! I hope you have events in your area. Here in Brunswick, I’m one of the organizers of Poem in Your Pocket Day on Thursday, April 26th. Please take a look at our Poem In Your Pocket-Brunswick Facebook page for events throughout the last week of April. It’s also a great place to find links to just the right poem to fit your mood. We’ll be putting up posters next week and distributing stickers to local businesses and libraries over school vacation. Look for them!

4. Speaking of poetry…and blogs

At Jama’s Alphabet Soup, she has a wonderful round up of Poetry events all over the kidlitosphere here (click on image):

and a list of all the Poetry Friday Hosts here (click on image):

If you haven’t seen allaboutlemon, it’s a blog where the creativity just flows. Every 3rd Saturday, the author invites people to write haikus inspired by her collaged photo. For the Love of Haiku

Here’s mine:

Middle class captive
Blind to horrors far away
Our valley is lush

And here’s the picture:

Wild, right?

5. What’s coming up on Book Review Wednesdays? I’ve got a bunch of nonfiction and poetry that I’ll be sharing round-up style throughout April. Some new, some not as shiny but just as precious. Hope to see you here all month long.

Book Review Wednesday: Citizen Scientists

By Loree Griffin Burns
Henry Holt and Company, 80 pages
ISBN 9780805090628

Some books make me want to stand on a chair in the middle of my local independent book store and shout, “You have got to get your kid this book!” It is rare that a nonfiction book would ignite this kind of passion but CITIZEN SCIENTIST: BE A PART OF SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERY FROM YOUR OWN BACKYARD is rare. Loree Griffin Burns manages to offer so much in a single volume that the book itself becomes a discovery.

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The first discovery comes in the form of citizen science projects. The book is a year-long journey of four such projects– one for each season. The book begins in the autumn with monarch butterfly tagging, moves into bird counting in the winter, frog counting in the spring, and ladybug counting in the summer.

Each section is further divided and starts with a 2nd person narrative nonfiction explanation of the project. The use of the 2nd person places the reader smack dab in the moment of discovery. Keep reading and find out more about the science behind the project. Meet the scientists who oversee the projects and get a sneak peak at their instruments and labs. Next, meet actual young citizen scientist who are making a difference in the study of the featured organisms. Burns includes a check list to help children prepare for their study of the natural world, a quiz to check reader knowledge, diagrams of each critter, maps, and fabulous photos with thoughtful captions. The back matter includes a glossary, an index, and a resource page of field guides, internet resources, and other citizen science projects. (Imagine me breathless on my chair. I am.)

Since all learning is connected, readers get a dose of geography (migration paths) and economics (families who are paid for finding monarch tags in the central Mexican mountains where they live) with their science. Like the best educators, Loree Griffin Burns’ unique voice is comforting and empowering. She inspires children and their families to “contribute to understanding and improving our world.” Civics too!

This is one of the most thoughtfully designed nonfiction books that I’ve seen. Each season/project is color coded. The designer uses halftones of that color as the background for the 2nd person narrative then continues the section with white background and a ribbon edge of a matching hue. A reader can easily turn to the season they want by looking at the edges of the closed book. The fonts are playful and unique and carefully chosen elements set off the page numbers.

I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the clear and well-composed photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz. The photos work so seemlessly with the text that there is a wonderful sense of balance between the writing, photos, and design.

With this book, Loree Griffin Burns relates the excitement and wonder of earnest observation of our natural world. She quotes Dr. Orley “Chip” Taylor who oversees the printing, distribution, and recovery of monarch butterfly tags, “If you are interested in conserving a particular organism you have to understand it. You have to understand every little aspect of its biology.” In CITIZEN SCIENTIST, Burns has managed to put together a well-researched and wonderfully written book that invites action on the part of all young citizen scientist.

Okay. I’m getting of the chair and putting it away.

Member Monday: What’s new at

Things have been busy here at revision central which means I give more time to my WIP and less time to all things social networking. Today, a few links from the kidlitosphere to keep you procrastinators busy, then we can both get back to work!

1. Planning a trip to New York and Book Expo America? The Expo takes place June 4-7, 2012 and includes a concurrent conference of Book Bloggers. SCBWI members get a discounted rate. Check out the info here.

