What to read on World Refugee Day

World Refugee Day poster
PDF available from Library Graphics
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Can you imagine becoming a refugee, needing to leave your house suddenly with no plans, little idea of where to go, and the knowledge that you may never return? Every day children and their families are being forced to flee their homes, communities, and countries around the world just to stay alive. Today, June 20th, is World Refugee Day, held by the United Nations every year to commemorate the strength, courage, and perseverance of millions of refugees. How can we talk about this reality with children? Here are a few helpful resources:
RefugeeOne headerRefugeeOne has put together a fantastic downloadable PDF entitled Literature for Children and Adolescents about the Refugee and Immigrant Experience. It’s sorted by age groups, mainly according to reading level.
BRYCS logoBridging Refugee Youth and Children’s Services (BRYCS) has curated an extensive list of Children’s Books about the Refugee/Immigrant Experience.
Brightly logoAuthor Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich has compiled a list of Books to Help Kids Understand What It’s Like to Be a Refugee for Brightly.
SPL logoThe Seattle Kids Librarians at The Seattle Public Library have compiled a list called The Immigrant and Refugee Experience in Children’s Books.
IHE logoThe Institute for Humane Education has put together this list of 16 Children’s Picture Books About Refugees.
Goodreads logoAnd, last but not least, Goodreads has a HUGE list of Popular Refugee Books.
We would want someone to help us if we were in a similar situation, so let’s do the same for them and respond to refugees with solidarity, compassion, and action. Books can be a great place to start.
Refugees Welcome sign
Image available as a sticker or downloadable PDF (click for info)

On fear, and how writing is like a guitar

Fear is funny. Not funny, really. Maddening, frustrating, debilitating.
Ortega acoustic electric mini bassAfter a busy month or so, I hadn’t had time to practice my bass guitar at all. I wanted to. I missed it. So I took it out of the case and sat it next to my chair so it would be easy to grab whenever I had a few free minutes. And from there it mocked me. I was afraid to pick it up. Afraid I’d forgotten everything. Afraid I would suck.
Writing is like that, too. I think the writers who advise others to “write every day” do so for this reason most of all. The longer we go without doing something the more room there is for doubt and excuses, so we go even longer without doing it. It’s a vicious cycle that can be difficult to break out of.
Sometimes, the missing doing the thing becomes greater than the fear and overcomes it. Other times, we force ourselves past the fear. We have been here before and can see it for what it is.
I finally picked up the guitar today. I can still play. In fact, I think I played better today than I have in months. It felt joyous, both the ability to make music and the letting go of the fear.
Soon, my schedule will allow me to get back to writing again, too. And I am not afraid. In fact, I’m looking forward to it.
What goals are you avoiding because of fear? Perhaps it’s time to begin.

2017 in review, and a sneak peek at 2018 goals


If you’ve followed my blog for a long time (or know me at all), you probably know I can be a little obsessive about setting goals and doing annual performance reviews. So, as 2017 comes to a close, I thought I should reflect on what I’ve accomplished the past year and think about what 2018 might bring.
One of my main goals for 2017 was to get more comfortable speaking in public.  It’s a good thing I was able to do that, since (and probably because) I got a lot of practice! Here’s a quick summary:

  • 24 keynotes, assemblies, presentations, or workshops for young people,
  • 17 Skype visits,
  • 7 presentations for adults,
  • 6 bookstore appearances,
  • 2 roundtable critique sessions,
  • 1 radio interview, and
  • an 8-week improv class.

