Author: Angela

A Manual for Moving Forward: What Science Says about #kidlitwomen and #metoo

A Manual for Moving forward: what science says about #kidlitwomen and #metoo

The #metoo movement has swept the world. Last month, that tidal wave crashed into the kidlit community. It started with an article by author Anne Ursu on sexual harassment within the children’s book industry. She conducted an anonymous survey and shared her eye-opening results. Then things really took off with a post by the School Library Journal. I don’t often say this, but the comments are enlightening.



The kidlit community is still struggling with how to handle this situation. The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) revamped their sexual harassment policy. Abusers have been formally barred from the organizations and conferences. Agents and publishing houses have been slower to drop abusers who they represent and have published, but it is happening. One publisher has even made the decision to delay publication of a book so it could be re-illustrated after the first illustrator was outed as a serial abuser. And women are banding together under the #kidlitwomen movement to take back our industry.

It’s a start. But if we’re going to reshape the kidlit community, we need more people acting to make that happen.

I’ve considered how I can contribute to #kidlitwomen and support my fellow female writers. My other great passion (besides writing) is science. In a former life, I was a PhD-track academic studying language and the human brain. So looking for answers naturally led to science and what it can tell us about this moment and this movement.



The recent revelations of sexual harassment in kidlit were jarring. (I wish I could say that’s it’s equally jarring to see how men have consistently been supported to the detriment of women, but many of us saw that one coming.)

It’s jarring partly because the view from the outside is a very loving and supportive community. And from the inside, that is the predominant experience. It’s one of the best communities I’ve ever been privileged to participate in.

But predominant experiences aren’t the only experience within our community. Some have experienced harassment, assault, and manipulation. Professional organizations have allowed this to continue for years.

Realizing that the mostly warm fuzzy community you love was also hiding predators is unsettling. Cognitive dissonance is the scientific term for this feeling. It’s the jarring sensation you get when you have two contradictory ideas. It’s like realizing your sweet uncle Bob, that always brought you the just-right book to shepherd you through the turbulent teen years, was also a hit man for the mob. It’s upsetting. It makes you question EVERYTHING.

You have two options:

  1. Deny or downplay the new information that caused the cognitive dissonance. (“Uncle Bob would never do that!” or “But he’s a really nice guy.” or “He’s just been having a really hard time in his marriage.”)
  2. Accept the new information and change your worldview. Taking apart your broken set of beliefs and putting them back together is a truer, better way. It’s uncomfortable, but in the end, it’s better. And it’s the only way to move forward.

Cognitive dissonance doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Reassessing is a necessary part of life. You might still care about uncle Bob, but given what you now know it would be plain stupid not to change how you interact with him.

So in this moment, when our view of the kidlit community has been flipped inside out, take a breath. Don’t resist the discomfort with a “no they didn’t” or “nothing is wrong” or “it’s not a big deal.” Resist the urge to defned or rationalize away what you now know.

Pause. Listen. Process.

Then let your worldview shift. Accepting and acting on this newly discovered reality is how we move on.


BYSTANDER EFFECT: How do I stop sexual harassment?

Ready to take action? Great! You’re determined to be a part of the solution and put a stop to sexual harassment. How do you do that? Let’s start somewhere a little easier.

Imagine you’re in a crowded grocery store – everyone is rushing to get food for the next big holiday. And in the middle of a crowded aisle, an older woman trips and falls. She’s sitting there, leaning against cans of corn beef.

You’re just as harried as everyone else – you’ve got food to buy, preparations to make, kids whining. Do you stop and ask if she’s ok? If she’s fine, you lose time, look a bit foolish, and maybe embarrass her. Lots of other people are there and none of them seem to be rushing to the woman’s aid.

Research says you’ll most likely keep going. It’s called the bystander effect – the more bystanders that see the little woman in the canned-meat aisle, the less each one feels responsible for her.

If you saw that same older woman trip on a remote mountaintop it would be obvious that you should act – no one else is around, and she has no other way to get help. But when you’re surrounded by other people, you don’t feel quite as responsible.

It’s often unclear if help is needed. The woman may just need a minute to regain her composure. Or she could have had a stroke. She might not be able to call out for help because of her physical condition in the moment. But if everyone is looking and waiting for someone else to act, then no one ever gets around to it.

There’s a really simple cure for the bystander effect.

  1. Know that it exists and realize that people are unlikely to act.
  2. Act on that realization.

It’s the same concept that underlies the phrase “if you see something, say something.”

Smile and say hi to the women. Maybe make a joke or tell an anecdote to put her at ease and relieve her embarrassment. “Sometimes I think they put ice on these floors.”

