And parents, if you would like to enter the contest on behalf of your child’s teacher or librarian, feel free. (I do want this giveaway to go to a school classroom.)
As a parent, I can sympathize if you have a disorganized child! Except for the rare kid born with an “organization gene”, organizational skills are learned. Here are some ideas for you:
Early in the school year, help your child put together a binder, with dividers for each subject. During the year, help your child file papers, gradually allowing him independence.
Find a file box to keep at home, so that as your child collects papers the older stuff can be moved from the binder to the file box. Keep the papers only so long as they are useful (for tests).
Help your child set up a home study space. If the only space is the kitchen table, use storage boxes to hold things your child needs every day, like pencils, paper, a ruler, etc. Then the table can be cleaned off for dinner! Try to maintain quiet (no TV, no computer) while your child studies.
Make sure your child studies at the same time every day. This way homework becomes a habit, and homework struggles are reduced. Have your child read if she doesn’t have homework.
Let your child take a brain break from homework every 20 to 30 minutes. Make sure that he has a healthy snack after school and before homework, so that he can keep going.
Homework is important, and your child should study for at least 10 minutes per grade (i.e., 30 minutes in 3rd grade, and so on). By middle school, extra time will probably be required.
Get everything ready for school the night before. This will reduce the early morning tendency to forget something important.
Also, you’ll find a downloadable pdf file of my “after-school schedule” here. I hope you find it useful.
My first book, in print since 2006 from Free Spirit Publishing, with over 60,000 copies sold and available in eight languages, is still helping middle grade kids get organized. With downloadable worksheets, helpful suggestions, various strategies, and humorous anecdotes, GET ORGANIZED WITHOUT LOSING IT has garnered praise from kids, teachers, and parents.
Get Organized giveaway pack
I wrote it because my own son suffered from ADD and dyslexia and the book emerged from the strategies I found to help him. (Mom pride moment: he is now on his way to a writing career.)
To celebrate my book’s decade-long (and ongoing) life, I’m offering a big give-away to any teacher or librarian. Here’s what’s in the giveaway:
a complete classroom set of copies (25 copies total) of GET ORGANIZED WITHOUT LOSING IT
a hard copy print-out set of each of the reproducible worksheets
a hard copy print-out of the Activity Guide written by Deb Gonzales
a free fifteen-minute Skype visit to your classroom, grades 5-7
If you are a teacher or librarian of upper elementary or middle school grades, enter the giveaway below. Please note: only available to teachers/librarians currently employed in any school in the U.S.; contest is open until January 31.
The winner will be announced January 31. Good luck!!
Lately I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what motivates a protagonist to action. Lisa Cron, in her terrific craft book STORY GENIUS, describes what she calls the character’s “misbelief” – a belief that has been the source of much agony for the character. Others refer to this characteristic as a “back-story wound”, or a “fatal flaw”, but I love the idea of a misbelief that results from perhaps a single defining moment in someone’s past.
I love it primarily because it answers the question, “Why did you do that? Why do you feel that?”
And it can stem from something startlingly simple and innocent.
Today I heard a story on NPR that, in my opinion, describes a perfect, quietly tragic moment that I imagine resulted in a terrible, defining misbelief.
The story (you can read it in its entirety here) was told by 94-year-old oncologist Joseph Linsk. When he was a young boy, running across the playground, his arms flailing, he knocked the eyeglasses off a classmate, and the glasses broke. The classmate burst into tears and said that it would cost two dollars to repair them, and where could he get two dollars? He was going to tell his father, and get Joseph into real trouble.
Joseph had no idea where he’d get two dollars either, but he was scared to death that the other boy’s father would call his parents.
At the time, his mother had a housekeeper named Pearl, who earned two dollars a week. Joseph saw the two dollars waiting for Pearl at the end of the day, and he took them from the counter, gave them to his teacher, and settled the matter of the glasses.
What wasn’t settled was the matter of Pearl. When she asked where her two dollars had gone, Joseph’s mother accused Pearl of lying, of taking and hiding the money herself, and fired her on the spot, leaving her, a mother, jobless.
