Books! The Book of Blood and Shadow/Stuck in Neutral

In my current work-in-progress, a librarian gives the main character two books every time she visits: one new one and one older one. I thought I could recommend the same!


The Book of Blood and Shadow by Robin Wasserman, Knopf, 2012

             I love good first lines, and this book has a great one:

I should probably start with the blood. (p. 3)

             And I love mystery and suspense. And international intrigue. Throw in a little love story and great writing and I’ll read it more than once. That’s how I feel about this book. I read it the first time in big gulps—faster than I’ve read anything recently because I couldn’t stop. I can’t wait to read it again.

Nora Kane is a high school student in a private school. She and her friends are translating old Latin manuscripts with a professor at the local college when her best friend Chris is killed, his girlfriend Adriane who witnesses the murder stops speaking or responding, and Nora’s boyfriend Max disappears and is believed to be the murderer. Nora feels the ancient manuscripts hold the key and convinces Adriane to help her translate and follow the clues in them. Travel, intrigue, secret societies, fake cousins, and danger keep you turning the pages of this amazing, smart novel.


Stuck in Neutral by Terry Trueman, HarperTeen, 2001

 I recently received a note from a friend asking about this book because a school district near her was trying to ban it from being read in 7th and 8th grade. First, I have to say I don’t think there needs to be censoring of what people read. If readers are not ready for the issues/language/material in the book they are reading, they will stop reading. Or they will take in what they’re able to take in and be satisfied with that. When you read a book at different times in your life, you will respond to it differently and you’ll understand it differently.

I read the letters from the people taking the issue to the school board and the letters from people answering their concerns. It’s hard to know exactly what the agenda of the group was. I think sometimes it’s hard for people to know for sure what it is they object to when a book touches a nerve. This group mentioned strong language (swearing), euthanasia, and murder as reasons middle school readers shouldn’t be reading it.

Sadly, middle school readers can’t be protected from any of these things. They see the news on TV or the Internet. They read newspapers. They watch movies and television shows. They’re around people. But, I’ve found that middle school students are among the most thoughtful and compassionate people there are. Reading about these issues lets them look at other people differently and think about why people behave the way they do.

Stuck in Neutral is narrated by Shawn, a teen confined to a wheelchair by severe cerebral palsy. He can’t do anything for himself or communicate with anyone. But, trapped inside his non-functioning body is a smart boy and he tells about the world as he sees it. He’s worried that his father wants to kill him because Shawn must be suffering. And Shawn can’t tell him that’s not true. This book explores what it might be like to be trapped inside a body that doesn’t work.

 Let me know if you read either of these and what you think! What would you recommend for me?

New England SCBWI Conference

Jo Knowles and my workshop (“Writing Camp for Adults”) at the conference went very well. Our campers arrived and were treated to bug juice and s’mores and then we did exercises that have been particularly successful at writing camp. People shared some excellent writing and seemed to get lots of ideas. Many people stopped us afterwards to say how much fun they had. We hope they fill out the evaluations!

Saturday morning Sara Zarr gave a keynote that connected a Frog and Toad book with what it’s like to be a writer. It was excellent. She showed us through the story how it’s good to have a plan but be flexible, and how if things are not going as planned, it doesn’t mean you’re failing. It was a great way to look both at life as a writer and at a character’s life.

At lunchtime, Kate Messner gave a talk about what it was like to speak at the TED talks along with her talk about creating worlds. She has so much faith in kids which came through in every part of her talk. Check out her new website for ideas of how kids can get involved in the world right now.

I attended three workshops. The first was a panel on author/agent relationships and covered the usual questions. I went to that because I’d like to be on a similar panel someday. The next was a panel about quiet novels which I attended because my VC crit group partner, Erin Moulton was on it. She (and the others on the panel) did a great job presenting and answering questions about quiet novels. The workshop “Add Depth and Emotion to Your YA Novel” given by Jo Knowles and Sarah Darer Littman got people exploring and writing about a sensory image or object from their childhood, but turning it into fiction. I got a new scene for my work-in-progress from that workshop. And, finally, I attended Cinda Williams Chima’s workshop on “Building Believable Magical Worlds” where I jotted down lots of questions to answer as I create worlds based in reality.