The success I feel here isn’t so much from the quantity, but from the quality. First, it’s gotten MUCH easier for me. I can do these talks in stride now and don’t stress out for a whole day prior and then need a whole day after to decompress. That’s a big win! Also, the improv class was oddly terrifying to think about, but so much fun and such a great experience in practice. So, I’m really glad that I pushed myself out of my comfort zone.
I also had some success with major writing goals and projects:

  • TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE: IT’S ALIVE! was released in June, and I put a lot of time put into promotion, including developing promotional materials like curriculum guides and swag, and creating new presentations around it.
  • We’re just now putting the final touches on the second book in the series, TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE: HISTORIES AND MYSTERIES, which we researched, drafted, revised, copyedited, and sourced photos for all in the past year. This one is so good, I can’t wait to see it out in the world next June!
  • We have the outline for the third TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE book just about wrapped up, too, so 2018 will see a lot of work (and fun!) on that front.
  • I wrote a brand-new picture book from scratch, revised it, and it went out on submission! I’m hopeful this one will find a home in 2018.
  • I revised my MG nonfiction project and sent it back out on submission. Alas, it looks like this one will need yet another fresh approach, which is also on the schedule for 2018. I’m mulling over a couple of ideas about how to proceed.
  • I worked on revising two other picture books, one fiction and one nonfiction, but neither one is quite ready yet. More work to come on both of those in the year ahead, and hopefully they’ll be ready to send out soon.
  • I started researching a new picture book biography. I’m really excited about this one, and the research so far has only fueled my interest further. I hope I can complete a first draft in the coming year.
  • I had a new idea for another nonfiction picture book and have started researching that one as well. This one is still in the idea phase and will take some noodling to get just the right approach, so for now I’ll keep researching and thinking and see what happens.

As you can see from the above, I’ll have my work cut out for me in 2018 with one new book to promote, one under contract to write, (at least) two picture books to finish revising, the MG nonfiction to re-envision, and the two new picture books to research and draft. Phew — that’s a lot of big goals. Wish me luck! =D

Books can open doors to inclusivity

Many of us who write books for children, recommend books for children, and teach children to read books have been wondering lately what more we can do to move the world forward to have more inclusivity, compassion, and empathy. We’ve been wondering if our efforts really make a difference. We may have been tempted to pull back, to retreat, to avoid the difficult conversations and interactions. But sometimes pushing past the discomfort and making an honest connection can make all the difference in the world.
I just read a beautiful article in the Washington Post written by fellow kidlit author and agency-mate Suzanne Nelson. In the article, Suzanne writes about a birthday party that she didn’t go to because the girl was hearing impaired and communicating with her was awkward. She writes about how she still hasn’t been able to forgive herself for making that cowardly decision. And she writes about how we can help others avoid acting similarly:

Every moment we share books, music, conversation, or meals with people who might not be completely like us, is one moment more that we benefit and grow as human beings, that we recognize the beauty, fluidity, and worth of our differences. And the more we do this as adults, the more our children recognize how to interact, how to have empathy. We all have moments when we are less than kind, less than tolerant, less than the people we strive to be. With exposure, contact, and education, I hope my children grow up to have fewer of them. Maybe they’ll walk through that door, and maybe they’ll go to that party.

The article reminded me of a woman I was friends with in college. I met her when I was working as an assistant in the computer lab. She often needed help. She was in a motorized wheelchair. She was elderly. She had cerebral palsy. She could barely talk. She made the letters on the screen so big she could only read a few words at a time. She would type her papers one difficult keystroke at a time, jabbing at the keyboard with a fat pencil. She often missed and had to go back and try again, sometimes shrieking in anger. It was painstaking to watch, and yet I admired her determination. Were any of the rest of us taking our education that seriously? Would any of the rest of us have willingly put ourselves through that frustration and embarrassment every single evening and weekend?
Over time, I got to know her better. I started being able to decipher her slurred speech and have meaningful conversations with her. Despite the communication barriers and the generation gap, we became friends. Sometimes when she saw me outside of the lab she would get so excited that she would smile and laugh, which often resulted in drool and spitting. People around us would recoil in disgust. I had too, initially, but what’s a little spit among friends? When I invited my boyfriend, who is now my husband, to visit me at college, we made plans to go out to dinner with her. She knew how I felt about him and was joyous at meeting him, so pizza and drool were flying everywhere, often spraying us and our plates. I was worried that he’d be upset with me for putting him through this, but the entire meal he treated her with respect and interest. He waited for me to translate her speech so he could converse with her. Afterward, he said something to the effect of, “What an interesting, amazing woman. I can see why you like her.” I fell in love with him all over again because of that interaction.
My life has been forever enriched by knowing her and others like her. So, I urge you to read Suzanne’s whole article, here. I urge you to write, recommend, and teach books that will help children choose kindness and inclusivity and to value all kinds of people of all abilities, races, religions, orientations, identities, etc. And I urge you to take a risk, seek connection over comfort, and make sure you go to that party.
Here are some possible books to start with:

