Page Through The Parks: Grand Canyon!

Page Through The Parks (1)

Our graphic, including one of my views of the Grand Canyon.

I couldn’t be more excited about our August “Page Through The Parks” plans! We now have a Facebook page, so please follow along for live updates.

It’s fitting that we’re beginning our tour in the Grand Canyon, one of the most majestic places on Earth! But before I begin, please make sure you read to the bottom. Giveaways!! If you are a reader, each of us is giving away books on Goodreads. And if you’re a teacher or librarian, we’ve got an amazing Rafflecopter giveaway for you. Please, read on!

When I visited the Grand Canyon a few years back, I was overwhelmed. I had to take a few steps back from the edge (well, if you know me, you know I had to take many steps back.) But oh how beautiful! How unbelievable, that our country has had the foresight to preserve such a treasure!

Liz Garton Scanlon‘s IN THE CANYON brings that landscape to life. I asked her a couple of questions, and here they are with her answers:

What inspired you to write a book about the Canyon? “My agent actually suggested it — she knew that I was (am) a big hiker and backpacker and just general outdoors-lover. What she didn’t know (I don’t think) was that I had hiked the canyon down to the river in my 20s, so when she offered up the idea I happily dove in.”INTHECANYONcover


Liz Garton Scanlon

What was your favorite moment in writing the book? “My favorite moment in the text of the book is actually ALSO my favorite art spread, and that’s the “Hello, Mr. Red Tailed Hawk” page. I love the conversational nature there, the intimacy of child and natural world, and Ashley’s art on that page just blows me away. I actually have a signed print of that on my studio wall. Lucky me!”

I also asked illustrator Ashley Wolff: While working on the illustrations for IN THE CANYON, how many times did you visit the Grand Canyon to get the landscape you wanted to portray? And here’s her answer:


Ashley’s boots in the Grand Canyon.

“I hiked into and out of the Grand Canyon once in 1990, took a mule down to Plateau Point in 1998, and then took a special trip in May of 2013 to do the research for In the Canyon. With Liz’s script tucked in my backpack and only a camera phone, my sister and I hiked down the South Kaibab Trail and back up via Bright Angel in one long, hot sweaty day. It’s a 16 mile round trip with a mile of elevation loss/gain on either end. We paused for an hour at Phantom Ranch to resupply our water and salty snacks and get back to the rim after dark. It was quite a day!”

We would love for all of you to have the chance to visit the Grand Canyon and the other Parks. But in case you can’t, we’ve got a long list of books, for readers from young to old, that we hope you’ll check out.

Here are links to Liz’s Goodreads’ giveaway of IN THE CANYON, Barb Rosenstock’s Yosemite picture book THE CAMPING TRIP THAT CHANGED AMERICA, and my YA novel set in Yellowstone, FAITHFUL.

If you are a teacher or librarian, please enter our Rafflecopter giveaway for a lot of really awesome items, including:


Sequoia patch!

giveaway2a copy of IN THE CANYON, signed by both author and illustrator; a piece of Canyon-inspired art by Ashley Wolff; a beautiful chain-stitch embroidered Sequoia patch; a hardcover copy of THE CAMPING TRIP THAT CHANGED AMERICA signed by Barb; a grow your own Sequoia kit from “Tree in a Box”; a framed 13 x 19 poster of John Muir & giveaway1Theodore Roosevelt Camping in Yosemite; a 500-piece Yosemite jigsaw puzzle; a signed copy of FAITHFUL; a Yellowstone Old Faithful magnet; aYellowstone coffee mug; and to hold all that stuff, a Yellowstone tote bag. Enter now!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Karen Romano Young & HUNDRED PERCENT

I’m delighted to have a guest on the blog today – Karen Romano Young. Her debut middle grade HUNDRED PERCENT is out this week, and it’s getting wonderful buzz, including a Kirkus starred review! Here’s a bit about Karen:

Karen Romano Young has dived to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean in a tiny submarine, crunched through Arctic ice in an icebreaker, and visited labs, museum workshops, and research institutions across the U.S. to write and draw about science. She was a lead science communications fellow aboard Dr. Robert Ballard’s research ship E/V Nautilus.

Karen has written and/or illustrated more than 30 books for children and is the creator of Humanimal Doodles, a science comic. Her nonfiction books include Try This!and Try This Extreme! (National Geographic). Her fiction work includes The Beetle and Me: A Love Story; the graphic novel Doodlebug: a Novel in Doodles; and Hundred Percent. Her next book for Twenty-First Century Books is The Whale Watchers.Karen Young Hundred

Karen lives with her family in the Connecticut woods. She has not yet traveled to space.

And an extra note – it turns out that Karen and I have lots in common – we’ve both been in submersibles! Here’s Karen:

Congratulations on your Kirkus starred review! Please give us a synopsis of HUNDRED PERCENT.