Then offer her a hand up. She may turn it down. She may gratefully smile back, take the hand up then finish her shopping. Or she may be unable to get up or unable to respond. No more ambiguity, call an ambulance. If you need help, single out a specific person in the crowd. Make it obvious that that person, yes, you in the red shirt are now responsible for calling the ambulance. Now you’ve broken through another person’s bystander effect, too.

Now imagine that instead of a feeble woman at the grocery, you’re in a crowded post-conference get-together. Lots of those lovely kidlit folk are chatting about their favorite topic – books! – while sipping wine. You notice a man putting an arm around a woman. She looks a bit uncomfortable but doesn’t pull away. Everyone else keeps chatting, unconcerned. She hasn’t pulled away or asked for help; does that mean she’s fine? Or is it like the lady in the grocery store where everyone is assuming someone else will act. Is she trapped by the social situation in the same way the grocery lady might be trapped by her physical situation? Anyone who has given in to middle school peer pressure knows that you can be manipulated by a situation or a powerful person, be they the popular girl, a schoolyard bully, or a sexual predator hiding among the kidlit sheep. Anne Ursu’s survey results were full of examples of situations where women did not feel they could speak out on their own behalf.

What to do? Like the lady in the grocery, if you see something, do something. Approach with compassion. Try to ease awkwardness and embarrassment. And if you sense a dangerous situation, get help.

If it were me, I would walk up and say “Excuse me, do you know where the ladies room is? Could you show me?” I’ve now engaged, I can better judge the situation. And I’ve given her a valid excuse to leave the situation on good social terms. She can choose to take the hand I extend or not. But if I sensed she was in real danger – like a man separating her from me, trying to pull her away, or preventing her from grabbing that metaphorical hand, I would be more direct. “You look uncomfortable. Do you need help? Would you like me to call someone?”

Would I be embarrassed? VERY. I would probably be beet red and feel like an intruder, but it’s important. If I misread the situation, they can laugh at me later. But if I didn’t….. I don’t want to be complicit through my lack of action.

So you reading this, yes you with the good intentions feeling uncertain how to proceed, step out of the crowd and act. Act when you see someone in need. Act even if you’re not sure help is needed. Act even though you feel embarrassed. Just ACT.


TEND AND BEFRIEND: How do I prevent sexual harassment?

Long ago, researchers found that people have one of two reactions to threat: fight or flight. So when you stumble into a bear in your backyard, you can either fight it or run away.

That research was based on men. New research found a wider variety of responses. They found that women, in particular, are more likely to protect their children and band together for group protection. Since scientists like rhyme as much as writers, they coined the phrase “tend and befriend.”

Tend and befriend is a powerful way of dealing with threats. You can see it in action in many cultures and times. When deforestation threatened the lives of people in Africa, it was women who banded together to replant the trees. In Liberia, women organized after 14 brutal years of civil war and won peace. In the US, women have banded together again and again to create change for women and minorities.

A single person may seem to have little power, but when those small actions are put together for a common purpose, they can effect enormous change.

So how can tend and befriend work for creating change in the kidlit community?

  • TEND: First, we need to protect the most vulnerable. That means protecting those that have already suffered sexual harassment. It also means creating protections for those who are more vulnerable such as women who may be harassed by a more powerful abuser. Or women of color who are doubly vulnerable. Acting in the moment is powerful and necessary. Tend to the woman at cocktail hour with the unwelcome arm around her shoulders.
  • BEFRIEND: If we want to effect large change and create a community where sexual harassment is not tolerated, we need to join together as a band of brave women and their allies. We are stronger together, so let’s use that power.

As a band of women and allies, we can push the gatekeepers of our industry to guard the gates and keep the harassers out. Agents, editors, conference organizers – we as a group should demand that all these people have clear policies and practices that protect us all. SCBWI has begun that process as have some agents. Perhaps others are doing it behind closed doors. But I won’t assume others will act, it’s too important. I will say something.

Throughout the month of March, many women and allies will be sharing their #kidlitwomen stories. Including many ways that we can work together to create a better community for everyone. I will be supporting those people by sharing their ideas and taking action. Be engaged on social media. One voice alone is quiet, many together is a roar that can’t be ignored.



  • Listen and accept that something is broken within the kidlit community.
  • Shift your view to a healthier, truer one.
  • Decide to act.
  • If you see something, say something. Even if you’re unsure if help is needed. (Especially if you’re unsure.)
  • Support one another but especially tend to the most vulnerable in our community.
  • Band together and put all out small efforts together to create a big change in kidlit. A change that makes our whole community a safer place.