Joseph hid the story from everyone for 80 years.
Now imagine the guilt Joseph lived with. His shame. His knowledge that perhaps Pearl’s children went hungry that week and for a long time after. His awareness that Pearl, branded a thief, was unable to get another job without a good referral. What would that guilt and shame have done to Joseph? What decisions did he make throughout his life that reflected his sickening memory? Did he stand up for himself in tough times, or did he cower? Did he try to make up for his transgression by becoming selfless, or did he toughen against those in need?
The fact that he became an oncologist may answer some of these questions, but the deeper issue raises new ones. And if I were writing his story, I’d be asking them. Because that incident, recited in a halting voice brimming with emotion, clearly colored who he became.
And where did this terrible, life-long, tragic feeling begin?
When my son was younger I told him that he should keep two words in mind as he went out in the world: be nice.
Now I would change those words to be kind.
There’s nothing wrong with nice. My mother would have used the word correct. (Which is one reason I’ve come to dislike the term politically correct, since there should be nothing political about correct/nice/appropriate behavior.)
But kind, now, means more to me than just correct. Kind means heartfelt. It means selfless. It means love in the most brotherly of terms. It means feeling empathy for others. It means more of what we need as the community of human souls, especially right now.
In tribute to kindness and in the spirit of the season, I’d like to offer some gift suggestions that honor kindness and foster empathy. These suggestions not surprisingly have something to do with books and reading, since not only is that my thing, but also because I believe that through reading and education do we grow in kindness and empathy.
There are many more books than I have room to cite so please add your favorites in the comments – especially for teen readers.
For the youngest readers:
Step Right Up: How Doc and Jim Key Taught The World About Kindness, by Donna Janell Bowman, illustrated by Daniel Minter (Lee & Low Books, 2016). A Horse that can read, write, and do math? Ridiculous! That’s what people thought until former slave and self-taught veterinarian Dr. William Key, with his “educated” horse Beautiful Jim Key, proved that, with kindness, anything is possible. Over nine years of exhibiting across the country, Doc and “Jim” broke racial barriers, fueled the humane movement, and inspired millions of people to step right up and choose kindness.
Grandfather Gandhi, by Arun Gandhi & Bethany Hegedus, illustrated by Evan Turk (Atheneum Books For Young Readers, 2015). Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson tells the story of how his grandfather taught him to turn darkness into light in this uniquely personal and vibrantly illustrated tale that carries a message of peace.
For middle grade readers:
A Long Walk To Water, by Linda Sue Park (Clarion Books, 2010). Before leaving Africa, Salva’s life is one of harrowing tragedy. Separated from his family by war and forced to travel on foot through hundreds of miles of hostile territory, he survives starvation, animal attacks, and disease, and ultimately leads a group of about 150 boys to safety in Kenya. Relocated to upstate New York, Salva resourcefully learns English and continues on to college. Eventually he returns to his home region in southern Sudan to establish a foundation that installs deep-water wells in remote villages in dire need of clean water. This poignant story of Salva’s life is told side-by-side with the story of Nya, a young girl who lives today in one of those villages. (Be sure to check out the many generous actions taken by classrooms that have read this book.)
The Seeds of America Trilogy, by Laurie Halse Anderson (Simon & Schuster, 2016). It’s 1776 and Isabel, Curzon, and Ruth have only ever known life as slaves. But now the young country of America is in turmoil—there are whisperings, then cries, of freedom from England spreading like fire, and with it is a whole new type of danger. For freedom being fought for one isn’t necessarily freedom being fought for all…especially if you are a slave. But if an entire nation can seek its freedom, why can’t they?
For teen readers:
Challenger Deep, by Neil Shusterman (HarperCollins, 2015). Challenger Deep is an astonishing artistic achievement. In high school student Caden Bosch, Neal Shusterman has created a young hero who finds a way not just to navigate his own schizophrenic breakdown but to ease the struggles of his fellow patients. Poetic, compassionate, and thrillingly inventive, Challenger Deep affirms the power of narrative to describe the indescribable and enlighten us all.
