Feel Good, Give Books!

This has been quite a year. Speaking personally, I can say that 2017 has challenged me in ways I wasn’t sure that I could overcome, and yet I’m here, and this year is almost over! YAY! We did it! *high five*

I’d like to celebrate in my very favorite way: by giving books to kids.

If you’re anything like me, one of the best ways to feel good is to give to others, and in that spirit I’m starting a book drive for my sister’s school in North Carolina. My sister is one of those people who believes in kids. She spent ten years teaching and is now training to be an administrator, and I couldn’t be more proud of the work she’s doing to improve her school for her kids.

Now I’m asking for your help to fulfill their wishes, because the truth is, they need books. Badly. Their library doesn’t have a fraction of the books they need, and we can change that!

Here’s the scoop:

“North Johnston Middle School is a Title I school located in the small town of Micro, North Carolina. Our students come from a tight-knit community, which has pride for its rich history.  Our students come from a variety of backgrounds, socio-economic statuses, races, and experiences. 61.5 percent of our 645 student population receive free or reduced lunch on a daily basis. Our Middle School was built recently, but our book collection is extremely out of date.  Currently, the average age of our book collection is 1999 and we have 14.7 items per student.  In order to be deemed a “proficient” collection, we should have 15 items per student and the average age of the collection should be 2004. In order to move our school up to “proficient” we would need to purchase 2,615 additional titles at a cost of $52,300. As a school, we are concentrating on literacy, which is very difficult to do without quality materials. Currently, we have a minuscule budget for our media center and do not have a fraction of the funds needed to properly update our collection. f you or your publishing company are able to support our Middle School students and their access to quality, up-to-date literature, please visit our Amazon Wish List. Thank you for your support!”

Without further ado, here is the wish list link followed by some FAQs about how to BEST help North Johnson Middle School expand and diversify their library collection:

North Johnson Elementary School Book Wishlist

Thank you for your help!!! See below for FAQs.

IMG_5299

Here’s my sister in front of a new banner that she painted over the summer for NJMS. She’s holding a meat basket, because that is a thing we gift in the South. :)

FAQs:

Can I donate other books?

Yes, but please only send new or like-new books that will hold up to library use that are appropriate for middle school collections. (ARCs are okay if in great condition!)

Can I send swag?

Yes! The students are going to be surprised and thrilled by this book drive and they would love middle school appropriate swag, to be distributed by the librarian.

What is the mailing address?

North Johnston Middle School
attn: Cindi Pettigrew, Librarian
435 Oil Company Rd
Micro, NC 27555

IMG_5442

Here’s my sister, on the left, after getting pie-faced for a fundraiser earlier this year. :)

Change is Hard

The longer you write, the more you see yourself returning to the same themes, over and over again, like a river slowly carving its way through rock. Certain ideas are pebbles that catch in your mind. Over time, they become smooth and polished, but the process is long and hard.

There’s something rewarding about returning to the same themes, though. Discovering that you still have something left to say after feeling like you said it all the previous time is a small miracle indeed. Writing a book can feel like exhausting your soul. In the end, is there anything left? Fortunately the answer always seems to be yes, though time is required to unlock the reserves and discover new treasures. We may return to familiar territory time and again, but seen through different eyes, it’s a whole new world.

I find that I’m drawn to the same familiar paths in my reading life as well. I read widely, and I am fortunate in that regard. Between my wonderful women’s fiction book club (shout-out to the Novel Bites!), my library, my kid’s various projects and my ever-expanding home library, I end up visiting all kinds of stories, both real and imaginary. But even when my reads seem varied, there are often these subtle (or not so subtle) connections to theme.

A big one for me is change.

Change is hard. It’s always been hard for me, and I imagine it always will be. I am slow to adjust to a new direction. I feel unmoored. Shaken. My internal compass is a slow and tedious device that lags far behind the pace of the real world. Or maybe it’s just that I’m an introvert. :)

Change has been a theme in my reading of late. You could argue that every story is ostensibly about change, but these are some of my recent reads that really knocked this particular theme out of the park:

27414384

Wish by Barbara O’Connor

25543153

Being Fishkill by Ruth Lehrer

25893693

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

The Ship Beyond Time by Heidi Heilig

The Ship Beyond Time by Heidi Heilig

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall

Giving Books & Talking Books

This year I tried something new for Halloween. Well, technically these somethings were old to me, but new to everyone who took them home: TRICK OR TREAT BOOKS!