The #metoo and #kidlitwomen movements are much larger than I can address in a single post.  I limited myself to only discussing sexual harassment and how to prevent it. But I could easily have talked about the culture that allowed the harassment to occur. Or about how the system promotes male authors at the expense of female authors. Or how the double-whammy of sexism and racism makes it especially difficult for women of color. Or the role that men need to take to help us reshape this industry into something safer and more equitable for all. I’m leaving those topics to others who are better equipped to speak to that experience. We’re a band of brave women, after all. We don’t need to deliver every message, sometimes it’s enough to pass the microphone.

A Manual for Moving forward: what science says about #kidlitwomen and #metoo

Kidlit Karma Reviews: February 2018

Kidlit Karma February 2018 post picture

At the end of 2017, I made a pledge. I challenged myself to review good books every month in 2018, particularly books that haven’t gotten as much love as I feel they deserve. I call it Kidlit Karma because I’m aiming to spread the love for books that I love.

Last month, I shared my first batch of books and today I’m sharing another batch.

With Easter on the horizon, I considered going with a theme and posting all Easter-related books. But my good friend and fellow Kidlit writer, Charlotte Riggle, has already put together several roundups of Easter-related picture books. Like this list of multicultural Easter books and this list of Easter books for toddlers. 

So instead, today I’m going to save my gushing for Charlotte’s book itself along with some other great, non-Easter books.


Picture Book: CATHERINE’S PASCHA by Charlotte Riggle

Cover for CATHERINE'S PASCHA by Charlotte Riggle


Catherine can’t wait for Pascha, the middle of the night Easter celebration at her church. And this year, she is definitely not going to fall asleep and miss Pascha. She’ll keep her eyes open all night for the candles and giggles with her best friend. Plus, there’s a giant feast afterward! But she might close her eyes for just a minute…

I love this book for two reasons. It’s a peek inside how another culture celebrates Easter. But it’s foremost, a really amusing story told from a child’s perspective.

A disclaimer: Charlotte and I have never met in person, but we travel in many, many of the same online circles. Over the years, she has firmly come over to the side of being a friend rather than just a colleague. However, I bought her book for my own kids long before we “met” online. Her work speaks for itself in its quality. The best testament I can give is that my kids pull it off the shelf all year long to read. They quote it at Easter time. We’re on our third copy because we loan it out and the little readers can’t part with it.



Middle Grade: THE METROPOLITANS by Carol Goodman

Cover for THE METROPOLITANS by Carol Goodman

Four kids from very different walks of life, all find their fates bound together at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They are entwined in centuries of secrets and magic but the Japanese just bombed Pearl Harbor and they’ll have to stop something even more catastrophic in New York City.

The author has woven together solid history with fantasy and the results are engrossing. I devoured this book and I’m hoping it will become a series.



Young Adult Nonfiction: ALEXANDER HAMILTON REVOLUTIONARY by Martha Brockenbrough


Brockenbrough does a great job of stringing together the relevant facts in a way that both tells a true and complete story of Alexander Hamilton’s life, and also keeps the reader engaged way past their bedtime. If you think you don’t like history books, try reading this one to change your mind.

I am obsessed with Hamilton the musical. Lin Manuel Miranda is a musical genius, but he also had a really great subject to work with. Alexander Hamilton’s life was a real-life soap opera (just add musical score). I’m not alone in my obsession and the glut of Hamilton books on the market in the last year is a reflection of that. If you’re going to read only one of the Hamilton biographies, this is an excellent choice.


Kidlit Karma Reviews: January 2018

At the end of 2017, I made a pledge. I challenged myself to review good books every month in 2018, particularly books that haven’t gotten as much love as I feel they deserve. I call it Kidlit Karma because I’m aiming to spread the love for books that I love.

Today, I’m proud to share my first batch of books. Yes, batch. While my stated goal is one book a month, I read and fall in love with many more books than that.


Picture book: MY BEAUTIFUL BIRDS by Suzanne Del Rizzo

Cover of MY BEAUTIFUL BIRDS by Suzanne Del Rizzo

Sami loves living in Syria with his family and his pet pigeons. But when the war forces his family to leave, he worries about his pigeons. He is now safe in a refugee camp, but he finds that the world still feels black. Until one day, three beautiful birds find him and he rediscovers a world of color.

This book brought tears to my eyes in a good way. This book deal with a heavy but important topic: the ongoing crisis in Syria. It does it in a way that doesn’t oversimplify a complex issue but is appropriate in tone and content for a young child. This book is great for showing how hope and beauty can be found in the hardest of situations. Also, the illustrations are simply GORGEOUS.



Middle Grade: THE EXACT LOCATION OF HOME by Kate Messner

Cover of THE EXACT LOCATION OF HOME by Kate Messner

Zig’s dad suddenly cancels his visit and his mom won’t tell him why but Zig has a plan. With a new-to-him GPS unit and his faithful friends, he’s going to track down Senior Searcher, the geocaching alias he’s sure is his dad.