Their mission: “We Need Diverse Books™ is a grassroots organization of children’s book lovers that advocates essential changes in the publishing industry to produce and promote literature that reflects and honors the lives of all young people.”
Anne Nesbet’s historical novel, CLOUD AND WALLFISH, about the Berlin Wall is receiving wide acclaim, including a Horn Book starred review. “In an intricately plotted novel full of espionage and intrigue, friendship and family, Anne Nesbet cracks history wide open and gets right to the heart of what it feels like to be an outsider in a world that’s impossible to understand.”
Anne wrote this post prior to last week’s election. If you feel a shiver up your spine, it may well reflect premonition. And another: November 9 is the anniversary of Kristallnacht. What is that, you ask? Only the beginning of the Holocaust.
Listen well. The past is teacher to the future. And we must, must pay attention, even to the smallest details. Here’s Anne.
As I finish up writing this post, it is already the early hours of November 8, 2016, a day for nervous humming and the biting of fingernails: a day when we know that tomorrow, the 9th, we will wake up, and the world will have changed a little.
At least elections, like hurricanes and holidays, give some advance warning as they approach: we can prepare by studying the issues or boarding up the windows or baking a lot of cookies, as appropriate. But then there are all those other momentous changes that come without warning, like earthquakes or winning the lottery or–well, let’s go back to another November 8:
The headlines that day were very ordinary: Kitty Dukakis was in the hospital; the Fed had just eased credit; Del Monte was restructuring. In Europe change continued to simmer along: something like 60,000 East Germans had slipped into the West through the increasingly permeable borders of Czechoslovakia and Hungary since the beginning of November.
But it was really a very ordinary day.
All over East Germany, children pulled turtlenecks over their heads or buttoned up their shirts and had some breakfast (the brown bread had a lovely, comforting tang to it, and then there were the slices of cheese and sausage, and maybe some jam) while their parents drank coffee they had boiled on the stove, and then those children looked at the clocks on the walls and stuffed their school books into their backpacks and ran off down the stairs to school. Their parents probably worried about the state of their country at some point, about friends who were thinking of leaving somehow, or who had already left, or about the nervousness of politicians these days, while drinking their coffee–but then they put on their jackets and went to work at the lab, at the garage, at the office, another ordinary day in their ordinary world.
And then the very next day, after that most ordinary of Wednesdays, the Wall came down, and everything changed.
How do you tell a story that is true both to little things, like the taste of the bread people had for breakfast, and also to the huge events that interrupt the everyday and turn it into History? How do you respect both “November 8” and “November 9”?
CLOUD AND WALLFISH, my middle-grade friendship and spying novel, set in East Berlin in 1989, taught me that writing historical fiction is basically a question of choreography: shaping a dance between the Ordinary and the Extraordinary. There are the amazing historical events that really happened, that bring us to a place and a particular period in time: they dance like black holes, eager to swallow up the story. And then there are all the details of everyday life, the hopes and worries of ordinary people who have no way of knowing that today or tomorrow, their individual stories will find themselves caught up in a dance designed for a very large stage.
Noah and Cloud-Claudia, my heroes, get caught up in that large dance in Berlin; I want us to remember the little, everyday details as well as the splashy excitement of of the Wall’s collapse. For this reason, one of my own favorite parts of the book is where Claudia tells us more about something extraordinarily ordinary: a camping trip she went on with her parents, the previous summer. (If you read this aloud, be warned that you really have to try to do it all in one run-on breath!):
“‘I like to be asleep in a tent when it’s raining,’ she said. ….. “A tent is the best, if it isn’t leaking. If there are blankets and you have spent the whole day climbing up the crazy rock castles by the Elbe River and stopping to draw pictures of them because you can’t imagine how much they look like magicians carved them and then later you eat sausages and crawl into the tent and have the every-evening picture-judging contest to see who drew the best rocks that day which is not a fair contest says Papa, because his pictures are photographs so he can’t show them to us yet and ours always win, Mama’s drawings and mine, but that’s how it goes and you sing one more hiking song and then roll up in the blankets to sleep better and if then the rain comes but not all at once, just pat-pitter-pat like it’s whispering something, then that’s the best.'”