Thank you so much, Janet. I’m thrilled about the great advance notice HP is getting. This book gets into the secret lives of sixth graders — what it’s really like to deal with lifelong friends in a pivotal year when everything — relationships, bodies, interests — are changing so quickly.   Christine Bernadette Gouda — also known as Tink by her family, Chris by her best friend Jackie (who’s trying to help her become cooler), and Hundred Percent by a weird, fascinating boy who calls himself Bushwhack — is looking for how she can be a hundred percent herself in this whirlwind time.

I love books with strong girl protagonists. In what ways do you see Tink as strong – and what are her vulnerabilities?

Tink is so self-conscious it hurts! She just can’t stop noticing where she does or doesn’t fit in, and worries a great deal about what other people think, but she’s also aware that her friends and classmates are in the same situation. It seems like every moment of sixth grade requires a new response, from Halloween to Valentine’s Day to the spring sports season, and Tink messes everything up simply by trying to fix it! Tink is an observer but she’s also a doer. This combination — action and reaction — characterize this book and also lie at the root of Tink’s strength. She’s always evaluating, testing, trying, screwing up, and starting the process over again. It’s tough, because Jackie — cuter, more worldly, and more mature (or so she thinks) — seems to have the answers. That Tink eventually finds a way to stay true to herself and Jackie and Bushwhack is the central struggle of the storyHundred Percent.

You’ve written a number of books across age ranges and genres. Do you have a favorite age range – do you feel your voice most easily represents one more than others?

I am clearest on how it feels to be 11 to 15. I remember this time of my life very clearly as a time when the world seemed to be a continuous flow of choices — who and what to try, who and what not to try. When I look back now I feel that the things I did then put me on a path to the rest of my life, and I see that in kids of that age — my own kids and other kids I have met and worked with as a teach science, writing, and art. There is an openness and opportunity at this age that speaks strongly to me as a writer. I have immense respect for the intellectual capabilities and emotional response of middle graders, middle schoolers, and early high schoolers, and I want to write books — whether novels or nonfiction, graphic fiction or graphic nonfiction, that reflect the potential I see.

You’re also an illustrator. Please talk about how you balance your talents.

Uh, whoops — I fell over! Just kidding, but this balancing act is still a work-in-progress. My intention has always been to multitask between fiction and nonfiction, and I have now added graphic novels and science comics (short and long form), as well as ocean science outreach and education aboard ships! Whew. It’s exhilarating and I’m so pleased with all the different strands that my work follows. The balancing strategy is to let them take turns, to follow the projects that obsess me at any given moment, but also to gently add to and work on back-burner projects until they reach critical mass and begin to obsess me, too. I feel like I’m answering this question by showing how I don’t balance. But I’m happy with it so it must be okay!

Can you tell us what you’re working on now?

Yes! A full-length graphic nonfiction book about deep sea explorations; a novel about a girl who grows up in a library; a conventional nonfiction book about how whale scientists and citizen scientist whale fans and whale watchers are teaming up to advance our understanding of how whales live.

Bonus question: what’s your superpower?

I’m not afraid to be a total geek. I encourage you and anyone else to geek out on the thing or things in life that made you want to jump out of bed in the morning and shout hooray — and to be the opposite of shy about sharing not just the subject of your passion but the fact that you are madly, deeply passionate about it.

Page Through The Parks!

August 25, 2016, is the 100th anniversary of our country’s National Park Service. Come with us as we celebrate our great treasure!

I am a huge fan of our national parks. I’ve had the great good four parksortune to visit a number of them, and I set my first novel, FAITHFUL, in Yellowstone National Park. I believe that every child should have the opportunity to visit at least one Park, and that it’s truly important that children get outdoors, explore, and (of course) read.

Page Through The Parks (1)I’ve joined forces with two other authors who’ve written about our National Parks: Liz Garton Scanlon, who in her picture book IN THE CANYON, features the Grand Canyon, and Barb Rosenstock, whose picture book THE CAMPING TRIP THAT CHANGED AMERICA features Yosemite. Together we’ve organized an almost month-long visit to Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, and Yosemite, which we’re calling “Page Through The Parks.”

As part of this visit, we’re offering giveaways of our books for readers on Goodreads, giveaways of lots of cool stuff for teachers and librarians as part of a Rafflecopter giveaway, and we hope we’ll introduce you to the natural beauty of the American landscape that we love through a blog tour and interviews.

If you’d like to play along, and you’ve visited any of our National Parks, please show us your Pictures In The Parks on any social media, using the hashtag #readUSA.