2. SCBWI has an amazing list of directories to help members navigate the children’s book industry: freelance editors, agents, reviewers, art councils, classes… The list goes on. The current Agent Directory is being revised as I type. If you are an agent, or an agented writer/illustrator, take a look at the Directory to check the listings. If you have new information, help SCBWI update the publication by sending corrections to with the subject line “Agent Directory Update.”

3. We all need a little pick me up from time to time. Specifically, at that time when you are slogging through the same manuscript… okay, chapter… okay, sentence for the millionth time. That is exactly the time when reading about someone else, who was right where you are now, and rose above it to achieve success– makes all the difference. SCBWI is gathering success stories and they’d like to hear yours. Send your story to

4. If you are planning to attend the SCBWI International Summer Conference in Los Angeles, the registration date is right around the corner. Yes– Registration opens on April, 18th 2012 at 10 am PDT The link on the website is NOT LIVE yet (3 weeks to go) but I know that those at HQ are planning some amazing things for the August 3-6 conference. I went last year and have to say that the LA conference is so much fun: the dancing, the friends, the speakers and the workshops. Take a look if you missed my posts from the conference.

Okay. That’s it for now folks. Stop by next Monday for an interview with NESCBWI Conference Co-Director, Joyce Johnson!

Five on Friday: Early Spring

1. Today I’m excited to attend the Maine Poetry Out Loud finals. Over 8,000 high school students representing schools from all over Maine started competing many months ago, and now there are only ten. The winner, the runner up and Cumberland County finalists will be invited to participate in the Brunswick, Poem in Your Pocket afternoon event at The Little Dog Café on Tuesday, April 24th.

2. El Niño? La Niña? Global warming? Whatever it was, I was thrilled to don my short-shorts and tshirt to enjoy the 80 degree weather in Maine this week. Look!

Daffodils in March! Crazy, but I’m not complaining.

3. Beautiful weather = Anna outside training. I got in two longer bike rides this week and a long walk with a friend at Pinelands. Today, I’m in the pool again doing laps. Nevertheless, I’m feeling good about the upcoming UNE Nor’Easter. At first, I thought I’d just do it as an early training exercise, but now I feel as if I might beat some of my previous times. We’ll see.

4. Despite the beautiful weather, and my training, this week has been extremely productive. Every day I’ve been forcing myself inside to chip away at the revision of my WIP. I’m thrilled to report that the end is near. (26 pages away) I’ll be sending it to first readers next week– meeting my self-imposed April 1 deadline. My momentum is slowed only by my own fears.  Will my generous first readers get half way through and decide that my writing sucks? That the story is trite? The characters two dimensional? I can only hope that they have (as one of them told me this week) “a sharp pencil and a soft heart.”

5. So with all that productivity something has to slip, right? My kitchen is a total mess and we’ve eaten out about three times in the last seven days. The messy kitchen is actually out of character for me. Even if the rest of the house is a pit, my kitchen is usually clean. I just haven’t been able to rise to the challenge. I’m trying to give myself a pass on the guilt. It will get done. I have food in the freezer. Yesterday at Pinelands, I got fresh veggies. Salmon with zucchini and brussel sprouts are on the menu tonight. What’s for dinner in your house?

Have a good weekend! On Member Monday– Looking forward to the NESCBWI spring conference. An interview with Joyce Johnson, conference co-director

Book Review Wednesday: Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen

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Delacorte Books for Young Readers
March 13, 2012, 288 Pages
ISBN: 978-0385740524

Donna Gephart won the 2009 SCBWI Sid Fleischman Humor award for her debut novel AS IF BEING 12-3/4 ISN’T BAD ENOUGH, MY MOTHER IS RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT! In OLIVIA BEAN TRIVIA QUEEN, Gephart’s third novel, the author known for her humor does not disappoint.

Olivia Bean has some very clear cut goals. She wants to be better at geography. She wants her father’s approval. She wants a friend. Olivia is sure that the path to her goals is to be a contestant on kid’s week of the game show Jeopardy!. This course of action is not far fetched. All the Bean’s are trivia crazy from Olivia, to her kindergarten brother Charlie, to her absent father. In fact, the bits of trivia that pop up throughout Olivia’s day successfully develop her character and keep the story moving forward.