History has already hurt Claudia’s family, by this point in the story, but her life is not just History’s version: it is all the little things that came before. It’s the sound of the rain on the tent.
So my advice to those who find themselves suddenly caught up in History: notice the flavor of the bread. Write down some of the little details–maybe even do that today, which may also, who knows, turn out to be Historical: what socks you are wearing. How exactly you turn on the television, if you have one of those things. What the woman said at the store, when you were buying–what were you buying, again? You will be able to look up the big Historical aspects of today later on, but the little things are what make the difference between History and a life, and they deserve to be treasured, too.
On Saturday, November 5, my panel is SUPERNATURAL STORYTELLERS. Location: Capitol Extension Room E1.026 from 12:30 PM – 1:15 PM
Moderator: Cynthia Leitich Smith
A magical library, a haunted castle, and a mysterious forest. Otherworldly forces are at work this hour. Don’t miss supernatural storytellers D.J. MacHale, Janet Fox and Robert Beatty as they take us on journeys beyond this realm!
Booksigning, immediately after the panel: Childrens Book Sales & Signing Tent
And at NCTE, in Atlanta, Georgia, I’m on two panels.
First, from 2:30-3:45 on Friday, November 18, in Room A311:
Advocating for Your Student Writers: Bringing the Author/Editor Relationship to the Classroom
Attend this roundtable session to discover how an editor/author relationship can be used by teachers to advocate for student writers. You will hear from four of the author/editor pairs learning insights, methods, techniques, tips, and strategies to improve writing instruction and guide student writers in your classroom.
Co-Chairs: Jillian Heise, literacy consultant, Custom Education Solutions Jenny Seiler, Woodworth Middle School, Fond du Lac, WI
Author/Editor Pairs: Janet Fox and Kendra Levin, Penguin Young Readers
Sara Zarr and Jordan Brown, HarperCollins Children’s Books
Jordan Sonnenblick and David Levithan, Scholastic
Randi Pink and Liz Szabla, Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group
Brian Conaghan and Cindy Loh, Bloomsbury
Sherri Winston and Allison Moore, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
SJ Kincaid and Justin Chanda, Simon & Schuster
Ronald L. Smith and Lynne Polvino, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers
After that panel, I’ll be signing in the Penguin Booth (412) from 4:00-5:00 PM
Second, from 8:00-9:15 AM on Saturday, November 19, in Room B311:
We See Their Faces: How Historical Fiction Advocates for Empathy, Diversity, and Social Change
Empathy toward others and advocacy for diversity is more important than ever in schools. This teacher/author panel examines historical fiction characters as role models for today’s children and provides participants with ways to respond to injustice and obstacles through themed units, character studies, and social action projects.
Chair: Holly Mueller, Kings Local Schools, Kings Mills, OH
Presenters: Holly Mueller, Kings Local Schools, Kings Mills, OH
Margaret Simon, Iberia Parish Gifted Program, LA
Respondents: Kirby Larson, Scholastic
Janet Fox, author, Bozeman, MT (Penguin Young Readers)
Rita Williams-Garcia, HarperCollins
Augusta Scattergood, Scholastic
Linda Sue Park, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Please come and say hello if you will be at either of these events!
Ghost. Phantom, apparition, spook. Commonly thought to be the spirit of a dead person appearing in lifelike form.
The Scots, it turns out, are very into ghosts. The word wraith first appears in 18th century Scottish romantic literature; the word bogey first appears in Scottish poet John Mayne’s Hallowe’en (1780). Robert Burns read Mayne’s poem and wrote his own version; according to Burns, Halloween is “thought to be a night when witches, devils, and other mischief-making beings are all abroad on their baneful midnight errands”. Here’s just one stanza from Burns’ (very long) poem:
He wistl’d up Lord Lennox’ March To keep his courage cherry; Altho’ his hair began to arch, He was sae fley’d an’ eerie: Till presently he hears a squeak, An’ then a grane an’ gruntle; He by his shouther gae a keek, An’ tumbled wi’ a wintle Out-owre that night.
