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, August 17, 2017

Interview with picture book author Carol Gordon Ekster

It’s Thursday so it’s time for another author interview. Today I talk to Carol Gordon Ekster. When Carol is not thinking about writing or teaching, she does yoga, biking, is involved in critique groups and works on her books. The English version of her newest book, You Know What? with Clavis Books, will be out September 2017. She is grateful that her writing gives her another way to communicate with children. 

When did you decide to become an author?
My life’s passion was teaching. I loved influencing children to become lifelong learners and to strive to do their best always. I worked with children on their own writing in my classroom.  My Master’s degree was in reading and language, and I read picture books daily to reinforce the curriculum I covered. I found picture books powerful in their ability to get across academic concepts as well as teach about life and social skills.  I think as I neared my thirtieth year of teaching, a miracle occurred… I started to write children’s books. It was not planned, it just happened to me. So I didn’t really “decide” to become an author. I believe writing came to me…on a beach in the summer. It truly was the strangest experience. I felt a need to write and walked to my car for a pen and post-its (the only thing I had to write on) like a force was pulling me. I wrote my first book that day. And though it’s never been published, this beginning of a new career was a blessing! It allowed me not to fear retirement. Being a teacher was my identity. Now I had something I could do that would enable me to continue to communicate with children. Writing became my new passion.

Tell us about your journey. How did you get your first book published?
I truly believe I wouldn’t be published if I hadn’t become a member of SCBWI, which I was advised to do by a friend as soon as I started writing in 2002. The request from a publisher for stories about divorce and some other issues was listed in the SCBWI Bulletin in 2006. I heard back in a few weeks, that he was interested. It took two years from that time for me to hold my first published book, Where Am I Sleeping Tonight? (A Story of Divorce), Boulden Publishing, 2008, in my hand, but it’s still in publication, and it still sells. I feel very fortunate. And by the way, that was the 20th book I had written, but the first to be published.

Was there ever a point when you felt like giving up?
No, I got some great responses to my work early on. And I was teaching full-time and just enjoying this new adventure in my life that I loved sharing with my students. Sure, rejections hurt. But I learned that it was all part of the process and I kept persevering. This has worked for me. Imagine if after my first rejections I gave up. Not until I wrote my 20th manuscript did I get my first contract. Despite over 1,300 rejections, I continue to write. I am active in a few critique groups, and I submit avidly. I have an e-book out with a digital library, I had a story bought by Library Sparks Magazine, and my fourth book, the 60th manuscript I wrote, comes out this September 1st with an international publisher. You Know What? came out first in Dutch, Mama, Wist je Dat?, in December 2016. And I recently heard that a Korean publishing company bought the rights as well. In this business you have to hang on to all the good news you can.

Is there anything about being a published author that has surprised you?
Yes! I had no idea about the marketing side of writing books. I dealt with being a teacher for 35 years, interacting with others so intensely, that I enjoyed the quiet side of writing, that going inward that writing requires. I didn’t realize I’d have to be selling my books and myself. It’s a bit uncomfortable for me, even though I was completely at home in front of my own classroom of fourth graders.

I’m also surprised that I continue to get rejections from publishers who I’ve already worked with. But I’ve learned that in publishing, whether something is rejected or accepted is all about each individual story. It’s not personal.

Any advice you would give to a writer just starting out?
Join SCBWI, persevere, and read as many books as you can in the genre you write in. I’m an avid reader of picture books. I am a frequent visitor to my local library.

Is there anything else about you or your books you would like to tell us?
I have over 75 picture books that I’ve submitted and many more that I am working on. Every book has gone through revisions with the help of my critique groups. I am open to the suggestions of others as I feel they are given to me for a reason, allowing me to take advantage of ideas that help me write the best books possible. I work hard on each and every sentence to see if I can improve it in some way.

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?
Yes, I was surprised by the illustrations of my first book. It was not at all what I expected, but it ended up being right for that story. In my first three books, I did get to preview the illustrations and let the publisher know if there were any corrections that needed to be made.  But I did not actually communicate and work with the illustrator. With my new book coming out, it was an amazing process. It was the first publisher who encouraged that the illustrator and author should work together. I absolutely loved the back and forth with the illustrator as well as getting input from the art director. I felt they were always interested in what I thought, and accepted my suggestions. We worked as a team. And I am thrilled with the result!