The best thing about the conference is the chance to spend time with lots of other writers, editors, agents, etc. I loved the meals where I was able to talk to old friends and make new ones. Evenings found people moving from one cluster to another, talking, talking, talking about writing and books. I talked with people on the stairs, in line at registration, in the elevators, everywhere. It was a great weekend!

Writing Camp

For two weeks every summer, my teaching partner Rick S. and writing partner Jo Knowles and I run a writing day camp for students in grades 7-12. The camp meets from 9-12 Monday through Friday for 9 days and finishes with a reading for parents and guests on the last day.

I look forward to these two weeks for lots of reasons.

  • former students—I’m glad to see them again.
  • repeat campers—people I’ve gotten to know through camp. It’s exciting to see their writing grow and change each year.
  • fun—spending time with 20+ teens who are excited to write, try all kinds of exercises, and read to each other is exhilarating.
  • food—Rick provides a great variety (dill pickles with your morning bagel, anyone?) Writing chat around the food table is always fun to hear.
  • writing—We start with a quick prompt, then a longer exercise followed by free writing, and finish up with a reading. I love the surprises—mine and the campers’—of writing just for fun. You never know what you’ll come up with. I’ve had ideas for whole novels born of these moments.

I also love that we get campers from several different school districts and from all different grades—and that they tend to keep in touch with each other through the year. I would have loved a camp like this when I was their age. I would have loved knowing there were other people around who liked to write as much as I did.

This year’s camp runs from July 3-11. Let me know if you want more information!


The Vermont Novel Writing Retreat was terrific! I loved spending the weekend with authors Holly Black and Coe Booth and editor Alvina Ling. They were excellent presenters and fun to be with as well! I enjoyed getting to know the participants. I feel like I have many more friends in the writing community.

I’m always surprised by that, but it always happens. I remember the first conference I ever attended—the New England Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators regional conference about 15 years ago. Somehow, I convinced myself to go. I think I had decided that if I ever really wanted to write, I needed to move forward. I needed to try new things.

I remember walking into the bustling lobby of the hotel where people were getting their conference materials and greeting each other. I didn’t know anyone. But I picked up snippets of conversation around me—snippets of talk about books and writing and authors—and knew I had found my people. I walked through that whole first conference in awe.

I’ve been there every year since. Now when I arrive, I run into people who have become my friends, people I stay connected with throughout the year. It’s a reunion of sorts and a chance to connect in person for writing which is such a solitary activity.

In two weeks the NESCBWI conference happens in Springfield, MA. This year, for the first time, I’m presenting a workshop with my friend and writing partner Jo Knowles. I know there will be first time attendees wandering around the same way I did that first conference long ago.

I can’t wait to meet them!

New Books

Finally, some of the books I’ve been waiting for have shown up in the bookstore! You might not be able to get these at your library yet, but request them. If you can’t wait, visit your bookstore.


        Eye of the Storm by Kate Messner

I love all of Kate’s books. She has great historical fiction in Spitfire which is about a Revolutionary War battle on Lake Champlain. She writes wonderful realistic fiction: The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z about a girl doing a leaf project and dealing with her grandmother’s beginning Alzheimer’s, and Sugar and Ice about competitive figure skating, sugaring, and friendship. And now she has a terrific, edge-of-your-seat science fiction, Eye of the Storm, about a future where people live inside weather-controlled areas, and scientists use a machine to control dangerous storms. There’s mystery, wild out-of-control storms, danger, and a little nudge to think about what our changing weather means–and what it could lead to. I highly recommend this book!


     Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen

Most people are at least somewhat familiar with Robin Hood stories. In this one, Will Scarlet is actually Scarlet, a girl in Robin’s band made up of the other familiar characters all about age nineteen. Great chases, acrobatics, knife-throwing, and danger follow the band as they participate in their familiar escapades. And then there’s the problem of love interest—whom will Scarlett choose, and who wants to choose Scarlet. I’m just over halfway through this one and enjoying it!