I’m a huge candy fan, so yes, there was still candy to go with the books, but as I handed the candy out, I told the kids that if they saw a book they liked, they could take it!

img_2720

Some of my favorite reactions:

  • The 3yo Supergirl who promptly handed her candy basket to her dad, sat on my front steps, and started reading Elmo’s Christmas.
  • The girl with cat whiskers who squealed when she grabbed The Seventh Wish.
  • The boy who slyly nabbed a book with a bunny on the cover and stuffed it into his bucket after his friends left.
  • The teens who didn’t take books, but surprised me by telling me what they were reading: Rick Riordan, Harry Potter, and The Color Purple, among others.

On the subject of talking books, Counting Thyme is on a podcast! The Power of Story is a great new book podcast by Caitlin Lore. Be sure to check out all of her episodes!

What to Read Next?

Over the summer I had a conversation with some of my favorite educators on Twitter about contemporary middle grade stories that pair well with Counting Thyme. I’m a huge fan of many of the books they suggested, so I’m sharing them here today. If you or your students loved THYME, your next favorite read could be one of these great books!

Rules by Cynthia Lord

222458

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart

22571259

Out of my Mind by Sharon M. Draper

6609765

So B It by Sarah Weeks

237320

Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick

20257176

The Distance to Home by Jenn Bishop

25721449

The Seventh Wish by Kate Messner

26073068

A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban

1535111

The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin

24396876

Thanks to my wonderful Twitter peeps for helping me put this list together (shout-out to the #bookjourney crew)! I love read-alikes, which give us such a great opportunity to make connections across characters and stories. Feel free to share your faves and recommendations in the comments below. And if you’ve read THYME, don’t miss the reader participation campaign that launched this week!

Read on!

:)

Mel

Goodbye, Summer

Codw4s0WYAAZ3ok

This summer offered up a surprise for me. I experienced the joy of seeing Counting Thyme on summer reading lists around the country–something I hadn’t really anticipated in the way that all authors fail to anticipate their books’ lives beyond the manuscript phase. It’s been a truly incredible thing, and I was fortunate to write about the experience on The Booklist Reader, which you can read here.

We Do It for the Kids

Last week, something brand new and astounding happened: I received my first fan letter from a  student. Now, I know I wrote a middle grade novel, and that it’s full of awkward moments and first crush flutters and bathroom humor, but seriously, I wasn’t prepared for letters from kids!

Side note: physical letters are AWESOME. I’m one of those moms who makes her kids write thank-you’s (just like the mom in Counting Thyme), so I really appreciate the effort that it takes to get a letter in the mail these days. But letters are special. They are worth it.

This experience has got me thinking about why we are so passionate about books, outside of our own identity as readers. I think we do it for the kids. There is nothing greater than watching this happen:

IMG_0434

Or this:

IMG_6314

Although this is pretty great, too:

But seriously, as I schedule my first school visits (including Skypes on WRAD!), I am so grateful for the opportunity to talk books with kids. Some of those kids are already book nerds; the rest of them just don’t know it yet. But one day, there will come that magical moment when they lose themselves inside of a book. It’s a moment fueled by the passion of teachers, librarians, and parents–it’s the faith that unites us: Our belief that our lives are enriched by story.

Stories created civilization. Stories bind us together through our common experiences as human beings. It is story that builds knowledge and grows empathy, so that we can all evolve together. We who write and share and love books are doing the work of the ages. What could be more exciting?

The books shown above include: THE RIVERMAN from Aaron Starmer. My older son is obsessed with this magical trilogy about a world where stories are born. Then there’s I CAN’T WAIT, by Amy Schwartz, a funny picture book about waiting for something amazing to happen, and BLACK CAT, WHITE CAT by Silvia Borando, about finding friendship by expanding your comfort zone.

Books for Boys

I can’t tell you how often I hear friends looking for book recommendations for their middle grade aged boys on the Facebook, or on the blacktop after school. It’s hard to find books for this age set if you’re not tuned in to reading blogs and Newbery lists.

To be clear, by middle grade I mean grades 3 through 7, age 8 to 12 (roughly). Anyone can enjoy a middle grade read, but in terms of content as appropriate to age of reader, this is the rough guideline for the designation. For example, if you’re not ready for your child to read THE HUNGER GAMES because of the overall concept of kids fighting kids to the death, then middle grade is where you want to go for some great books.

