This is the blog of children's book author and elementary school 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, July 28, 2016

Interview with Picture Book Author, Josh Funk

This week I am excited to interview Josh Funk. Josh and I met at his first NESCBWI writing conference where we realized that we attended the same sleepaway camp (a few years apart). Josh writes silly stories and somehow tricks people into publishing them as picture books - such as the Award-Winning LADY PANCAKE & SIR FRENCH TOAST (Sterling), PIRASAURS! (Scholastic 8.30.16), DEAR DRAGON (Viking/Penguin 9.6.16), and more. Josh is a board member of The Writers' Loft in Sherborn, MA and the co-coordinator of the 2016 and 2017 New England Regional SCBWI Conferences. Josh grew up in New England and studied Computer Science in school. Today, he still lives in New England and when not writing Java code or Python scripts, he drinks Java coffee and writes picture book manuscripts. Josh is terrible at writing bios, so please help fill in the blanks. Josh enjoys _______ during ________ and has always loved __________. He has played ____________ since age __ and his biggest fear in life is being eaten by a __________.

When did you decide to become an author?
I first started writing five summers ago, in 2011. Like many others, I started by writing rhyming picture books because I thought that would be easiest. I mean, everyone starts by reading Dr. Seuss, right? Boy was I wrong! Writing picture books, especially in rhyme, is hard. But I found the writing community very welcoming, so I decided to go for it! 

Tell us about your journey. How did you get your first book published?
In the spring and summer of 2013, I wasn't getting great responses from literary agents, so I decided to send my best work out directly to publishers. I sent Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast via snail mail to about a dozen. And about four months later, I got an email from an editor at Sterling who said they found Lady Pancake in the slush pile and were taking it to acquisitions. 8 days later I received an offer!

Since then you’ve had a number of books contracted, including a sequel to Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast. What is the secret to your success?
There's no real secret. You just have to keep writing. I learn something from every story I try to write. Every book I write is better than the last.  I try to learn and absorb as much information about writing as I can. I go to workshops and conferences. I joined the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. I became a member of The Writers' Loft. Like playing an instrument or a sport, the more you practice, the better you become. I read a lot of picture books. I read a lot of books that aren't picture books. And I try to have fun.

Was there ever a point when you felt like giving up?
Give up? Absolutely. All of those rejections hitting my inbox hurt - and broke my heart a little each time. But ultimately, it only takes a single "yes" to make a book happen. And when you find that right fit, it makes all of the pain worth it!

My students are always surprised to hear that authors don’t always get to approve their illustrator and some don't even see the pictures until the book releases. What was that process like for you? Did anything surprise you when you saw the illustrations?
So far, I have four illustrators for different projects: Brendan Kearney (LP&SFT and LP&SFT: The Case of the Stinky Stench), Michael Slack (Pirasaurs!), Rodolfo Montalvo (Dear Dragon), and Edwardian Taylor (It's Not Jack and the Beanstalk). All were 'assigned' to my books, but I have to be honest, I couldn't be happier. The folks at each publisher know what they're doing when searching for illustrators. What surprises me most when seeing each of the illustrations is how much better these artists' imaginations are than mine, at least in a visual sense. A strawberry hat for Sir French Toast? A peg-tail for Captain Rex? None of those things were my idea!

Is there anything about being a published author that has surprised you?
Well, being a published author at all is a surprise! It's so incredibly fun to see a book I wrote on the shelf at a library. I get to meet all these cool teachers and librarians and students (and other authors). And I never imagined people would want to take their picture with me! How surreal!?!  

Any advice you would give to a writer just starting out?
Have fun. Don't write to get published. Write to entertain your friends. Make them laugh. Make them cry. Put on a puppet show for your family. Write a song. Draw! And read a lot! Stories come in many forms. TV shows, movies, and even video games - all of them have stories - stories that were written. And someone has to write them. There's no reason they can't be written by you!

Is there anything else about you or your books you would like to tell us?
I'm on Team Baron von Waffle. But shhh! Don't tell anyone. It'll ruin my image.

My students and I are big fans of Josh’s book trailers, especially after learning he writes and sings all of the music. Make sure to watch the trailers below and you will see why we love them.

To learn more about Josh and his books visit is author website  or follow him on twitter

Monday, July 25, 2016

#IMWAYR July 25, 2016

Join Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers and share all of the reading you have done over the week from picture books to young adult novels. #IMWAYR

I always seem to read Corey Rosen Schwartz and Tara Lazar's books at the same time. In the spring I read Little Red Gliding Hood and Ninja Red Riding Hood. This week I read two other books by these authors along with two middle grade and one YA novel.

Here's what I've read this week:

Picture Books

A fun story about what it means to be "normal." I love the way Tara set up the book as a science experiment gone "wrong." 