And the modern English translation:
He whistled up Lord Lennox’ march To keep his courage cheery; Although his hair began to stand on end, He was so scared and eerie: Till presently he hears a squeak, And then a grown and grunting; He over his shoulder gave a peek, And tumbled with a stagger Out over that night.
Window in Edinburgh
Halloween – more properly “Hallowe’en” or “All Hallows Eve” – is the night before All Saints’ Day, which was designated by Pope Gregory in the 8th century as the day to revere saints and martyrs. Halloween probably originated from the Celtic festival of Samhain, which was a celebration of the end of summer and the beginning of the long dark days of winter, and associated with death. On Samhain, also celebrated on the first of November, the Celts believed that the line between life and death became blurred, and one could commune with the dead, which included fortune-telling by those spirits. As part of the communion – or perhaps to hide from wandering spirits – Samhain festival-goers would dress in costumes of animal skins and masks.
All Saints’ Day could be translated from “All-hallowmas” or the Middle English “Alholowmesse”. The night before, “All-hallows Eve” became “Hallows-even” or “Hallowe’en.” Our practice of trick-or-treating probably comes from the English tradition of giving “soul cakes” to poor beggars who in turn would promise to pray for the souls of the donors. “Going a-souling” was eventually the province of children who would go door-to-door for food and money. The tradition may also have its roots in the practice of leaving food out for spirits, to encourage their benevolence.
Regardless of your feelings about spooks, spirits, or ghosts, you might want to give your modern-day trick-or-treaters a truly soul-feeding gift. In addition to candy, our “Trick-or-Reaters” website offers spooky fun book-related gifts. Just stuff one of these print-outs in their goody bags and trick-or-treaters can visit the website and peruse free offerings from the frightful to delightful.
Happy Halloween, and remember – we ain’t afraid of no ghosts!
There’s a reference to All Hallow’s Eve in THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE. Can you find it?
And don’t forget – this giveaway ends at midnight on Halloween night! Just in time for ghosts to return to their place of rest.
This week I have a special treat for all you tricksters – and a special guest. Christine Hayes, author of MOTHMAN’S CURSE, has written us a tantalizing guest post – and she’s attached a great giveaway of her own! Here’s Christine:
There’s something irresistible about a mystery, and cryptids may be one of the most tantalizing mysteries of all. Cryptozoology is the study of creatures that haven’t been proven to exist. The most famous of these include Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster. People have tried for decades to secure proof of these fascinating figures, but most of the photos that surface turn out to be fakes.
So are they real? Some believe that cryptids are afraid of humans—just as we’re afraid of monsters. Or perhaps they’ve learned to stay in hiding in order to survive. But fifty years ago, one creature broke with tradition and started appearing all over town in Point Pleasant, West Virginia.
It began in November of 1966. Two couples were driving down a dark country road when something began chasing them. They described the being as shaped like a man, with wings and glowing red eyes. The story made the papers the next day. The creature came to be known as Mothman.
Enthusiasts flocked to Point Pleasant, hoping for a glimpse of Mothman. More than a hundred sightings were reported over the next 13 months. And then, disaster struck.
The Silver Bridge, which connected Kanauga, Ohio and Point Pleasant, collapsed during rush hour traffic. Forty-six people were killed. In the years to come, legend grew that the tragedy and the Mothman sightings were connected. Did Mothman cause the collapse? Was he trying to warn the town? Either way, his reputation as an omen of disaster has endured.
Many cryptids are not well-known outside their regional haunts, and Mothman is no exception. So when I began writing MOTHMAN’S CURSE, I had a lot of room to play—creating a backstory and widening his sphere of influence. I wanted to explore what would happen if Mothman appeared in other towns, where other disasters loomed. And I loved the idea of two brave kids facing down this huge, frightening creature and saving their town in the process.
