Welcome

This is the blog of children's book author and third grade teacher, Stacy Barnett Mozer. I blog about my own writing journey, the journey of other kidlit authors, my classroom, and talk about books. Thanks for stopping by. Your thoughts are always welcome (and encouraged).

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Interview with poet and middle grade author Laura Shovan.

It’s the last week of poetry month. Today I’m very excited to interview poet and middle grade author Laura Shovan.

Laura Shovan’s debut middle grade novel, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, was a NCTE 2017 Notable Verse Novel, a Bank Street College of Education Best Children’s Book of the year, and won a Cybils Award for poetry, as well a Nerdy Book Club award. She is a long time poet-in-the-schools and the author and editor of three books of poetry for adults. Laura co-hosts Wilde Readings, a literary reading series in Howard County, Maryland, where she lives with her family.


Welcome, Laura! On your twitter profile you list yourself first as a poet. When did you start writing poetry?

The first poem I remember writing was in second or third grade. (I remember the poem only because it was published in my school’s PTA newsletter!) It compared the sounds of nature on a summer night to an orchestra. I’ve always written both poetry and prose, but poetry is what I’m most passionate about.


Tell us about your journey. How did you go from being a poet to a middle grade author?

I’d been publishing poetry in literary journals for several years. When my children were small, I started making up songs for them – little ditties to keep them entertained in the grocery store. That was the beginning of my interest in writing for children. I took my first kidlit class and attended my first conference in 2003, but I didn’t sign with my agent until 2014. It was a long process.

In those eleven years, I sold a few pieces to Highlights, wrote a middle grade prose novel that will never see the light of day, completed at least three picture book manuscripts, and drafted about 75% of two YA novels. I think The Last Fifth Grade was “the one” because it’s rooted in my work with children as a visiting poet-in-the-schools.

The last big push with the book was working on it with a mentor, YA verse novelist Joy McCullough-Carranza, during PitchWars.


Your book, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary, is a novel in verse told from multiple points of view. How did you keep track of all the different voices?

I used every method I could think of to develop and keep track of the characters. There were spreadsheets, character resumes, and classroom seating charts. In order to create distinct voices, I revised one character at a time instead of working chronologically through the story. My famously gigantic revision binder has one section for each of the students’ in Ms. Hill’s class. I like to bring it with me on school visits, so students can see how much work and how many drafts go into a book.


Your next novel is written in prose. Why the switch? Could you see yourself going back to poetry at some point?

That’s right. My next book is a prose novel in two voices. TAKE DOWN is about two middle school wrestlers—Mikayla, the first girl to join an all-boy team, and her training partner Lev, who’s convinced that having a female partner will ruin his dream of competing at the state championship. The book began as notes and poems I jotted down years ago, when my son was wrestling.

When I sat down to write the novel, there was an expansiveness to Lev’s voice. He’s literally wrestling with what it means to be an athlete, and he can be pretty wordy about it. Lev does have a few poems in the book.

Mikayla showed up later in the writing process. Like Lev, her character had a prose voice from the beginning.

I’d love to write another novel in verse at some point. Meanwhile, I’ve contributed work to two children’s poetry anthologies publishing in the next year or two. One is from J. Patrick Lewis and the other is by Amy Ludwig VanDerwater.


Is there anything about being a published author that has surprised you?

Before THE LAST FIFTH GRADE, I’d published three books of poetry with small, independent presses. My biggest surprise was how different the experience of publishing with a big house has been. In many ways, it was like starting from scratch. I had a lot to learn about how a large publisher operates and works with authors.


Any advice you would give to a writer just starting out?

The most important things to cultivate are perseverance and a literary community. Both will sustain you through the querying process, and – later on – through challenging revisions, as well as the successes and disappointments that are part of an author’s life. I’ve had a huge amount of support from the literary scene here in the Baltimore area, the Sweet 16s debut author group, and the PitchWars community. When I need a pep talk, they’re there for me.


Is there anything else about you or your books you would like to tell us?