Check out the Starbucks Upstanders series

Starbucks Upstander photo

Starbucks Upstander photo
Have you seen the new original series that Starbucks is putting out, called Upstanders? It’s really cool! According to their webpage:

Upstanders is an original collection of short stories, films and podcasts sharing the experiences of Upstanders – ordinary people doing extraordinary things to create positive change in their communities. Produced by Howard Schultz and Rajiv Chandrasekaran, the Upstanders series helps inspire us to be better citizens.

Apparently, they–like so many of us–were feeling a bit disheartened by our current political climate. Their press release says,

In contrast to the divisiveness and cynicism currently fueling our national discourse, Starbucks today debuted “Upstanders,” its first original content series, which aims to inspire Americans to engage in acts of compassion, citizenship and civility. “Upstanders” features ten stories, each told in written, video and podcast form, about ordinary people doing extraordinary things to create positive change in their communities….
“We’ve asked ourselves what is the role and responsibility of a public company and, as citizens, how we can catalyze hope in a time when we need more optimism, empathy, compassion and leadership,” said Schultz.  “The upstanders featured in this series are inspiring individuals whose actions are emblematic of the American spirit and what is missing from so much of today’s national dialogue. We have always been storytellers at heart, and more of these stories need to be heard. We are using our scale to share them as broadly as possible.”

I love seeing these kinds of examples of how everyone can choose to Be a Changemaker, so the Upstanders podcast is now added to my subscription list! Here’s a trailer to give you an idea what it’s all about:

Catalyzing hope in a time when we need more optimism, empathy, compassion and leadership? Now that’s something I can stand up for. Thanks, Starbucks!
Upstanders image

Goals: looking back and pushing forward


I recently wrapped up what I think will be my last in-person school visits of the 2015-2016 school year, and promotion activities for the three books that are out is starting to die down. This seems like a good time to pause and reflect on my goals and progress, especially since I was too busy at the beginning of the year to do my usual review and planning exercises.
Since this time last year, I’ve done:

  • Done!1 high school presentation,
  • 13 middle school presentations,
  • 4 elementary school presentations,
  • 6 Skype visits (including one to Hawaii, one to Brazil, and one more to go!),
  • 3 radio interviews,
  • 2 preschool storytimes,
  • 2 teen library events,
  • 1 adult library event,
  • 2 Girl Scout workshops,
  • 3 bookstore signing events,
  • 1 book launch party,
  • 1 blog tour,
  • 1 book trailer,
  • 1 storytime activity kit,
  • the Texas Book Festival in Austin,
  • the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) conference in Columbus,
  • the Pacific Northwest Library Association conference (PNLA) in Portland,
  • the International Literacy Association’s (ILA) conference in St. Louis,
  • one research trip to St. Louis,
  • Indies First! on Small Business Saturday at Secret Garden Books,
  • 1 guest lecture at the University of Washington,
  • 2 appearances at a children’s museum,
  • 2 summer camp visits,
  • 2 Twitter chats (including one for WWE moms!),
  • 2 recordings for TeachingBooks.net,
  • 1 SCBWI Crystal Kite Award presentation at SCBWI-WWA’s Inside Story event,
  • 1 middle-grade book written and submitted,
  • 3 picture books revised (but not yet finished),
  • 1 YA project edited and revised (still in progress),
  • preliminary research for 2 new book projects,
  • at least 2 major website overhauls (one here and one for Online Author Visits),
  • volunteering for We Need Diverse Books,
  • volunteering for SCBWI Western Washington, and
  • 19 blog posts.