Look for our visit to begin on August 1. I’ll be posting the giveaway details here and on Twitter and Facebook. But to start, here’s a downloadable list of books that we’ve found set in or written about many of our beautiful national parks: Kids Books on or about the National Parks

Please come back here in August and follow along in our celebration.

Librarians, Teachers, & ROOKSKILL Fans: A New Website!

Attention fans of Rookskill!

In two days, I’m excited to announce, we’ll be launching a new website dedicated to THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE. The website contains a trove of information, with some reveals and other “extras”, but most importantly, it contains a game that can be played in schools, libraries, or by readers anywhere.

rookskill website

Here’s a description of the game:


A Game for Readers, Libraries & Bookstores

Rookskill Castle has many secrets.

Some you’ll find.

Some will find you.

Something is amiss at this spooky Scottish castle.  For 200 years the villagers have seen children where there are no children and have heard singing but have never seen the singers.

Who are these sad, mysterious children who appear and disappear – and do they need our help? 

In this game, clever players will work in teams to solve clues hidden within the pages of books on library or bookstore shelves.  Together the players will discover four objects that uncover spine-chilling secrets of Rookskill and the ghostly children within.

For bookstores and libraries, the game kit contains full instructions, sample dialogue, and printable clues, charms, and other event materials.  Look for the game kit on the Book page at

In addition to solving the riddles for fun, players will learn how to find books and other materials in a library or bookstore, so we hope that librarians and teachers will use the game to introduce new patrons to the library. Players need not have read THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE in order to play or to win, and from time to time participants will be able to enter a drawing for fun prizes.

And the site allows readers to ask me questions about my books and writing.

Please come visit this new website and enjoy the game and other goodies!

Bury the Backstory

Recently I watched one of my all-time favorite movies yet again, A Knight’s Tale with the late Heath Ledger. I love it for its quirky characters, its wry humor, its evocative dialogue, its historical twists, and its way of making history relevant by the use of contemporary music. But I also love the way the screenplay unfolds the story.

Many beginning writers (*raises hand*) make the mistake of starting too far back in the story. That is, “once upon a time, a girl was born…” and we watch said character go to school, brush her teeth, and suffer her backstory wound, all in time-linear fashion, until the real story starts when said character is sixteen. A story like this is usually as dull as toast and rarely publishable. The best stories begin not at the beginning but with an incident that sets the main character in motion to the inevitable end.the knight

It is, however, necessary for audiences to understand how your character got to that inciting incident. So how does one layer in backstory? Let’s look at A Knight’s Tale for a great example of plotting backstory. (And I highly encourage you to take a look at the movie if you haven’t already.)

Our hero, William (Ledger), enters the story as the squire to a knight. We have no idea how he got there, but it doesn’t matter – until later. What matters up front and is information we are given is that he’s not noble-born, but goes into disguise as a knight, which takes him from jousting tournament to tournament. Being in disguise is his story problem, and leads to the climax, which I won’t reveal here.

When do we see the first of his backstory? We get a small glimpse about 1/4 of the way into the movie when we hear the revelatory thematic phrase, “It’s possible for a man to change his stars,” meaning someone who begins life in one way can end it in another with effort, persistence and a little luck. In this first glimpse, we’re given a short scene of a very young William with his father, who first plants the seed of “change your stars.” We also see swift and subtle hints that this is a challenging goal to attain.

But we don’t know the entire story for a long while, until William and his crew are on their way to London for the first time in many years. Then the full backstory of William’s engagement as a squire and his departure from home is revealed in a longer flashback. This moment comes right about or just after the 1/2-way mark of the movie. From this point we understand that William’s departure from his father was both good and important (“change your stars”), but also emotionally difficult (his wound).backstory scene

In short, we’re given a glimpse of William’s past and backstory wound when we need it, and not a moment sooner.

The transitions between these flashbacks and the story present are also perfectly executed, especially the second flashback in which William recalls his first childhood ferry crossing – leaving London and his father at night – when he is crossing back to London after many years.

When you need backstory to explain a character’s behavior, to illustrate their wound, or to enrich or deepen the theme and/or hero’s journey, consider placing flashbacks in your story after you’ve set your character on their path. Keep the flashbacks short and transition them in and out in a way that feels natural. Your story will have more energy, and your reader will be drawn into the expectation that you’ll reveal important information when the time is right, and not before.

News, News

I have some more fun news to share.

First, I’ve joined The Booking Biz as a client! I’m delighted to be part of their very professional team, as this will allow me to concentrate on my writing while they can attend to the details of any school visits from me. If you are a teacher or librarian, please contact them if you’d like me to visit your school.