This is another book that I think sheds light on an important social issue without sacrificing good storytelling or becoming didactic. Homelessness is common for children in the United States, but it’s rarely addressed in books. This book does a good job of showing the reality and difficulties that homelessness can create for kids and families, while also maintaining the character’s dignity.




Cover for RADIOACTIVE! by Winifred Conkling

I love a good nonfiction book, particularly when true events are woven together to make a compelling story. And this book does exactly that.

This book is equal parts science and intrigue. You’ve probably not heard of these women (though Irene’s mother, Marie Curie, may ring a bell), but they each make enormous contributions to science and, in particular, the development of the atomic bomb. They did it all in the midst of two world wars that put them on battlefronts and made them part of elaborate conspiracies to flee Nazi’s.

If you like Steve Sheinkin’s BOMB, you will love this book that dives into the science and the women behind the race for the Atomic bomb.



What about you? What books have been bringing you joy this month?

Why Some Resolutions are Doomed to Fail and How to Set Goals That Work

Why Some Resolutions are Doomed to Fail and how to Set Goals that Work

Many people set New Years Resolutions. When you set resolutions the right way, you can push yourself to achieve big things. But there’s one trap we all fall into when setting resolutions and goals.

Let me give you an example.

My biggest 2017 goal was to get a literary agent. An agent will help me achieve my larger career goals by giving me more guidance, helping me produce the best possible work, and opening more doors.

So throughout 2017, I did all the things you’re supposed to do to get a golden ticket to the land of agented writers. I wrote a lot; I improved my writing through classes, webinars, and conferences; I read copious numbers of books; and I submitted widely but wisely.

I did all the right things. No agent.

Why? Because it’s true what agents say: sometimes the time isn’t right or the fit isn’t right or the stars just do not align in my favor. I came close, but it just wasn’t right.

I “failed” my goal despite having the most productive writing year of my life, despite getting a new book under contract, despite reading a bunch of wonderful books, and improving my writing craft.

Someone rightly pointed out that my goal was doomed from the beginning because it was a goal that was out of my control.

I can’t make an agent fall in love with my book. I can’t make the industry change to suit my writing style. I can’t demand that an agent with a full client list, make room for little ol’ me. All I can do is make myself the best possible writer and be ready when the stars do finally align in my favor.

So I flipped the perspective.

Instead of goals we can’t control:

  • I will get an agent
  • I will get a promotion at work
  • I will get a book deal

I’m dedicating myself to the type of goals I can control:

  • I will write, read, learn, and submit
  • I will exceed all deliverable goals at work
  • I will write daily

In the end, these things often amount to the same thing. Doing your best on the things you can control often leads to the outcomes you can’t control. I didn’t set a goal to have the most productive writing year of my life, but it happened because I aimed to write daily.

I didn’t get an agent this year. But I did set the groundwork to be the best writer I can be. In time, that will attract an agent. I just have to remember to keep doing the work and have faith.

When my stars align, I will be ready.


Check out this post to learn more about setting wise resolutions.

DOs and DON'Ts for New Year's Resolutions You'll Actually Keep

The Kidlit Karma Project

2018 Kidlit Karma Challende

Every year I spend some time thinking about what I want my life to look like in the New Year. I know that my life is better when I spend time on the things that are meaningful to me. That’s why I make it a goal to write five days a week, why I try to read a bit each day, and why I carve out time to volunteer for causes I believe in.

Quote: "We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act, but a habit." Will Durant

The little things add up. This year I wrote more than ever before. I’m on target to read 500 books for the 3rd year in a row. And I’m proud of how much the charities I support were able to achieve.

Those little habits can be just as powerful for making positive changes in the world.

My local food cooperative, Common Ground, allows you to round up your purchase to the nearest dollar and donate the change to a monthly charity. The pennies add up. Even in our small community, we routinely raise thousands of dollars each month for community charities.

Quote: "Sometimes," said Pooh, "The smallest things take up the most room in your heart." A. A. Milne

Money is easy to measure. It’s harder to quantify the small acts of kindness. A friendly smile to someone who is lonely, a willing ear for someone who is hurt, a hug for a child who is struggling – we can’t know the exact impact of these things. But these things are no less important.

Small acts of kindness, done thoughtfully and consistently, can have big impacts.

So I have been thinking: how can I harness this power of the small habits to create the kind of world I want to live in? I’ve been thinking about this in all aspects of my life. Here, I will talk about how this relates to writing.

Quote: "Be the change you want to see in the world." Mahatma Gandhi

I love to read. That’s not news, nor is it news that I am passionate about children’s literature.

Books also have powerful effects on growing minds. Children can become more compassionate just by reading books. They slip into a character’s skin and get a view of the world from a different point of view. All while exercising their minds and having a good time.