Anaphora*, anyone?

I woke up this morning to snow and canceled schools and an email from a teacher friend lamenting an incorrect definition for metaphors she found on a writing site.

I agree with her that writing sites should be careful about the grammar in the tips section. And then my mind switched back to a blog post I read last fall on Query Tracker about rhetorical devices in writing. I remember reading it and finally having names for some of the style choices I make and read in books I love.

In school we learn/teach about the most common of these. We discuss simile and metaphor, alliteration, conjunctions, and commas in lists. But I had never heard of anadiplosis, anaphora, or asyndeton which I use all the time. How about epizeuxis? Or polysyndeton? Or zeugma?

Don’t let these fancy names scare you! I’m sure you’ve read them at one time or another. You might have even wondered whether the author was breaking the rules of grammar.

Take a look at this blog post on Query Tracker. (If you write, you might like to follow them. They have many interesting and helpful posts.) I especially love that all of the examples are from The Hunger Games!

If this whets your appetite for more figures of speech, check out the link to the whole dictionary.

Happy reading!


*Anaphora: The repetition of a word or a phrase at the beginning of three or more sentences.

Reading Vacation

Now that I’m not teaching every day, my life doesn’t revolve around school vacation weeks quite as much as it once did. As a consultant, I work in four different districts. Three of them are on vacation this week and one is off next week. That means I’m only working a little this week.

However, my writing schedule stays the same and I don’t seem to find whole days for a reading vacation the way I once did. I loved those days when I could fall into the world of a book and only emerge for food. I loved making a pile of the books I’d read and figuring out an order for them for my week of vacation.

So, even though I’m not on “vacation” this week, I’ve decided I need a reading vacation—at least an afternoon for it—and I’ve decided that this afternoon is it. I have a perfect book: Robin Wasserman’s upcoming The Book of Blood and Shadow
which I was lucky enough to get as an advance reader’s copy (thanks, Trish!). It’s a mystery with murder and history and Latin and amazing characters and writing. It’s been all I can do not to sit and devour the whole thing in one big 400+ page gulp. But this afternoon, I’m going to allow myself to do just that. I can’t wait.

My copy says the actual book will be released April 10. I have mine ordered already. Order yours! Don’t miss this one!

And take a reading vacation someday soon! Tell me what you read on your “vacation”!

March Madness

I know it’s only February, but one thing I look forward to every year is School Library Journal’s Battle of the Books which is scheduled to happen roughly the same time as basketball’s March Madness. BoB is a 16 book battle, with a judge responsible for each round and much witty discussion about books. The contest is set up on a chart that looks like the basketball March Madness form.

In school last year, I made a large form for my bulletin board and hung it in the hallway right across from a basketball form. Anyone who wanted to participate filled out brackets before the contest started and the librarian displayed the books in the library along with the write-ups about each.

Last week SLJ announced the sixteen books that will be competing this year. You can find the list here:

This is a fun contest all in fun. The judges write-ups are great to read. I loved reading them to my classes to show students how you can talk passionately about books and to encourage them to read the contenders.

I’m on my 5th book of the 12 right now. How many have you read?

The Winners Are…

Newbery Award



Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos  

   I love all of Jack Gantos’s other books, so I can’t wait to read this one—as soon as I can find a copy!


  Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

This is the only one of the winners I read before the awards! Short novel in verse.

  Breaking Stalin’s Nose Eugene Yelchin

   I had never even heard of this one before the awards.



Printz Award


Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley   

I’d seen and been intrigued by the cover of this, but it hadn’t made it to my to-read pile yet. It certainly has now!


   Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler

   I thumbed through this at the bookstore a week ago. It looks interesting. Heavily illustrated with heavy paper, it’s a strikingly beautiful book. Daniel Handler is Lemony Snicket.

   The Returning by Christine Hinwood

Never heard of this book or author–

   Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey

Or this one!


I have a lot of reading to do!