If you haven't read any of Corey Rosen Schwartz's ninja fractured fairytales, you really should find all three. In this latest story, Hensel and Gretel save the day by using their ninja training.

Middle Grade

 I chose Pax because it is one of the Global Read Aloud books of 2016. It's a story of friendship, growth, and discover told from alternating points of view between a boy and his pet fox. 

A story about bullying and self-evaluation. It's labeled middle grade and has an 11yo protagonist, but I felt it was for an older reader.

Young Adult

Book 2 in the Court of Fives series (borrowed from NetGalley).

My summer goal stands at 5/10 picture books, 10/10 middle grade, 5 YA, and 1 professional book. I continued beta reading and read a new chapter of another critique partner's book. I also revised the beginning of my novel and sent the first chapters to my critique group. Overall, it was a successful reading and writing week. On Wednesday I will flying out to the Society of Children Book Writer and Illustrator's summer conference in LA (whoo hoo!). I'm sure I'll get a bunch of new book recommendations and there'll be lots of time for reading on the plane.

If you like my reading choices, you can check out all the books I've read on Goodreads and please leave me a comment below. 

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Interview with Middle Grade Author, Victoria J. Coe

Today I have the pleasure of interviewing middle grade author, Victoria J. Coe. Victoria has long been a fan of books, dogs, and the Boston Red Sox. Today she combines these passions as the author of the Fenway and Hattie series, written in the voice of a dog named Fenway. She loves to visit classrooms and share point of view activities with elementary students.

Thanks for hosting me, Stacy! I’m thrilled to be part of your blog! You wear both hats – as an author and a teacher – so your inviting me means a lot. Deep thanks!

When did you decide to become an author?
I’ve always wanted to be an author! For years and years, I read and wrote, I took workshops and went to SCBWI conferences, and joined a couple of critique groups. But I just wasn’t progressing to that next level. So in 2010, I decided to really go for it. I spent that whole year working one-on-one with a mentor. Sadly, she has since passed away. But working with her was a huge turning point in my writing journey and I will be forever grateful for that amazing experience.

Tell us about your journey. How did you get your first book published?
In the summer of 2011, we were moving and our dog was terrified. When he saw us packing, he jumped in the car and sat in the passenger’s seat shaking, refusing to get out. Even though we were crazy busy with the move, that image of a dog who didn’t want to be left behind captured my imagination.

In the weeks that followed, I journaled and journaled until the character of Fenway emerged. That fall, I summoned the skills I’d worked on with my mentor and wrote a draft of the story that became Fenway and Hattie.

After revising with my critique group, taking a class, and going to an NE-SCBWI conference and revising some more, I started querying in the summer of 2012. I signed with super-agent Marietta Zacker in August of 2013. Fenway and Hattie sold to Putnam in January of 2014, and the first book was published in February of 2016. I’d say that qualifies as a long journey!

Was there ever a point when you felt like giving up?
I never felt like giving up, but I did have a low point. At first, Marietta responded really positively to Fenway, but she felt that I needed to develop Hattie more and expand the story. We chatted on the phone and she invited me to revise and resubmit. I was beyond thrilled. She really “got” Fenway and we shared a vision of what the story could become. I knew she was the agent for this book and for me.

After rewriting for months and feeling like I nailed it, I resubmitted to Marietta with high hopes. Unfortunately, she replied with the news that it still wasn’t working. I was devastated.  

But incredibly, she said she’d be open to seeing it again if I chose to keep at it. I'd hit bottom, but the stakes were sky high. I had to find a way.

I reached out to one of my old teachers and he graciously agreed to help. After reworking and sending Fenway and Hattie back to Marietta once again, everything clicked.

The lesson here is crystal clear: DO NOT GIVE UP!

Your book, Fenway and Hattie, is told from the pov of a dog. How did you get into a dog's head?
That’s right. Since you only get Fenway’s side of the story and he’s a dog, the reader has to figure out what’s really going on.

When I was journaling about Fenway’s character, I kept asking myself how he would view various aspects of moving from the city to the suburbs. In my family’s case, we did the reverse. I literally walked the streets of Boston with my dog, watching very closely how he’d check everything out.

I already knew a lot about dogs from going to dog training classes and reading books (turns out having a badly behaved dog can be an asset!). So it wasn’t too hard for me to put myself in his place. Once I started living through my character, I really got into his head and that dog point of view became part of me. Pretty soon, I was spotting squirrels everywhere and detecting food on the sidewalk before my dog! Sometimes I can’t turn it off!  

Are there any more Fenway and Hattie stories coming in the future? If not, what are you working on next?
Yes! The next book, Fenway and Hattie and the Evil Bunny Gang, is coming out on January 24, 2017. Picking up soon after the first book leaves off, this book tackles issues of jealousy and friendship – and a whole gang bunnies. Wait till you see how evil they are!