In the last few years, I have taken time to recommend many books that I truly believe in. In true fangirl fashion, when I find something I love I just can’t help but gush about it. But it’s also one small way that I can help adults and kids connect with some of the amazing stories out there.

It’s also been a way for me to highlight overlooked books. These are excellent books but, for whatever reason, they haven’t gotten as much attention as they deserve.

Quote: "No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted." Aesop

In 2018, I want to take it a step further.

A good review is like a love letter to the author and illustrator. We rarely get direct feedback on our writing. We don’t speak to the people buying our books or see how they affect the lives of our readers, so we don’t get to see their impact. Unprompted, honest support of our work can mean the world to an author.

Reviews also have tangible positive effects for authors and illustrators. Leaving reviews on Amazon and Goodreads is one of the best ways to support authors. Books with more honest, positive feedback will show up higher in search results. They are more likely to be suggested as additional purchases or “books you may like.” That translates into more sales.

I’m already reading lots of books. I’m already evangelizing about great kidlit. But I’m not taking the small next step of posting the reviews. I’m not reviewing in a way that will best help readers reach those books. And I’m not sending my love and appreciation to the authors and illustrators who worked so hard to create those books.

Quote: "A good review is like a love letter to the author."

I’m going to fix that.

The Kidlit Karma challenge: Every month in 2018, I will leave an honest, positive review on Amazon and Goodreads for a book I love.

The nitty gritty:

  • Once each calendar month I will review a book on Amazon and Goodreads.
  • I will only review books that I can honestly rate with 4 or 5 stars.
  • I will leave at least one paragraph explaining why I love this book.
  • To increase visibility, I will also crosspost my kidlit love letter on my blog and social media accounts.
  • I will use the hashtag #kidlitkarma to make postings searchable and to create buzz.
  • To have the biggest impact, I will reserve my reviews for books that have smaller numbers of reviews.

One book a month. One paragraph a month. It’s a small gift of my time that can have a big impact on others.

Here’s the thing: small acts build up more quickly when you join forces. Are you a writer, a reader, a librarian, an educator, or a lover of kidlit? You can spread the love, too.

Take the pledge!

2018 Kidlit Karma Badge

Grab this graphic and proudly post it on your blog, webpage, or social media accounts. Let others know you’re going to make your world a little better, one kid book at a time. Post in the comments with your URL, twitter handle, etc. so we can see what great books you’re reviewing each month.


Big List of Books to Give to Kids, 2017 edition

It’s that time again! Time for me to gush about some of the books I read this year in the hopes you will buy some.

Lucky for you, that makes gift giving easy. Books make great gifts for kids and with so many new and classic books, you can find something for every kid.

I’ve broken down the book recommendations into helpful categories. These let you find books that are appropriate for the age and reading ability of the child. If you want to get into the nitty-gritty of how children’s books are classified, check out this post.

For independent readers, this guide will help you determine if a book is appropriate.

You can also check out the lists for 2015 and 2016.


Baby Loves Aerospace Engineering cover

No one is too young for a book! Nothing says love more than cuddling up in the lap of a grownup and listening to a story. And since reading to children is the number one best thing you can do to promote school success, you’re also making an investment in their future success. These books have stiff, durable pages perfect for the littlest readers.

Baby Loves Aerospace Engineering

Besos for Babies

Goodnight Jesus (You just knew that was coming, right?)



Marta Big and Small Cover

These picture books are perfect for kids that are ready to graduate from board books. They have shorter texts (to match short attention spans) but big humor. These are a great fit for preschool through lower elementary.

Marta Big and Small

Sophie’s Squash and the sequel Sophie’s Squash Goes to School

Bitty Bot

Stick and Stone

Water Song



Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake cover

These texts are a tad longer. Perfect for the slightly older kid that still loves picture books.

Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake

The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors

Nothing Rhymes with Orange

Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast

Charlotte and the Rock

Great Now We’ve Got Barbarians


Kids can begin listening to chapter books as young as preschool or kindergarten. These books have short chapters and pictures can help ease the transition. They’re also free of mature or scary content.

No. 1 Car Spotter

Winnie the Pooh and while you’re at it read about the true story behind the fictional bear in Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear


Is That Wise Pig cover

These books are great for kids that are still learning to read. These are arranged from easiest to hardest. Choose the one that seems just right or a little ahead of where your reader is currently.

Is That Wise Pig? and Jan Thomas’s other books are always a big hit with my kids.


Ballet Cat: What’s Your Favorite Favorite?

Narwhal: Unicorn of the Sea



Catstronauts: Mission Moon cover

Comics and graphic novels have been the gateway to reading for many kids. Apparently, I didn’t read many graphic novels this year, but what I lack in numbers I make up for with quality. I love all the books in this series (and stalk Drew Brockington’s twitter to find out when there will be more).