Thanks so much for talking to me today, Carol. Find out more at www.carolgordonekster.com and connect with her on Twitter @cekster and Goodreads https://www.goodreads.com/author/dashboard

You can celebrate the release of You Know What in Cambridge, MA on September 7. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

#IMWAYR August 14, 2017

Each week I 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. 

As of today I have two more weeks of summer. That doesn't leave a lot of time for reading and planning, but I am doing what I can to get ready. Today I will step foot in my new classroom for the first time. I haven't seen it since the former teacher left so I am a little nervous about what I will find but I'm also excited to begin.

Here's what I read this week. All four books share the theme of self-discovery.

Middle Grade

Did you know that some people see colors when they hear sounds or read? I had never heard of synesthesia until I read the book A Mango-Shaped Space. Mia has always seen the world in color but when she tried to explain her colors to her class in third grade she quickly realized that she was different. For years she decided to hide this difference but when she meets a little boy who also sees the world her way, she realizes it is time to embrace it.

Esperanza is a rich girl who lives with her parents on a ranch in Mexico. When her father is killed by bandits, she and her mother have to give up their wealth to hide as migrant workers in the United States. At first Esperanza refuses to see herself as anything but a rich girl, but when her mother takes ill she realizes that it is time to stop complaining and start working. 

Abby wants to be outside climbing mountains instead of inside doing schoolwork and homework. Unfortunately there are no mountains where she lives in Illinois. When she is forced to choose an extra credit project in order to pass sixth grade, she decides to write to someone who lives in the mountains, specifically in the country of Afghanistan. Sadeed is given the task of writing to Abby but because he is a boy and she is a girl, he has to pretend the letters are written by his sister. As the two get to know each other, Abby's extra credit project becomes much more than a way to get a better grade, it becomes a window into another part of the world and as they get to know each other, they also learn a lot about themselves.

Connor's mother is very sick with cancer. At home he has become the primary caregiver and at school the kids and teachers treat him like he is the one who is dying. When the Yew tree outside his window turns into a monster, Connor and tells Connor that he was the one who called it, Connor thinks the monster is there to help his mother. But saving Connor's mother is not why the monster calls. A very sad book about dealing with illness of a parent and the guilt and isolation that can be attached to the situation.

Stacy Barnett Mozer is a teacher and a middle grade author. If you like what she's been reading follow her on Goodreads. Please leave a comment below and stop by the blog on Thursday for a new author interview. This week I'll be talking with Carol Gordon Ekster. 

It's Monday, what are you reading? 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Interview with Middle Grade Author Elly Swartz

It’s Thursday, which means it’s time for another author interview. Today I talk with Elly Swartz. Elly’s debut novel, FINDING PERFECT (FSG 2016) is about a twelve-year-old girl named Molly, friendship, family, OCD, and a slam poetry competition that will determine everything. In 2018, you meet the spunky and big-hearted Frankie in SMART COOKIE (Scholastic, 2018). Frankie is all about family with a dash of mischief and mystery! And then in 2019, say hello to Maggie in GIVE AND TAKE (FSG). 

When did you decide to become an author?
I have been creating stories since I was a little girl, but never with the idea of becoming an author. Simply for the love of story. I remember writing short stories and a lot of really bad poetry at my yellow desk. As a young mom, I dove into storytelling. I would weave adventures with my sons until they fell asleep, the hidden doorway was discovered, or the world was saved. Then, sixteen years ago, I started the journey to writing a children’s book. I wrote my first book. Then I wrote another. And, another. And, another. And, finally, I wrote Finding Perfect. Then Smart Cookie. And now Give and TakeI love telling stories and writing for kids. I love the way the words weave and bounce, and the way the characters unfold. I consider it a true privilege.

 Tell us about your journey. How did you get your first book published?
Finding Perfect was my first published book, but not the first book I wrote. It was the fifth book I wrote. The first four are fondly known in my family as practice. Those books taught me how to be a better writer, and for that, I thank them. My journey was 15 years to yes. A long and winding road that happily led me to my agent, Trish Lawrence of Erin Murphy Literary Agency. She believed in me. And that meant everything. After revisions and submissions to about thirty editors, Finding Perfect sold. It was a moment I will always remember. The wait was finally over. My dream had come true.

Was there ever a point when you felt like giving up?
It was never about giving up writing, but more about accepting the idea that I may not ever get published. Because no matter how many no’s I got, and over 15 years there were many, I always ended up back at my desk, writing.  On a recent school visit, one student asked me why. It was a good question. A valid question. I thought about it for a long time. Ultimately, I realized that I love writing more than I hate rejection.