Second, with the help of Kirsten Cappy at Curious City, and Websy Daisy, we are building a dedicated website for THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE. At that site, there will be opportunities for reader interaction, most especially involving a reader library game that is tons of fun. The site will go live soon, and you’ll see links here, so please stay

Third, I’ll be appearing at two bookstores in the Pacific Northwest soon. On June 9, I’m joining a cohort of fabulous authors at the University Bookstore in Bellevue, WA for a great book event: an “author extravaganza”. Then on June 11, I’ll be at Powells in Beaverton, OR at 2PM to discuss, read and sign. I hope you’ll join me!

And finally CHARMED CHILDREN is also a participant in this summer’s new program “Bunk Reads”, also an initiative of Curious City. Bunk Reads will be placing libraries in ten of Maine’s highest ranking camps.  Each book in the library will be identified by a sticker and will have postcards tucked inside. More details to come!

So please follow along to learn more about these and other happenings.

Getting To The Story Heart

Today, a blog post for writers: getting to the emotional heart of your writing. This is one exercise in a series of exercises I’ve got planned for my talk at our Montana spring SCBWI retreat in two weeks.

Readers want stories that touch them in a deep way. They want stories that resonate long after the reading is finished. To write such a story you must be willing to push outside your comfort zone. You must be willing to write from the heart even when it hurts; you must be willing to press beyond the familiar even when you’re uncertain.

You must be willing to write what you think you can’t.IMG_1169

Every story is ultimately about desire. The strength of your story directly reflects the strength of your desire – your desire to work on it, to dream about it, to find the heart of it, to love it. That desire is inside you, and it’s also inside your work, and you have to translate that desire so your reader feels it.

Here’s an exercise I’ve used to understand what drives me, what desires I have and therefore what desires will rise through my work and reach readers. Try this:

  • List your 3 most powerful childhood memories
  • Identify the 3 emotions key to each of those memories
  • List the 3 emotions that drive your protagonist in a work that’s important to you now.
  • Circle the strongest emotions from these b and c lists, paying attention to patterns.

For example, two repeating emotional patterns in my life (and thus in my work) have been betrayal, and fear of death. What are yours? Can you make certain that they appear in your story? That you can tackle them even when they hurt?

That’s the secret to writing fiction that moves people. Your characters need to express what is in your heart as a human, and as an artist. You are bringing something to life. You are the Blue Fairy. Yours is the only voice that can ever express what you feel. You’re not in competition, not even with yourself. You just have to believe that you can write to the heart of your story.

You have to try to write what you think you can’t.

My Summer 2016 Reading List: Middle Grade

What are you reading this summer? I’ve got a towering pile. Here’s a list of new books I’ve got on my long list of middle grade:

My Summer Middle Grade Reading List

In no particular order, the novels on my list are:

Sara Pennypacker, PAX – actually, I just finished this novel and loved it. A boy, a fox, separated by war. Will they be reunited?

Kathi Appelt & Alison McGhee, MAYBE A FOX – I’m reading this one currently. Two sisters dealing with loss. Beautiful and heartbreaking.


Nanci Turner Steveson, SWING SIDEWAYS

Lauren Wolk, WOLF HOLLOW

Megan Frazer Blakemore, THE FIREFLY CODE






Lindsay Eagar, HOUR OF THE BEES

Do you have anything to add? (You might also like my winter middle grade reading list, which you can find here.)

Upcoming Author Appearances!

I’ll be making some author-type appearances in the month of April, and want to share that schedule with you!

appearancesOn April 7, I’ll be speaking to the Newcomers’ Club of Bozeman, MT, at noon, talking about writing and publishing in the children’s book world today.

April 16, 2PM, I’ll be speaking and signing books at the Barnes & Noble College Station, Texas.

April 20, 1:00-2:00 PM, I’ll be signing books at TLA (Texas Library Association) – Penguin will give away copies of THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE to librarians!appearances

April 20, 4:00-5:20 PM, I’ll be participating in the YART Tea at TLA.

April 23, all day, I’ll be appearing at the North Texas Teen Book Festival in Dallas.

April 24, 2PM, I’ll be with Kathi Appelt at BookPeople in Austin.

April 25, 9:40AM, I’ll be visiting St. Andrew’s Episcopal School in Austin.

April 30, 1:00-4:00 PM, I’ll be at Country Bookshelf in Bozeman to celebrate Independent Bookstore Day, and work with teens who want to brush up on writing skills and hear about what writers do.

Please contact me or check the links for more details!


A discussion guide is now available!

I want to let teachers, librarians, book club organizers, and readers know that there is a discussion and project guide now available for THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE.

The guide was created by the talented Deb Gonzales and contains questions to spur analysis, games, poetry features, and more.keep calm and guide on

I’m thrilled with the guide, and I hope you’ll have fun both reading and talking about THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLE.

Download the guide here.

In other news, teachers and librarians may wish to check out my revamped “Speaking” page, with more details about school visits.

Keep calm and guide on!