Castronauts: Mission Moon



Wonder cover

The one category where I read significantly more than in any previous year: middle grade. Middle grade is the term for upper elementary to middle school readers. I tried to thin down this list. I really did. But…. I can’t. #sorrynotsorry To help you sort through, I’ve added the genre of each but these should be taken with a (large) grain of salt.

Wonder – Realistic

Book Scavenger – Realistic/Mystery

Refugee – Modern Historical Fiction

Amina’s Voice – Realistic

The Metropolitans – Fantasy/Historical Fiction

The Mysterious Benedict Society

The Girl Who Drank the Moon – Fantasy

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library – Mystery

The First Rule of Punk – Realistic

The League of Beastly Dreadfuls – Fantasy

The Detective’s Assistant – Historical Fiction/Mystery

The Case of the Missing Moonstone – Historical Fiction/Mystery



The Hate U Give cover

There is only one book on this list, but it was the most powerful book I read all year. If you’re only going to read one YA novel all year, let it be this one.

The Hate You Give



Over and Under the Snow cover

It’s a great time for people that love nonfiction. There is some terrific nonfiction out there right now. This list was just as hard to thin down as the middle grade novels. After each book, I’ve listed the age category. PB = picture book and can range from preschool to upper elementary. MG = middle elementary to middle school. YA = middle school to teen.

Over and Under The Snow – PB

I’m Trying to Love Spiders – PB

Kate Warne: Pinkerton Detective – PB

Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught the World about Kindness – PB

Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code – PB

Spot the Mistake: Lands of Long Ago – PB

The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, A Young Civil Right’s Activist  – older PB

Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower – MG

Hidden Figures Young Reader’s Edition – MG or YA

Bomb: The Race to Build – And Steal – The World’s Most Dangerous Weapon – YA

Radioactive! How Irene Curie and Lise Meitner Revolutionized Science and Changed the World – YA

Blood, Bullets, and Bones: The Story of Forensic Science from Sherlock Holmes to DNA – YA


Still looking for inspiration? Check out these 500+ Great Kid’s Books.

Note: I get no compensation for making these recommendations. I just really, really like books.

Ultimate Gift Guide for Writers

Ultimate Gift Guide for Writers

Tis’ the season for gift giving. It’s easy to know what writers want: a five-book deal at a top publisher. Barring, that check out these suggestions to help you find gifts for the writers in your life.


happy coffee

Caffeinated beverages

If you hang out with writers, you will soon learn that we love our caffeinated beverages.

Most writers don’t earn a full-time income from writing and may take many years to “make it.” Which means most of us write early in the morning or late in the evening and subsist on caffeine. Liquid motivation can go a long way to making the writerly lifestyle work around full-time employment and other life demands.

Or maybe there’s just something about a steaming cup of coffee that’s downright magical.

In any case, find out the preferred caffeinated beverage of your writer and go to town. Options include:

  • a sampling of teas
  • a really large bag of coffee
  • membership is a tea or coffee of the month club
  • Gift card to a coffee shop or tea house

Go ahead and spring for the good stuff. A really good cup of home-brewed coffee is a nice luxury at cents to the cup.


I turn coffee into books mug

Things to put caffeinated beverages into/make them with

Again, writers like caffeinated beverages. So why not give them the gift of making a swanky cuppa at home. Or a fancy mug to hold that steaming cup of inspiration.


If you’re feeling crafty, you can even try one of the millions* of ideas on Pinterest for decorating a coffee mug with a permanent marker.


Writing with chocolate

Comfort foods/drinks

Aside from caffeinated beverages, comfort foods and drinks are also a good bet.

The path to success is paved with rejection and angst. The angst of showing your work to the world. The rejection when it’s not immediately accepted as the most amazing things since Harry Potter. The angst of wondering if you will EVER get published. The angst of worry when you finally are published. It doesn’t end.

Which is why, in addition to caffeinated beverages, writers are awfully fond of our comfort foods. Ferret out the comfort food of choice for your writer and then get creative. Common choices include:

  • Chocolate
  • Wine
  • Chocolate of the month or Wine of the month club

Like coffee and tea, a little splurge can go a long way. So skip the checkout chocolate bar and go for the Godiva.



It is a truth universally acknowledged that a writer

must be in want of stationary

– Not Jane Austen

Ok, not as eloquent as Jane’s opening line about marriage, but it does seem true that writers love the physical tools of the trade. Even those of us that do our writing on a computer, still love the old-fashioned stuff.


Fountain pen

A Fancy Pen (or two)

A good pen is a wonderful thing. I like to use pens as a tangible celebration of accomplishments. Like a bottle of wine, I find the price bump from “mediocre” to “good” is not too bad. But you can easily spend upwards of “that could have been a mortgage payment.”