I heard you talk about your motivation for writing Finding Perfect at a conference this year. Can you share some of those influences?
Every story I tell, begins with a character that is with me long before I write the first word of the story. With Finding Perfect, that character was Molly. I woke with her in my head and the more I got to know her, the more she tucked into my heart. I knew she was scared and worried, but I also knew that she was braver and stronger than she realized. In this gap, I found the heart of her story.

I knew Molly had Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and I knew she didn’t understand what was happening to her. I also knew, like many with OCD, she saw herself differently than the world saw her. She was scared and vulnerable and struggling. But to the world, she was confident and smart and so capable. This disparity drew me in. I wanted Molly to discover her voice and her strength. I wanted her to find her courage. Happily, she did.

Your new book, Smart Cookie, releases on January 30, 2018. What can you tell us about this new book?
Smart Cookie (Scholastic) is a story about family and secrets and eleven-year-old Frankie who is equal parts spunk and heart.

Frankie knows she’ll be in big trouble if Dad discovers she secretly posted a dating profile for him online. But she’s determined to find him a wife, even if she ends up grounded for life. Frankie wants what she had before Mom died. A family of three. Two is a pair of socks or the wheels on a bicycle or a busy weekend at the B&B where Frankie and Dad live. Three is a family. And Frankie’s is missing a piece.

But Operation Mom is harder to pull off than Frankie expects. None of the Possibles are very momish, the B&B’s guests keep canceling, Frankie’s getting the silent treatment from her once best friend, and there’s a maybe-ghost hanging around. Worst of all, Gram and Dad are definitely hiding secrets of their own. 

If a smart cookie like Frankie wants to save the B&B and find her missing piece, she’s going to have to figure out what secrets are worth keeping and when it’s time to let go.

Is there anything about being a published author that has surprised you?
Everything! But the one wonderful stand-out has been the community of educators and librarians who have welcomed me and my books so warmly into the kid lit fold. I am honored to be a part of this gracious community.

Any advice you would give to a writer just starting out?
Write because you love writing. Because you have a story to tell. Because you can’t not write. Then follow your heart and embrace the journey!

Is there anything else about you would like to tell us?
Thank you for reading. All books. In my heart, I believe books are that unconditional friend, that safety net, that next great adventure.

What’s next?
Smart Cookie (Scholastic) comes out January 30, 2018 and then in 2019, get ready to meet Maggie in Give and Take (FSG). Twelve-year-old Maggie. Maggie has a big heart and a hard time letting go. Of stuff. Of people. Of the past. With the help of her turtle Rufus, a baby named Izzie and the almost all-girls trap shooting team, she begins to understand that people are more than the things that hold their memories.

Thanks so much for coming by, Elly. You can find out more about Elly Swartz and her books by visiting her online and on twitter. And don’t forget to preorder Smart Cookie!

Teacher friends, here's a Finding Perfect CurriculumGuideThis book is definitely one that you'll want in your classroom.

Monday, August 7, 2017

#IMWAYR August 7, 2017

Each week I 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. 

This week I continued to work on my new curriculum. I also played around with ideas for this year's reading journal based on bullet format. Here's a good post that got me started. So far mine has a Neverending reading list, a 100 book challenge, and a Newbery book reading and rating page. I left 6 front and back pages for the neverending list and I've already filled two and a half with books I want to read. I am sure more will be added today. 

Here's what I read this week:

Middle Grade

This book was recommended to me last week when I was looking for characters who go through significant character change. In Restart, that change is caused by amnesia. When the school bully, Chase, falls off his roof and forgets his past, he sees himself through a new lens. He wants to be a different person. But his fall hasn't erased his past from the memory of others and not everyone is ready to give him a second chance.

If you are taking the time to read this blog, then my guess is that you will want to be a member of The Loser's Club. Alec is a book addict. In fact he has missed so much class time because of reading that his teachers and parents are now watching him every moment. At least he thinks he can read in after care, but the program is set up so you can't just sit and read, you have to join an activity or a club. Alec realizes his only choice is to create a club for others who want to sit and read, but since he wants quiet, he decides to call it The Loser's Club to discourage participation. It turns out that Alec isn't the only one who wants to be a loser. This is the book for kids (and adults) who love books. I won't be surprised to see a Loser's Club trend moving around schools faster than you can say, "Frindle."