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

Write, write, write. Read, read, read. Take classes, join a critique group, don’t be afraid of healthy criticism – we all need it to grow. And most importantly, never give up! Keep an open mind and get help when you need it. Dreams really do come true!

Thank you so much for stopping by, Victoria. I can't wait to get a copy of the new book!

For more on Victoria J. Coe, visit her website. You can also find her on twitter.

Monday, July 18, 2016

#IMWAYR July 18, 2016

Join Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers and share all of the reading you have done over the week from picture books to young adult novels. #IMWAYR

This week I enjoyed two very different picture books about bears, one middle grade book, and two young adult novels. I have to say more about each of these books because they were all so wonderful. Three of the books; Ida, Always, Wolf Hollow, and A Time to Dance, need to be read near tissues.

Here's what I've read this week:

Picture Books

An adorable book about forgiveness. 

A beautiful story about friendship and dealing with loss.

Middle Grade

A historical fiction novel about trust, bravery, and friendship.

Young Adult

This beautiful story, written in verse, is a story about hope and triumph. It is listed as young adult, but I think middle graders would enjoy it as well.

A high fantasy about facing prejudice and overcoming obstacles in an imagined world

That means to date this summer I have read 3/10 picture books, 8/10 middle grade, 4 YA, and 1 professional book. I also started beta reading a wonderful novel by one of my critique partners that I hope to see in stores someday. The goal I am falling short on is writing, so my hope is to get back to that this week. 

If you like my reading choices, you can check out all the books I've read on Goodreads and please leave me a comment below. I'm still looking for more picture book suggestions so I can read a #bookaday to my 3rd graders in the fall.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Recap of Avon Teen and Middle Reader Author Festival

On Tuesday, July 12, I went to Avon, CT to take part in the teen and middle reader night of the Avon Author festival.

The theme of the night was developing characters. Padma Venkatraman spoke first and took us through the inspiration behind each of her books. When she was telling us about A Time to Dance, she spoke about a life changing experience of being bitten by a snake and not knowing whether she would survive. She was also inspired by Smt. Shoba Sharma, a women who danced and taught dancing despite a physical injury.

Next, Caragh M. O'Brien chose three teens from the audience to act out a scene from The Rule of Mirrors so she could talk about character through dialogue. The teens were terrific. They really took on their roles.

I spoke next. I focused on how to turn a who is character based on yourself into a unique individual. In my case, I had my main character Sam be great at something that I have no talent in, sports. I shared a picture from my childhood to get things started and then talked about how Sam became a baseball player.

Liz Delton came up next and talked about developing characters based on setting. Her dystopian novels take place in a world with five distinct cities, each with their own personality characteristics.


Last to speak was Deborah Ann Davis, author of Fairly Certain. Dressed in medieval garb, Deborah shared with us how her love of fairs turned into a book series and how each character in her books came from someone she's met in the world. She told stories about students and strangers that have become characters.

Once all the authors had presented, teens and adults were able to ask questions and get books signed. 

Finally, all authors signed the Avon Free Public Library's Wall of Honor. 

It was a wonderful event. I enjoyed presenting to the very receptive audience and hearing the presentations of the other authors. Thank you to librarians Tina Panik and Cynthia Larson for putting the whole thing together.

Monday, July 11, 2016

#IMWAYR July 11, 2016

Join Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers and share all of the reading you have done over the week from picture books to young adult novels. #IMWAYR

This week I didn't have much time to read because we were puppy sitting but look at this cutie: 

The pup does have a literary name - Gryff (for Gryffindor). 

Speaking of pets, I did read my first picture book of the summer, Finding Winnie, which is a wonderful story of an unusual pet, a bear. I loved learning about the history of the beloved Winnie the Pooh and can't wait to share it with my students. 

I also read my first professional book of the summer, Teach Like a Pirate. I am looking forward to chatting with the author, Dave Burgess, and other teachers about this book on Monday evenings using the hashtag #TLAP. 

Here's what I've read this week:

Picture Book

Young Adult

Professional Books

Monday, July 4, 2016

#IMWAYR July 4, 2016

Join Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers and share all of the reading you have done over the week from picture books to young adult novels. #IMWAYR

Happy Independence Day!! At the end of my second week of vacation I've finished 7 middle grade and 1 YA. My reviews of these books will be up on Goodreads soon, but I need to give a special shout out to It Ain't So Awful, Falafel

In this incredibly difficult time when hate seems to be everywhere, it is good to be reminded that love can triumph over prejudice. It Ain't So Awful, Falafel is a somewhat autobiographical historical fiction novel about an Iranian girl who lives in America during the Iran Hostage Crisis and the toll that takes on her family. I don't want to give too much away (read the book!) but as we struggle to explain to the children of today why people can be so hateful and what we need to do as individuals to so kindness to others, discussing this book is a great place to start that conversation.

Here's what I've read this week:

Middle Grade

Young Adult