Gephart creates many true-to-life characters who are full of faults. Perhaps the most flawed is Olivia’s father. An obsessive card player and gambler, he left Olivia’s mother and moved West with Olivia’s best friend’s mother. Just this is enough to turn a reader’s stomach, but Gephart doesn’t stop there. This father schedules calls with his kids and doesn’t follow through. He brushes Olivia off when she needs his support, and he shames her about the challenges she has with geography. Still, Olivia loves him.

Charlie, a five year old who hardly remembers his father, is just as enamored of trivia as Olivia but he prefers the gross variety. If you want to know how many bacteria there are in a square inch of armpit, or why a flamingo pees on its own leg, Charlie Bean can tell you that. Charlie is a constant source of comic relief in this sometimes very serious story. Gephart writes kindergarteners well and the dialogue between Charlie and Olivia is authentic, funny, and often heart warming.

Olivia lives with her journalist mother and almost step-dad Neil. While both are supportive and attentive, Olivia misses her father. She also misses being her mother’s confidant– a relationship that often occurs between a single parent and the oldest child. As the family faces money issues, Olivia matures and comes to terms with the fact that Neil is Mom’s new main source of support.

The book is written in first person present tense. This point of view transmits a sense of urgency– not only the reader, but also the narrator, is unaware of what comes next. Sometimes, the present tense can seem self-conscious and jars the reader out of the story. This was the case in OLIVIA BEAN. The benefit of this technique is that neither readers nor Olivia know if she will make it onto or win Jeopardy!. However, a past tense telling would have been just as exciting and more in keeping with the middle grade genre.

There are subtle chuckles tucked throughout OLIVIA BEAN TRIVIA QUEEN as well as a few laugh out loud moments. In this fast paced story for middle graders, the humor is a successful vehicle for more serious and skillfully handled coming of age issues.

Five on Friday: PI Day edition

1. We just got back from an elementary school “Ensemble and Solo” concert. It’s always great to be in a school setting and just watch kids interacting. There’s the anticipation of going on stage, the side conversations (some mouthed across the gym with accompanied hand motions and facial contortions), and the performances.  I was so impressed by how brave all the kids were.

2. If you missed it, Wednesday, March 14th was PI day. That’s right 3/14…3.14. Young son is a huge fan of PI. He has a PI t-shirt and can recite PI to 26 digits. We had a Geektastic PI celebration with all round food: hamburgers, applesauce in round containers, and smiley fries (the fact that I got them shows what a special event this was). For dessert we made NOT one BUT two pies. One chocolate, peanut butter pie and one apple pie with walnut crumb topping. We invited over our wonderful new neighbors over to help us eat all the sweet treats and I gave a “what is PI anyway”- demonstration. It was an all-around (ugh) good time!

3. I submitted two book review queries this week and I’m working on some poetry for submission. It feels good to be finally getting something off my desk even if it isn’t my WIP. Sometimes I just need smaller projects to work on. A revision is so much easier to handle when the entire word count fits on a single page.

4. Thanks to my VCFA friends, I have made a bit of progress on my WIP revision. I already have a few work periods scheduled next week and feel confident that I will be productive.

5. I bit the bullet this week and plunked down the money for the July VCFA mini-rez. I’ll get to see my dear friends, and get a dose of inspiration in the form of fabulous faculty.

How was your week?

Book Review Wednesday: The Girl Who Could Silence The Wind

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Sonia Ocampo’s birth coincided with a terrible storm, but as soon as she was born, the winds went away leaving her family and the village to believe that she had a direct line to God. Her miraculous ability to silence the wind is both her blessing and her curse. In “The Girl Who Could Silence the Wind,” as in her middle grade novel, “Milagros” (Candlewick, 2008), Meg Medina, who has written for adults and children for 15 years, explores the power and pitfalls of the miracle.

At sixteen, Sonia has taken on the maladies, prayers, and dreams of the entire village. She is weighed down by milagros (tiny hand-forged prayer charms) which she wears on a shawl. While many people in Sonia’s fictional mining village make the journey North to pursue economic opportunity, Sonia is the anchor of faith for the village and is unable to explore her own dreams.

Sonia’s village might be in Mexico or Central America but the reader is often unsure. With lyrical writing, Medina creates a fictional world which skirts the edges of reality and magic. The reader is covered in the dust of the mountains, he can hear the promising whistle of the train that runs to the capital, and feel the weight of the milagros on Sonia’s shawl.

The range of female characters in the book is especially compelling. Sonia’s Tia Neli is strong and street smart. Sonia’s mother, while quiet, has a silent strength about her. Conchita Fo, the bar mistress is a wonderful mix of beauty and beast.