Young Adult

Another incredible novel in verse from Kwame Alexander. Blade is a rich boy from a famous family but all he wants is for his father to give up his addictions and be there for him. When Blade learns he is actually adopted he travels across the world to find out if there was a different life he could have known. But his past life won't let him leave it behind. I hope they make an cd with this book's playlist.

When Kahlen's ship is brought down by sirens who send her whole family to their death, Kahlen gains the Ocean's attention and instead of death, she is claimed to be a singing sister. Now it's eighty years later and Kahlen still can't stomach the destruction she causes each time she sings. When she meets Ankli, a kind boy who sees through her outer beauty to the person she is inside, she is immediately drown to him. But how can you love someone when your voice is a deadly weapon?

Stacy Barnett Mozer is a teacher and a middle grade author. If you like what she's been reading follow her on Goodreads. Please leave a comment below and stop by the blog on Thursday for a new author interview. This week I'll be talking with Elly Swartz. 

It's Monday, what are you reading? 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Interview with #MG and Picture Book Writer Holly M. McGhee

It’s Thursday so it’s time to interview another author. Today I talk to Holly M. McGhee. Holly is both a literary agent and a writer. At her agency, Pippin Properties, Inc., Holly's clients include Kate DiCamillo, Jandy Nelson, Doreen Cronin, Sean Qualls, and Peter H. Reynolds. In 2009, her first book was published under the pen name Hallie Durand, and this year, with her debut novel Matylda, Bright and Tender, which has a plum line straight to her heart, she decided to integrate both parts of her creative life, and is now writing under her given name. Her picture book collaboration with Pascal Lemaitre, Come with Me, will be published by Putnam on September 5.

Holly, you are a published author and a literary agent. Did one thing lead to the other? 
Not so much in a straight-line kind of way—but for sure, my work as a literary agent and as a writer are connected. I started as an editor, and I brought along that interest to my career as a literary agent, helping my clients in the early creative stages of their projects in addition to negotiating the publishing deal. I generally get right in there and roll up my sleeves on the manuscript or storyboard, long before the project is submitted—it's just part of who I am. And I think it's true that my own stories come from that same creative reservoir inside of me.

How do you balance working with your client’s books and working on your own? 
That's the hardest part. I'm kind of obsessed with my job as a literary agent and it's hard for me to step aside and be still and ponder my own stories. It was easier before my kids became teenagers because they would go to bed at 9 and I would write. They stay up late now and the house is seldom quiet; trumpet practice begins at 9:30 p.m. every night! If I'm deep into something I go away, but the breathing space it takes to get going on something new is the hardest to find. I've recently decided to honor my writing career by setting aside every Friday for my own work. It starts this week, so my fingers are crossed that this new balance will be good.

Tell us about your journey. How did you get your first book published? 
My first book is titled Dessert First, and the character came bursting into my life while I was pleasantly reading a manuscript on NJ Transit one morning. Her name was Dessert Schneider and she would not be quiet till I wrote down her story, in her words. I did it all in a spiral bound notebook, longhand, in 2007. But I was concerned that when it was submitted, an editor might be influenced one way or the other because of who I was as a literary agent. That's why we used a pen name—Hallie Durand—nobody knew who I was until the deal was done; that way I could always be sure that the book was acquired because of the writing itself. The knowledge that my story was acquired solely because of the words has helped me along my path, especially during the too frequent times when I doubt myself as a writer. Under my pen name, I wrote two more books in that series and then three picture books (Mitchell's LicenseMitchell Goes Bowling, and Catch That Cookie!). 

With Matylda, Bright and Tender, my debut middle-grade novel, I decided to integrate my writing and agenting career under Holly M. McGhee, partly because Matylda is based on the emotions from my own childhood and partly as an acknowledgement that my writing and agenting comes from the same place inside of me. (Also the original idea of having a pen name was long past the point of serving its purpose.)

Was there ever a point when you felt like giving up? 
With Matylda, I don't know if I consciously felt like giving up, but I did put the story down for a year. The book had started out as a sweet story of two best friends which I wrote over the summer of 2012, up to page 25. At that point I realized one of the friends would have to go on without the other, and I couldn't bear it. I set the pages aside for an entire year. In a way, I felt tricked by my own psyche, because it lured me into unraveling something I'd buried in my own life for decades, a fatal car accident I was in as a teenager. But as I began to give myself permission to go to the darkest places inside of me, the book ended up being such a gift—it helped me work through my own grief, and I'm so grateful for that. 