Now that I’ve completed two books and am thinking about my third novel, I can see that there’s a focus on communities in my writing. THE LAST FIFTH GRADE is about how classes like Ms. Hill’s can form a strong sense of community. In TAKE DOWN, Lev and Mikayla are figuring out what it means to be part of the wrestling community and members of a team.

Maybe this is because, growing up, my own family was bi-cultural. As a child from two families separated by an ocean, finding a community where I fit in was a difficult for me. Many of my characters are asking the question: “Where do I belong”?


Thank you so much for joining me on my blog! Readers, make sure to get your copy of The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary. Y0u can find out more about Laura on her author site, on Facebook, or on Twitter.




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Stacy Barnett Mozer is a third grade teacher and a middle grade author. The Sweet Spot and The Perfect Trip are available now from Spellbound River Press. She'd love to hear from you about Laura Shovan, The Last Fifth Grade, and novels in verse in the comments below.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

She Wrote a Book Interview

Check out my interview on the She Wrote a Book Podcast. Thank you to Lena Anani for having me as a guest. You can check out the show notes and more She Wrote a Book Podcasts here.

Monday, April 24, 2017

#IMWAYR April 24, 2017 & Poetry Month Post 4


Each week I try to join Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers to share all of the reading I've done over the week from picture books to young adult novels. I am also an author and last week I was honored to see the first novel in my two book series, The Sweet Spot, reviewed by Kellee at Unleashing Readers. This week she reviewed the The Perfect Trip. Make sure to head over there to see the reviews and to connect with all the other amazing book bloggers who post each week. 

April is Poetry Month so I have started each post in April with a favorite poetry book and a novel in verse. Last week I interviewed Ted Scheu, one of my favorite poets for children. Make sure to stop back on Thursday when I share my interview with Laura Shovan, poet and author of The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary School. It's #IMWAYR.



Poetry


This wonderful new book of poetry from Kwame Alexander celebrates poets.



Novel in Verse (Young Adult)


This young adult novel in verse takes on the delicate subject of living through the consequences of big decisions.



Middle Grade


In this dystopian future water is scarce, people are suffering and many children are living abandoned in cities. When Devin learns of a place that children can go to live better lives, he jumps on the chance to get there. But things at the home are not what they seem and Devin realizes that he may have been safer on his own. An enjoyable, though slightly disturbing read. I would consider it more of a young YA than a middle grade.


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I am a third grade teacher and a middle grade author. The Sweet Spot and The Perfect Trip are available now from Spellbound River Press. If you like my reading choices, you can check out all the books I've read on Goodreads. Click on the covers to buy them locally on Indie Bound. Please leave a comment below to let me know what you think about these books. It's Monday, what have you been reading?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Interview with Ted Scheu the Poetry Guy

It's Poetry Month! I've been celebrating all month long by sharing my favorite poetry books and books in verse on Mondays. One of my favorite poets is Ted Scheu. He has been the poet in residence at my school for many years and the kids (and teachers) always look forward to his visit. Ted's poems about school and kids perfectly capture the life and humor of the elementary school child.

Ted Scheu (pronounced "shy") is a children's poet from Middlebury, Vermont who is often introduced as a 3rd or 4th grader stuck in a grown-up's body. Ted didn't like poems much as a kid growing up in Connecticut, because all the poems he found back then were about love, nature, and beauty, or about bratty little British kids, and not at all about his life and his concerns--which were mostly centered around sports and food. Ted is a former elementary teacher (also a naval officer, carpenter, advertising exec and copywriter) who started writing funny poems seriously about 20 years ago. His poems are published in nearly two dozen books in the US and UK, including five collections: "I FrozeMy Mother," "I Tickled My Teachers,” "I Threw My Brother Out,” NowI Know My ZBCs,” and most recently, Getting the Best of Me.” all from Young Poets’ Press. He also has poems published in numerous anthologies. Ted tries to write a poem every day, and when he's not writing, or visiting schools, he loves to eat cereal with lots of milk, and ride his bike--just like any kid his age. He also really really loves being a dad to two remarkable kids, and husband to an amazing wife.