Not too shabby! It’s so easy in this business to feel like I never get anything done. I have a stack of in-progress manuscripts that I desperately want to perfect so they can go out and try to find their publishing homes, and every day that they don’t quite get there (or worse, don’t make any progress at all!) feels like a big fat failure. Listing out all of the things that I have done makes me feel a little bit better. I haven’t just been spinning my wheels, after all! I didn’t get to finish everything I had hoped to by now, but I did check off some big goals and also did a bunch of things I hadn’t expected or planned on. And, many of the things listed were firsts for me and/or major highlights, so there’s a lot of personal growth hidden in that list as well as some major accomplishments to be proud of. So, all in all, not bad!
Still, there’s so much more I want to do! My goals for the rest of the year include:

  • TKfinishing up revisions for the first book in the Two Truths and a Lie series: It’s Alive!,
  • completing the photo research for It’s Alive!,
  • attending the ALA Annual Conference in Orlando to accept the Schneider Family Award,
  • revising my nonfiction picture book until it’s ready for submission,
  • revising one of my fiction picture books until it’s ready for submission,
  • revising the middle-grade nonfiction proposal until it’s ready for submission,
  • revising the YA project until it’s ready for submission,
  • finalizing the outline for Two Truths and a Lie, Book #2, and beginning the writing,
  • and writing more blog posts.

There are several other manuscripts I hope to finish revising, as well as a handful of new ideas I’m really excited about researching further and beginning to write, but those will all just have to wait until I complete the above. Revision is one of those things that’s difficult to predict how long it will take, so I’m not sure if this list is even anywhere close to doable. I’ll check back in January to let you know how I’ve done! 🙂

An ALA Schneider Family Award for Emmanuel's Dream

Schneider Award
This is old news at this point, but I’ve been so busy that I’m just now FINALLY getting around to posting it here. So, just in case you’ve been too busy to keep up with the news in the children’s literature industry, Emmanuel’s Dream has won the Schneider Family Book Award from the American Library Association! The purpose of this special award is to “honor an author or illustrator for the artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences,” so I’m extremely honored that the committee selected Emmanuel’s Dream.
Emmanuels Dream cover with stickerThis and other Youth Media Awards were announced on January 11, 2016, during the American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Meeting & Exhibits in Boston and via live stream. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we have to get up at 5am to catch them, but it was definitely worth it! The award itself will be presented in Orlando during the ALA Annual Conference & Exhibition in June, and both Sean and I are both expecting to be able to attend.
Recipients are selected in three categories: birth through grade school (age 0–8), middle grade (age 9–13) and teens (age 14–18). Emmanuel’s Dream won the award for young children, which was the very first award to be announced in the entire program. Next up was Fish in a Tree, which won a middle-grade award. This only added to my excitement, as it was written by my friend and agency sister Lynda Mullaly Hunt!
Schneider Award flowersThank you to all of the members of the 2016 Schneider Family Book Award committee, including Alyson Beecher (committee chair), Nancy L. Baumann, Betsy Fraser, Beth McGuire, Elsworth Rockefeller, Joanna Tamplin, Caroline Ward, and Jill Garcia! I’m especially grateful to Katherine Schneider and the Schneider family for sponsoring this important award. It is such a huge honor to receive it, and I hope it will help the book find its way into the hands of more kids who need to hear its message. Thank you also to my fantastic agent, Ammi-Joan Paquette, for believing in this story; to Sean Qualls, for illustrating it so beautifully; and to everyone at Schwartz & Wade/Random House for all of their hard work and dedication, which made it into the book it is today. And look, they even sent me some gorgeous flowers to celebrate!
Notables SealOn the heels of the Schneider Family Award, it was also announced that Emmanuel’s Dream was included on the ALA ALSC’s Notable Children’s Books list. Each year a committee of the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) identifies the best of the best in children’s books. According to the Notables Criteria, “notable” is defined as: Worthy of note or notice, important, distinguished, outstanding. As applied to children’s books, notable should be thought to include books of especially commendable quality, books that exhibit venturesome creativity, and books of fiction, information, poetry and pictures for all age levels (birth through age 14) that reflect and encourage children’s interests in exemplary ways. It’s an incredible honor to see Emmanuel’s Dream on that list of amazing books! Thank you, ALSC!