Now, as far as the gender thing goes, I firmly believe that anyone can enjoy any book, if it’s the right book for them. Middle grade is a great source for books that appeal to both genders, with the acknowledgement that individual readers will have their own tastes, and that’s okay!

With no further blabbery from me, here’s a list of some FABULOUS middle grade reads, ones that offer plenty of action, humor, and heart:

The Riverman (The Riverman Trilogy, #1)
THE RIVERMAN by Aaron Starmer
The Dragonet Prophecy (Wings of Fire, #1)
THE DRAGONET PROPHECY by Tui T. Sutherland
The Great Greene Heist
THE GREAT GREENE HEIST by Varian Johnson
The Fourteenth Goldfish
THE FOURTEENTH GOLDFISH by Jennifer L. Holm
Steering Toward Normal
STEERING TOWARD NORMAL by Rebecca Petruck
By the Grace of Todd
BY THE GRACE OF TODD by Louise Galveston
The Wednesday Wars
THE WEDNESDAY WARS by Gary Schmidt
Frindle
FRINDLE by Andrew Clements

 

The Why

My younger son and I, reading MY TRUCK IS STUCK to his class

It can be easy to forget why we do this work, what with deadlines and doubts and all of the things we do in our own little writerly vacuums. The good news: All it takes is reading a book to a class of eager young readers to remember the why.

A Few Great Reads

Here are my latest five star YA reads! Plus, a great MG author to discover and a captivating adult noir read from my book club. I also read quite a few other strong books in the last month or two, so you can always find me on GoodReads for more recommendations.

Finnikin of the Rock (Lumatere Chronicles, #1)Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A captivating story with a unique world and compelling characters that will steal your heart and keep you turning pages through the night!

All Our Yesterdays (All Our Yesterdays #1)All Our Yesterdays by Cristin Terrill
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a unique concept, and so very well executed. From the lovely, clear prose to the quiet, wrenching moments, All Our Yesterday’s has everything you could ever want in a YA read. Highly recommended.

Two Boys KissingTwo Boys Kissing by David Levithan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is not just a story, but all of our stories–such a close examination of what it is to live and love, unlike anything I’ve ever read before. It took me a few pages to relax into the narrative style, but once I did I could not read quickly enough nor slowly enough, and often found myself stopping to read again, and again, as the meaning and phrases built momentum, propelling the story forward, and taking me with it. I loved following the many different characters, as they took their separate yet entwined journeys. I loved the effortless sense of place and self Levithan develops with his beautiful yet understated imagery. And I loved the bare honesty he put upon the page, something I aspire to in my own writing. While this is not a light everyday read, it is a worthy read, and one that will take up a place in your heart.

Thanks to a recommendation from my lovely agent, I’ve recently discovered Cynthia Kadohata’s work, and I recommend it to anyone who loves deep, character-driven middle grade!

The Thing About LuckThe Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I fell in love with the writing and characters here, and am eager to read Kira-Kira now.

I don’t fit in a ton of adult fiction these days, but this book was well worth my time:

The DinnerThe Dinner by Herman Koch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this book with my book club in November, and it was unlike much I’d read before. Fans of Gone Girl will surely enjoy this story.

View all my reviews

For the Love of Contemporary

I’ve read some great YA contemporaries of late. Aristotle & Dante was my favorite–perhaps my favorite book of the year. As I enter into revisions on my MG novel, I’m on to MG contemporaries for a while (and a little YA fantasy for fun), but if you’re looking for a great read, check these titles out!

The Tragedy PaperThe Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very skillful exploration of tragedy as a theme, with an interesting cast of characters and a hook that draws you in right at the beginning. Our present day MC is Duncan, who arrives at his boarding school to discover that the boy who had the room before him left him a pile of CDs. On the CDs are hours of recordings, recordings that hold the secret to what happened to that boy, Tim, the year before–a mystery that plays out in a heartfelt way that kept me turning pages.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the UniverseAristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book contains some of the loveliest writing I have encountered in a novel of late. I think that speaks to the author’s background in poetry–absolutely gorgeous, uncluttered prose. And paired with such a wonderful and touching story. I loved every single page. Ten out of five stars!

OCD Love StoryOCD Love Story by Corey Ann Haydu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A wonderful YA voice and a fascinating topic.

View all my reviews