Here are two pens that I currently own and love but won’t break the bank:

If your writer is a true pen lover out there, check out these pen recommendations.



Notebook or Journal

A nice notebook pairs well with those new pens your buying. If your favorite writer has not yet discovered the joys of Bullet Journaling, they will. Trust me. I give it a year or until they open an Instagram account, whichever comes first.

Whatever they’ll use it for, you really can’t go wrong with a nice notebook:


Traveler's notebook

Traveler’s notebook

Really want to wow your favorite writer? Let them know you believe in them and that you have impeccable taste? Well, let me introduce you to your newest obsession: traveler’s notebooks.

The concept is easy: It’s a leather cover with elastic strings that let you slip in and out different notebook inserts. All the joy of a new notebook but it just keeps going forever.

(I may be slightly obsessed.)

A traveler’s notebook is an investment. Do a favor for your favorite starving artist and make the investment for them.

You can buy from the Midori, the company that originated travelers notebooks, or you can choose one of about a million gorgeous examples from around the interwebs. For instance:



Ok, if you have made it this far and still haven’t found anything to give your favorite writer, try these:

Story Cubes Game


Story Cubes are a fun and simple game, perfect for your favorite writer ages 8+. It’s simple – roll the picture dice, and use the picture you roll to help build a story.




I left this to last because it seems…. obvious….?

Every writer is also a reader. Period. And most of us could use help financing our book addiction. If you don’t have a book in mind, try one of these suggestions:

  • Gift card to a bookstore
  • Payment of library fines (No idea how this would work but boy would it be nice.)

The ultimate (and free) gift for any writer

Whatever you’re purchasing for your writer, there’s one thing you absolutely MUST give them: your support.

It’s simple. It’s free. But it’s the one thing most writers can’t do without.

Writing can be a lonely endeavor. It takes persistence and years of dedication. Let your writer know you support them.

Support can come in many forms:

  • understanding that a friend may need to stay in and write rather than hit the town with you
  • knowing that it’s a long process and that lack of tangible progress (like a book on Amazon) is not a sign of failure
  • gifting them with the time to write
  • realizing that this is a commitment and a passion, not a hobby

However you show it, shower your writer with support, and they will thank you every time.

My October: Back Pain, Binge Reading, and NaNoWriMo

Three weeks ago, I threw out my back. It’s not the first time and won’t be the last.

I’ve been trying to convince myself that this is like a forced vacation. A chance to catch up on reading and Netflix.

I have, indeed, done a ton of reading. According to Goodreads, I’ve clocked an average of one middle grade or young adult book every two days. That’s great for my 2017 reading challenge, but the novelty has worn off.

2017 Goodreads Books reading challenge status

So now that I can sit upright again (at least for awhile), I’ve been back to writing.

And with November on the horizon, that means NaNoWriMo.

This will be first year participating in NaNo – the challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in November. In my case, I’ll be writing a middle-grade novel, so I’m aiming for closer to 30,000 words.

Last year, I was hesitant. I had never written any fiction longer than a short story. I wasn’t sure I could maintain a story for that long. So I signed up for a NaNo account but never did much.

Then this summer, an idea hit critical mass. It had been simmering on my brain’s back burner for months before suddenly hitting a roiling boil. After some intensive brainstorming, the entire rough draft came together in about four weeks.

Rough draft is the key phrase. I knew from the get-go that I would need many rounds of revisions. I was not wrong. In my first pass of revisions, I had to backfill character motivations, add subplots, and make sure my characters were three dimensional. It’s a work in progress, but I can already see it taking shape.

I was not wrong.

In my first pass of revisions, I had to backfill character motivations, add subplots, and make sure my characters were three dimensional. It’s a work in progress, but I have hope that I’ll come out the other side with something people want to read. More importantly, I have confidence now.

So this year I’m embracing NaNo wholeheartedly. This idea has been simmering for a few months now. I’ve been itching to work on it. Now that other projects are wrapping up, I’m ready to stoke up the fire and get things going.

Plot twist: it will be my first historical fiction piece. It’s the perfect marriage of my love of story and my love of nonfiction.

I’m using the month of October to prepare (Preptober). For most NaNoers that means fleshing out characters, figuring out plot points, and the like. I’m doing all that plus having to research the real events and places where my novel is set.

Right now I’m neck-deep in research. I’m not quite drowning, but I do feel a bit seasick.

I just hope that by November, I’m back on my feet, literally.




Happy Birthday, Goodnight Jesus!


Happy Birthday, Goodnight Jesus
Thanks to Emma at Charming the birds from the Trees for letting me use her lovely photo.

I can’t believe it. It’s been a whole year since my first book, Goodnight Jesus, was published.