Summer 2015 roundup

The days are (finally) getting cooler and damper here in the Pacific Northwest and most of the kids are back in school, so it seems like a good time to reflect on the summer.
I typically don’t get to do much writing-related work over the summer, since the kids are home from school and the sun is shining, but this summer was filled with fun and exciting author events!

2015-07-11 Andersons Bookshop kids books extravaganza 2First, I got to participate in a huge author panel at Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, IL. The kids’ books extravaganza on July 11th included some of my best friends in the industry, including Christine Hayes, Ruth Barshaw, Lynda Hunt, Keyan Atteberry, Jennifer Chambliss Bertman, Tara Dairman, Janet Fox, and Amy Finnegan. It was even more wonderful because I got to meet the very special someone who wrote one of my all-time favorite reviews Emmanuel’s Dream, Keegan Knott, and it was her birthday, too! I got a hug. It’s a day I won’t soon forget, let me tell you. Thank you Anderson’s and Keegan for the wonderful memories! =D

EMLA costume partyNext I headed to the Erin Murphy Literary Agency client retreat at The Abbey Resort at Lake Geneva. I can’t even begin to explain what a powerful, amazing this annual event is for me, and this year was no different. We do lots of fun, silly things like the costume party, but we also do a lot of learning, networking, sharing, connecting, growing, and more. I feel so blessed to be a part of this community!
2015-07-12 Mustard Museum2015-07-12 St LouisIMG_2675From there I continued on down to St. Louis to sign books at ILA and conduct a research trip. Our first stop was the National Mustard Museum.

What am I researching there, you ask? Well, you’ll just have to wait and see! St. Louis was beautiful, ILA was a lot of fun, and I even got to go to
Cynthia Levinson’s book launch party for Watch Out for Flying Kids while I was there. Plus, the research trip was a huge success. I can’t wait to get back to work on that manuscript!

I had the opportunity to appear at several summer camps, including one on being a changemaker and another on early literacy, which I loved, and I did interviews on two different live radio programs.

IMG_2956Last but certainly not least, I also spoke at the Pacific Northwest Library Association (PNLA) annual conference in Portland with two of my favorite nonfiction authors, Mary Cronk Farrell and Elizabeth Rusch, and I did my first storytime for My Dog Is the Best at University Bookstore in Bellevue.
It was a busy, fulfilling summer, and now I’m looking forward to some quiet writing time!

Radio Interview: Brooke Taylor's A Special Connection

I recently had the honor of being interviewed by Brooke Taylor on her inspiring radio show, A Special Connection on WHKW AM1220 in Cleveland, Ohio. Brooke just happened to have stumbled across one of my books at her local public library and was moved by it, so she reached out to me to talk about it.
The whole show is fantastic, but if you’re in a rush, we start discussing Emmanuel’s Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah at about the 31:58 mark, and Be a Changemaker: How to Start Something that Matters at about 45:37.
I hope you’ll enjoy listening!
What fun! Huge thanks to both Brooke and her producer, Brett Crowe, for making it such a pleasure.
I’ve got a couple more radio interviews in the works as well, so please stay tuned for more audio in the coming weeks!