When did you start writing poetry?

Of course, I started playing with words early on. I was utterly captivated by the music of classic poems that my mom read to me. Then, Seussian bounces totally ensnared me. Song lyrics followed—Broadway show tunes and satirical rewrites especially. My 8th grade English teacher completely energized me about Shakespeare. Sadly, it took nearly 40 years until I finally sat down to put rhyme to paper. Lack of confidence maybe?


You are known for writing funny poems about school and family. What are your tricks for making kids (and adults) laugh?

Wow, thanks for the compliment. Writing about the twists and turns in kids’ lives—especially the ironies of inconsistent parent behaviors and the funny things that teachers say and do, is a starting point for me. Telling kid-truths works too—like the stupidity of schools taking recess time away so kids can study more. Seeing a normal situation figuratively and kid-like—say, having a shaving-faced dad become an alien life form—that can be funny too. Finally, I turn to ridiculous silliness sometimes.


Tell us about your journey. How did you get your first poetry book published?

I wrote for 3 years before submitting a manuscript. I got lots of good advice from other poets, especially about scansion. Getting the rhythm just perfect is hard. Finally I submitted three poems to Philomel in 2002, when they were looking to do an anthology with unpublished poets, and I got a poem placed there. What joy! Mostly my work shows up in anthologies around the planet. Some are pretty high-visibility, so I’m happy with that. I’m on the radar of lots of poetry editors now. After lots of early rejections for a Ted-only-collection, I decided in 2005 to self-publish (I now have 6 collections of my own), with the help of a marvelous freelance editor and a designer. I don’t regret it for a second. I found and find the process of submitting, waiting, wimpering, resubmitting, managing submissions… to be really depressing, distracting, and hard. I’m in schools as a visiting author over 100 days each year, and I sell plenty of books there. Sure I’d love a Prelutsky-like success, but I’m fine for now…


Was there ever a point when you felt like giving up?

As I mentioned above, I pretty much did give up on the process of submitting and waiting, with the big publishing houses and editors, for a Ted-collection. Lots of early encouragement should have pushed me harder to be patient, but I’ve chosen the self-publishing route for most of my work, as many are doing now. It allowed me to spend more time writing and teaching as a visiting poet in schools, which I love to pieces.


What is your favorite part about being a professional poet?

Watching the sparkle in a child’s eyes as I share a poem is fun. Even better than that is watching the sparkle in her eyes as she shares a poem that she has written in one of our writing workshops. I also really love traveling—returning to some schools for many years (like your amazing school, Stacy), and visiting new ones. It’s the best job in the world.


What is your favorite poem?

The one that pulls at my heart (and gets the biggest kid-groans) is “Nancy Cristman Kissed Me.” It was an early poem about a very memorable walk to school in second grade. Nancy died young, so I think of her as I read it. Kids seem to love it and the story behind it.


Any advice you would give to a poet just starting out?

Write a thousand poems before submitting any to public ears and eyes. Field test them with kids and grown ups. Be patient. Don’t expect to make it big. Poetry is not big. Never will be. (It’s pretty much only published by the big houses in April every year.) Meet and network with other poets. Have fun on the journey.


Gotta run… hot dog bun! Thanks for including me on you blog, Stacy!

Thanks so much, Ted! 

Here's some more about Ted Scheu: 

More information about Ted and his work, (plus a pile of funny videos featuring seven of Ted’s ‘cousins’) may be found at his web site at www.poetryguy.com








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Stacy Barnett Mozer is a third grade teacher and a middle grade author. The Sweet Spot and The Perfect Trip are available now from Spellbound River Press. She'd love to hear from you about Laura Shovan, The Last Fifth Grade, and novels in verse in the comments below.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Middle Grade Cover Reveal: Pirate Island by Katie L. Carroll

Today I am hosting a cover reveal for Katie L. Carroll's new middle grade novel, Pirate Island, coming in October 2017.