Sonia is the strongest of all. Throughout the book she struggles with her faith, with the lack of opportunities in her village, with love and with loyalty. Sonia journeys from her small mountain village to the capital city but ends up using knowledge from her village life and family to finally her solve her problems.  Intelligent, ethical, and empathetic, Sonia, who was born with the burden of a miracle, takes back her life and destiny.

Like Dorothy in the Wizard of OZ, Sonia survives a storm, meets characters who challenge her values, journeys far away and back again only to learn there’s no place like home.

Member Monday: Spring Cleaning

Perhaps it is because we lost an hour this weekend, but I’m only just getting to my computer today and it is 9:40 at night. I have to admit that when the sun comes out, and warms the Earth (it was 60 degrees here in Maine today) it becomes harder and harder to put butt in chair.

Nevertheless, we all have to move forward with our work despite the weather. Spring does put me in a clean up mode. This weekend I hosted my book club which resulted in an epic “sh*t-out” session. For the moment, I have clean kitchen counters that look like this…

Anything that stayed, got moved to my office though so now it’s time for some office organization. Whether you have an actual office space or desk in the corner of another room, it is good to have some sense of order, even if it is an order only you understand.

Here are ten quick tips to help you out with your spring cleaning whether you are a piler or a filer:

1. I tend to be a piler but piles take up a lot of space on my writing desk. Recently, I picked  up these binder clips at the clearance shelf of Staples.

(What writer doesn’t love office supplies?)
As I clean, I plan to clip these babies onto my piles and hang them on the wall with easy to remove hooks.

2. I find that my bulletin board gets covered in layers of paper. Strips of cork attached to the wall gives me space to hang plot charts and illustration sequences. 

3. I have a dedicated book shelf for books that I’ve borrowed from the library or from friends. That way the loaned books don’t get mixed in with my books. The library books move from the shelf in my office to a tote that I keep in my mudroom. This way, I can grab the bag and go. (Finding my kid’s library books is another question.)

4. I’m lucky to have a skinny but longish space for my office. I have a corner desk for my computer then I have another desk that I try to keep clean for journaling by hand, correspondence, bill paying, editing and revision. I still need to feel the pen in my hand from time to time.

5. My printers are on a wire shelving unit that also holds my paper. I keep a recycling bin and ink and toner in bins under the unit. I can easily grab already printed paper for quick drafts so that I’m reducing paper use.

6. I have a basket on my writing desk that holds all of my bills. Twice a month I do as much as I can online then write checks. (Don’t ask me about taxes. My only advice there is hire an accountant. Best thing we ever did.)

7. My family teases me incessantly about my love of tote bags but they help keep me organized. In addition to the library tote, I also have a tote with the folders (my handouts and syllabus in one and a second for collecting work that needs to be graded) and books I need to take to the college class I teach.

8. When I’m at conferences, I tend to collect a lot of business cards and illustrator postcards. I try to write a little something to remind me of the interaction I had with each person then I slip them into plastic baseball card protectors. If I was really good, I’d have specific separate and divided sections of the binder for industry professionals (agents/editors), authors, illustrators, and other Regional Advisors.

9. Google Calendar is my lifesaver. I hardly do anything without checking the calendar and the fact that I can sync my iPhone and my calendar is a lifesaver. Each kid has his own color for his events, I have school calendar info on there, I even use it as an editorial calendar for my blog– noting book release dates and when I hope to post reviews.

10. I’ve never been able to keep my To Be Read list as well as I do with Goodreads. Again, I can access the list on the go, with the Goodreads App, when I’m at the library or indie book store. This helps with getting books that are on my list, as well as adding to my list. (And adding, and adding.)

Still, projects take over my life and my office, and I’m okay with that. There’s a sense of satisfaction in cleaning it all up and starting over again. Ahh… spring! What tips do you have to stay organized. Please share in the comments!

How are you?

I won’t lie. I like a little sympathy. Go ahead and give me a pat on the back, a hug, an invitation to dinner or lunch. If you are really feeling generous, ask to take my kids for a couple of hours, the day, a week. Whatever you do- don’t ask me how I am. The questioner can mean so many things that I have to wonder: Do you really want the answer?