October is the perfect month to explore spooky folklore and urban legends. Dusk creeps in a little earlier each day; bare branches scrape at the sky like grasping fingers. And Halloween beckons, a promise of imagination untamed. I recommend curling up with a good book, a warm pair of socks, and an apple cider donut or two.
But should you decide to go cryptid hunting, be sure to take your camera.
Now, here’s the grand giveaway, courtesy of Christine!
31 DAYS OF SCARES AND SHARES: A giveaway to celebrate the release of MOTHMAN’S CURSE in paperback!
Weekdays from Sept. 19 to October 31, I’ll post a link to a spooky article, book, or item of interest. If you retweet on Twitter or share a Facebook or Instagram post, you earn an entry into the final drawing (up to three entries per day, one for each share)! Use hashtag #31scaresandshares.
(5) Signed paperback with mini Mothman plushie
(1) Signed hardback PLUS $100 gift card to Barnes & Noble!
What is it about castles, especially the ancient castles of the British Isles? I love them, and so, it seems, do many of you. Here’s my guess as to why they are fascinating: they’re big and elaborate; they’re old and so have plenty of interesting history; and many of them are apparently haunted.
As I researched haunted Scottish castles I discovered a couple of interesting things. First, many (many) are haunted by someone described as a “Green Lady” (“Gray Ladies” are also a presence, but many more green – maybe for reasons I’ll come to.) Second, many are also associated with children. Naturally, both of these bear on THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE.
At Ethie Castle, near Arbroath, guests have heard the cries of a child at night, accompanied by the sound of a wheeled toy being pulled across the floor. The Green Lady of Dunstaffnage teases and plays with the living children of the castle. After a female skeleton was unearthed behind a wall in Fyvie, a Green Lady began to haunt the castle; she might be the late Dame Lillian Drummond, who was starved to death in 1601 by her husband (nice guy.) At Crathes Castle near Aberdeen, a Green Lady often appears near one of the fireplaces. She picks up an infant, and then they vanish together.
Sometimes Green Ladies are thought to be Gruagach, who are common household spirits often associated with children, and not associated with anything evil. The typical Gruagach is a brownie, the household helper said to inhabit every home (read more about them here.)
Green Lady ghosts are only seen in parts of the United Kingdom, and nowhere else. They are described as slender young women in flowing green gowns with long golden hair. In some cases, they appear as protectors by local farmers, who cite stories of Green Ladies herding their animals to safety during storms or border raids. Many times they are associated with water. Legend has it that a Green Lady will arrive at a croft dripping wet during a storm and ask to be admitted, and when they are admitted they become the protector of that croft. The Dunstaffnage Green Lady and the Green Lady of Fyvie have also been thought to be Glaistig – a being that could be benign or a vengeful ghost. Glaistigs also have a water association.
The water association of these spirits is not surprising given Scotland’s many lochs, rivers, burns, and rills, the frequent rains, and the ocean on all sides. I wonder whether the green in Green Lady is a reference to water, and maybe also to the watery aspect of a ghost.
I’ve experienced a couple of haunted moments myself – one when many years ago I visited southern England and stayed in a hotel that was once a small castle in Devonshire, and was associated with my mother’s family. My mother and I shared a room and were convinced we were visited during the night. Perhaps it was a Green Lady, for she was very benign, and was visiting a mother and her child – maybe even her distant relatives!
Have you ever had any ghostly experiences, or visited any haunted castles?
Don’t forget to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway, below!
So, this October, as I’m celebrating a little more than 6 months of THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE, I’m running a spooktacular and creeptastic giveaway – just in time for Halloween! You’ll find the entry form below.
Each week I’ll also be highlighting some of the fun, but also spooky details about THE CHARMED CHILDREN. We’ll visit creepy castles, find out more about ghosts and hauntings, and check out Scottish lore and legends. I had a lot of fun researching these details as I wrote the novel. And I’m working on a sequel with even more spooky elements, so you’ll hear a bit about that, too.