About the Author:
Katie L. Carroll always says she began writing at a very sad time her life after her sister Kylene unexpectedly passed away. The truth is Katie has been writing her whole life, and it was only after Kylene’s death that she realized she wanted to pursue writing for kids and teens as a career. Since then writing has taken her to many wonderful places, real and imagined. She has had many jobs in her lifetime, including newspaper deliverer, hardware store cashier, physical therapy assistant, and puzzle magazine editor. She works from her home in Connecticut that is filled with the love and laughter of her sons and husband.



About the book:
A thrice cursed island, a legendary pirate treasure, and one not-so-brave boy. What could possibly go wrong?

For centuries, the whereabouts of Captain William Kidd’s lost pirate treasure has remained a mystery. When Billy’s best friend, Andy, proposes they look for it on nearby Pirate Island, Billy thinks it’s just another one of their crazy adventures. It’s usually Billy who ends up in trouble as a result, but he goes along for the ride…like always. The more he delves into the life and death of Kidd, the more he thinks the treasure is real and that it might be buried on the small island in Long Island Sound. Billy—nope, call him William—becomes obsessed with the captain of the same first name. He even believes he’s possessed by Kidd’s restless soul. Now he and the spirit of a long-dead pirate are leading the crazy adventure on Pirate Island. And what they find is far bigger than the treasure they imagined.

And the drum roll please...


PIRATE ISLAND
by Katie L. Carroll (katielcarroll.com)
Cover Illustration by Susan Tait Porcaro (susantaitporcaro.com)
Coming October 2017!

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I think it's terrific! I can't wait to read the book.

In addition to PIRATE ISLAND, Katie is the author of the YA fantasy ELIXIR BOUND. Find Katie on her websiteTwitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

Congratulations, Katie!

Monday, April 17, 2017

#IMWAYR April 17, 2017 & Poetry Month Post 3


Each week I try to join Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers to share all of the reading I've done over the week from picture books to young adult novels. April is Poetry Month so I will start each post in April by sharing a favorite poetry book and a novel in verse. It was vacation this week so I had lots of time to read up on some middle grade novels to recommend to my class. It's #IMWAYR.




Poetry


This book of silly animal poems is a ton of fun. There's a mix of forms and styles to best fit each animal.



Novel in Verse (Middle Grade)


A sharing of middle grade novels in verse wouldn't be complete without mentioning Kwame Alexander. His sports novels, Crossover and Booked are two of my favorites. Crossover is about 12 yo Josh Bell who tells his family's story from the basketball court. Booked is about 12 yo Nick who tells his story from the soccer field. Even if you don't love sports, you will love these novels.



Middle Grade


Rip is ready for the first day of fifth grade. But when he realizes his district has made some bit changes and he won't have the teacher he and his best friend Red expects, the year becomes a whole new ballgame. This is a novel about friendship, finding the best in people, and the power of growth mindset teaching. It should be on every teacher's nightstand as a reminder about the importance of making connections with kids and kids will love it too.


Mrs. Bixby's Last Day is also about an unexpected change to a school year, but in this book the change is brought about by the illness and departure of a really special teacher. When Topher, Brand, and Steve learn that Ms. Bixby is too sick to come back to school, they decide to give her the last day she deserves. The book is told from all three boys points of view. Read this one with a very large box of tissues. 


Ruthie is having a great week. She has finally learned enough English after moving to America from Cuba to be in the "smart" class, she is her neighborhood's Hopscotch Queen, and her dad has bought her the Go Go Boots she really wants. But when a horrible car accident leaves Ruthie in a body cast for months, all of those things no longer matter.  This historical fiction story of acceptance and personal growth is made so much more powerful when you realize that it is based on the true story of the author.


This character driven historical fiction novel follows a boy named Beans who lived with his family in Key West the year it became the tropical paradise we now know. Before the New Dealers came to town it was a garbage filled place where everyone did what they could to get by, including the kids. Full of Beans was a fun book and I loved learning the history from the author's note at the end.


What do a bus accident, four kids, and super powers have in common? You will have to read this book to find out. I enjoyed getting to know these characters in the first novel. I will look forward to seeing what happens to them next in book two.