I’ve been feeling a bit mushy about this all month. Publishing a book is a big deal. Years of work and effort go into it. And then to see people hold it in their hands, to hear them tell you how much their children love it…. It’s a feeling that’s hard to describe.

Can I let you in on a secret, though? I have no idea what this book’s birthday is.

Usually, that date is tattooed on your heart right after your wedding anniversary and your children’s births. But after years of waiting for a signed contract to become a book, I missed it.

The week that Goodnight Jesus was published was a blur for me. I was sitting at my stepmother’s bedside in hospice as she lost a battle with cancer. That week I lost a stepmother and gained a book.

Like I said, mushy.

It’s now been a year. All my plans for book launch happened eventually. Announcement and blog posts rolled out over the next weeks and months. The Goodnight Jesus activity pages I wrote took a bit longer.

I guess Goodnight Jesus is written on my heart after all. But it’s written with a name rather than a date.

Here’s to you, Bettie.

Help! How Do I Find Books for My Child?

HELP! How do I find Books for my Child-

Having a child that loves books is a wonderful thing. But often in the next breath, parents lament “how do I find books for my child?”

Kids in middle to late elementary seem to inhale books. Parents often find that keeping their child supplied with books is an impossible task. How can a parent tell if a book is going to be appropriate? Is it the right reading level? Will there be content that is too mature?

Mature content is especially a problem if your child reads above their grade-level. A child may be capable of reading a book but not have the emotional maturity to handle it. Imagine a sensitive 8-year-old reading the death scenes in the Hunger Games.

So what’s a parent to do?

Most of us can’t quit our day jobs to read children’s novels full-time. (Even if we would like to.)

I’ve gathered together some resources to help you wade through it all.

Help! How do I find books for my child?

First, you can check out lists of book recommendations. I read widely, and every year I made a list of my favorite books from the year. Check out the lists from 2016 and 2015.

2016 Big List of Books to Give to Kids

Big list of books to give to kids

Second, I also have a Pinterest board full of book recommendations. Need ideas for a 2nd grader? Or books set in Asia? Or adventure books for girls? Books for reluctant readers? Scroll through, and you’ll probably find something.

500+ Great Kid's Books to Read

Ok, but how can I tell if the reading level is right?

If your child’s reading-level is different from their grade level, then recommendations for their grade may not be a good fit.

The Accelerated Reader website lets you search for books. It tells you the reading level and word count for each book. Not every book is listed, but most often I can find what I need. Let’s look at a recent favorite of mine: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

Screen Shot of THE HATE U GIVE from Accelerated Reader page

The ATOS level is the grade level. In this case, this Young Adult book is readable to a student who is in the 9th month of 3rd grade.

Other things to note are the Interest Level and Word Count. The language of this book might be understandable by a 3rd grader, but it is interesting to a much older child – 9th to 12th grade. Plus, I don’t know any 3rd graders that wouldn’t balk at the sheer volume of a 95,000-word book.

Compare this to a book like Wonder by R.J. Palacio:

Screen Shot WONDER on Accelerated Reader website


Here the book is a bit more balanced: The reading level is later in 4th grade, and the interest level is 4th-8th grade. The length is also better for a 4th grader at 73,000 words.

But how do I know what my child’s reading level is?

You have a few options. You could grab a stack of books that your child read recently, and look them up on the Accelerated Reader website. Get an average of the ATOS level, and you’re good to go.

The Scholastic website also lets you look up books to find their reading level. It uses a different measurement of reading level: Lexile scores. Lexile scores are widely used but don’t translate easily to a grade level.

You could give them a test such as the reading level test on the free website Moby Max. You will need to make an account, but the website is free to use.

Great. Now how do I tell which books are appropriate for my child?

The Common Sense Media web page rates media designed for children. It will flag any mature content. That means you don’t have to read a whole novel to find out there’s a sex scene in chapter 37. Let’s take a look at our two books:

Screen Shot of THE HATE U GIVE on Common Sense Media

At the top, there’s a rating of quality (5 stars) and approximate age appropriateness. The age rating takes into account both reading ability and mature content. As we saw before, The Hate U Give has a low readability level, but the high-interest level bumped it up here. Further down, it breaks down mature content by type. You can click on each to get more information. The “What Parents Need to Know” section, gives you an overview.

Reading over this, I could tell that this is a powerful book that would be perfect for a high schooler or mature middle schooler.

Now let’s look at our other book example.

Screen Shot of WONDER on Common Sense Media

Wonder is a better bet for an elementary school child. The rating of age 11 reflects that there is some minor mature content (bullying and kissing).


Though I read a lot of children’s books, I still have to use these tricks to help my kids. Hopefully, now you feel confident helping your child find books. Do you have any tips or tricks to add?