Do you want to know the stats on my laundry pile, my dirty dishes, the volume of dog hair in the corners of the room? Do you want the low down on the cost of four new tires and two new sets of brakes? How bout my rant about the military system called DEERS which is supposed to keep track of the fact that my children and I exist and are entitled to health care but didn’t– so now I have to spend a day of my life trying to convince them that we do and that they should indeed pay for that ER trip a month ago.

Probably not. You want to know about my emotional state. Here’s the thing… if I stop running this crazy deployment race long enough to think about my emotional state, I will cry and I know you don’t want that.

Instead, I’ll tell you this:

  • My first triathlon is on April 15th. I’m training three days a week now, which is not enough but it’s what I can do.
  • Poem in Your Pocket Day is at the end of April, things are coming together but I’m finding it hard to get my tasks done so I feel as if I’m letting down the other organizers.
  • I’ve set a March 15th deadline for the revision of my WIP but I don’t think I’ll make that either.
  • Teaching is going well. My adult students turn in their first 500 word essay on Tuesday. If they come. If they do the work.
  • RA work takes a lot of time and would take a lot more if I could give it. I’m trying to pull together a couple of ideas for Northern New England for the summer. The conference is fast approaching.
  • I’m trying to figure out summer camp schedules so that both kids are away at the same time and I can get some respite.
  • With the help of the amazing people at AAA Northern New England, I’ve planned a two week trip to meet my husband in Florence and Tuscany in August.
  • The kids are definitely sad, but they are troopers like me. I see that more and more these days.
  • The swim season is over. Hallelujah! The drive and conflicting schedules between kids was a source of constant stress.
  • Baseball season is starting. Egads.
  • My children are wonderful musicians which is a source of constant pride.
  • We are all healthy and safe and that is what matters.
  • I saw my first robin yesterday and feel confident that spring will indeed come.

How are you?

Book Review Wednesday: Wonder by R.J. Palacio

WONDER (Random House)
by R.J. Palacio

As with most good stories, WONDER, R.J. Palacio’s debut novel for middle grade readers, begins on a day when something different happens. August’s mother asks him to try going to school.

A genetic anomaly, August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that required endless surgeries and kept him out of mainstream education. Auggie has experienced the cruelty of others in his Northern New Jersey neighborhood first hand (on the playground, at the ice cream store). Never the less, he agrees to attend the private Beecher Prep middle school.

The wondrous story of Auggie’s 5th grade year first includes all the friendship angst, cafeteria jockeying, educator’s wisdom, school projects, and field trips you’d expect in an odd-man-out, middle-school novel with two interesting exceptions.

First, Auggie’s physical appearance is pretty startling. Of course, the reader can’t see Auggie but that doesn’t matter. As Auggie states at the onset of the novel, “I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.” Despite this, the reader falls in love with and roots for Auggie from the start. R.J. Palacio writes Auggie as smart, funny, unendingly patient with his new friends, incredibly forgiving of his family. He is more mature than all around him because he has learned from the mistakes of others and is a product of his loving and supportive family. Perhaps Auggie is too-good-to-be-true and he’s not the only one.

Dad makes everyone laugh, Mom takes care of everyone, older sister Via feels jealous of all the attention Auggie has gotten but then knows enough to feel guilty about it. Via’s new boyfriend gets the lead in the school play. Even Via’s out-of-favor best friend gives up something very important to her just to be generous. In other words, with the characters in WONDER, even their flaws are perfect.

Second, R. J. Palacio tells the story in alternating first person. Not only Auggie, but also his sister Vi, his new friends Summer, and Jack, and his sister’s best friend each have a hand in telling the story. Instead of each narrator moving the story forward, they each retell a preceding portion of the story and then move on. The benefit of this structure is that the reader sees Auggie from the perspective of those around him. However, this two steps forward, one step back pacing can be frustrating, especially when the new point of view doesn’t add enough new information to the replayed scenes.

R.J. Palacio writes a happily refreshing family in the Pullmans. Loving and kind, playful and supportive, this family is one with which many readers will identify. Middle grade and Young Adult readers are all too used to reading about families with dead-mothers, substance-addicted or absent fathers, and snarky siblings. The Pullmans are a welcomed change.

In all, WONDER is a positive addition to the literature about the disability experience. F.J. Palacio’s story of acceptance, friendship, and kindness will carry the reader through laughter and tears and open their eyes to a life where something different happens.