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If you like my reading choices, you can check out all the books I've read on Goodreads and click on the cover to buy them locally on Indie Bound. Please leave a comment below to let me know what you think about these books and it's Monday, what have you been reading?

Monday, April 10, 2017

#IMWAYR April 10, 2017 & Poetry Month Post 2


Each week I try to join Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers to share all of the reading I've done over the week from picture books to young adult novels. April is Poetry Month so I will start each post in April by sharing a favorite poetry book and a novel in verse. It's #IMWAYR.




Poetry


This poetry book has been in my classroom since my first year of teaching and I am pleased to see all 20 years of students connecting with them. I have them compare and contrast "Dreams" with "The Dream Keeper" when teaching mood.



Novel in Verse (Middle Grade)


Love that Dog is my all time favorite read aloud novel in verse, even though it always makes me cry in front of my student. It is about a boy named Jack who has to spend his school year writing poetry in his journal. Jack's journey into poetry also lets him explore a very painful memory. I was pleased to see my daughter reading it this week as part of an author study on Sharon Creech. 



Middle Grade


Book Two in this dark, middle grade historical fantasy by Catherine Jinks was just as exciting as the first. I would definitely recommend the book for an older middle grader and lovers of the last books in the Harry Potter series.



When I went with my daughter to find Sharon Creech books for her author study, I realized there were many I hadn't read either. Ruby Holler is about two twin orphans who have been brought up to believe they were nothing but trouble. A silver bird leads them to a new adventure and a new beginning. I really enjoyed this book and think it will be a big hit with most middle graders.


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If you like my reading choices, you can check out all the books I've read on Goodreads and please leave a comment below. It's Monday, what have you been reading?

Monday, April 3, 2017

#IMWAYR April 3, 2017 and Poetry Month Post 1


Each week I try to join Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers to share all of the reading I've done over the week from picture books to young adult novels. I was also reminded this morning that it is poetry month, so each week in April I will share a favorite poetry book and a novel in verse. It's #IMWAYR.




Poetry




If you teach kids or have kids and haven't heard of Ted Scheu, you should look him up right away. His school poems cover topics from homework to kids who call out in class. They will make you laugh until you cry.

Novel in Verse



I shared this book on a previous post but it is worth sharing it again during poetry month. When the students in Ms. Hill's Fifth Grade Class learn that their school is closing at the end of the year, they each have a different reaction. Told in rhyme in eighteen diverse voices, this book is about so much more than the closing of a school It's about friendship, adjusting to change, the encouragement of an amazing teacher, and most of all, it's about finding your own voice. A definite must read.

Picture Book



It's another "must be shared with kids" picture book from Peter H. Reynolds. Like The Dot and Ish, Happy Dreamer encourages children to embrace the way they see the world. Don't tell my son, but I will be getting this book for him to celebrate his 8th grade graduation because it's a perfect moment to encourage big dreams.


Middle Grade


I really enjoyed this dark, middle grade historical fantasy by Catherine Jinks. Birdie McAdam is a spunky orphan who takes pride in her work as a Bogle's girl, even if it puts her in danger. I loved Birdie's voice and experiencing the events of the story from her point of view. I would recommend the book for an older middle grader and lovers of the last books in the Harry Potter series.


Young Adult



When Keeley learns that her town is going to be flooded and turned into a lake, she uses her humor and adventurous nature to help her friends and family through the experience. The only problem is that some people don't want to laugh when it is time to say goodbye. Overall I enjoyed this book, though I did feel the final choices Keeley makes were not true to her character.

Natasha's family is being deported to Jamaica and she is racing against time trying to get the decision reversed. Daniel is interviewing for Yale to follow the future his Korean parents have placed on his shoulders. Is it chance or fate that brings them together on one of the most monumental days of their lives? You will have to read the book to decide. Told from multiple points of view, this is a story about love and choices. It took a few chapters for me to get into this book, but once I did I was hooked.

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If you like my reading choices, you can check out all the books I've read on Goodreads and please leave a comment below. It's Monday, what have you been reading?