Tell us a little bit about your novel, Matylda, Bright & Tender.
Matylda, Bright and Tender is the story of best friends Sussy Reed and Guy Hose, neither of whom has siblings. They very much want something to love, all their own, and together they adopt a leopard gecko and they name her Matylda, with a "y" so it's all her own. When the unimaginable happens, on a simple bike ride to get some vitamins for Matylda, Sussy is left to go on without Guy, and she works through her grief by loving Matylda fiercely—and in so doing she is trying to keep her attachment to her friend . . . until it becomes impossible to go on . . . that's when she comes to understand that when we love someone, we can love them in death the same way we did in life / that we don't have to fight those feelings / that they become part of who we are, and that we can go on from there at a deeper level, as people who have the capacity to hold the tension of all the feelings at once, both the dark and the light. And that we can survive. That the act of going on itself is a way to honor the person who died. 

Your latest book, Come with Me, opened a lot of conversations in my classroom. How did you come up with the concept for Come With Me
My long-time friend Pascal Lemaitre and I had been playing around with the idea of the Native American fable of the humming bird and the forest fire, in which the humming bird, the tiniest of all birds, doesn't think the amount of water she can carry will make a difference in extinguishing the fire. But then there is the epiphany that if all the hummingbirds each carried a drop of water, together they could put out the fire. Watching the news of terrorism over and over in the Spring of 2016 with my three children, and feeling so helpless, not knowing how to go forward, I realized that we are like the hummingbirds, and that a simple act of connecting in the face of tragedy and fear, if multiplied by thousands, can make a difference. 

And Pascal had actually connected with me, sixteen years prior, after 9/11. I lived in Manhattan. My husband and our baby, 18 months old. I remember that day so clearly; my husband worked on Wall Street—and our lives, everybody's lives, New York itself and the world as we knew it, changed forever that day. We were scared; immobilized with fear. Then a package arrived in the mail, from my friend in Belgium to me, with a painting of a frightened grieving man planting a flag at the World Trade Center sight, the flag bearing a big red heart blowing in the wind. This act of love, and caring, and connection, in such a time of fear, touched my heart and gave me strength. And the idea that if we all each reached out to one another in our own way, how different the world might be, is at the core of Come with Me

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? 
Well in this case since Pascal and I are friends and since I work in the business, we all collaborated, and so I was involved along the way. Pascal is married to a French Cambodian woman, and so he used his daughter as a model for the little girl. I'm not sure whose dog it is though, but it's very cute! I was surprised that Pascal found a way to work his ladybugs in :-) The jacket was a challenge; do we curve the type or leave it as a straight line? Big discussions! We ended up going straight across and I think that made a big difference. There was a lot of talk about the color of the paper too and I'm really happy with what was chosen. Just like the history behind the book, we worked as a team; I know that's unusual but it was amazing!

Is there anything about being a published author that has surprised you? 
One of the most surprising things about being a published author is the direct connections that are possible between writers and teachers and librarians. As a literary agent, which is what I do as my full-time job, I don't often have direct relationships with educators. It has been incredible to be able communicate with teachers and librarians through twitter. It has been so exciting to see how many people there are out there who are dedicated to creating lifelong passionate readers. I have loved connecting to teachers of every subject who are eager to read books and share them with students. Seeing how seriously these teachers take their reading material has made me think even more carefully about the books I want to bring in to the world, the ones I want to invest my time in, both as a writer and a literary agent.

Any advice you would give to a writer just starting out? 
Write every day. That's an easy one to nod yes to, but it takes commitment and passion to show up every day and actually write something. Even if you only have ten minutes, show up & honor your dream.

Is there anything else about you or your books you would like to tell us? 
I'd love to share a few events I'm doing with Pascal Lemaitre for Come with Me, which pubs on September 5. (Lucky for us he is here from Belgium until 9/15)

New York Times Facebook Live Illustration with Maria Russo, August 9 at 3 p.m. (join in on New York Times facebook page)

Rizzoli Bookstore, NYC, our launch: September 7 at 6 p.m.

Albertine Bookstore, NYC: September 9 at 11 a.m.

Maplewood Memorial Library Community gathering for Come with Me, with sidewalk chalk: September 9 at 3:30 p.m.

And I'll be at the Brooklyn Book Festival on Saturday, September 16.

Good luck with all of your events, Holly. Thank you so much for stopping by.
Thank you for inviting me to your blog, Stacy!

For more information about Holly and her books, visit her online and on twitter. Don't forget to leave a comment and check back next week for a new author interview. Here's a video to enjoy before you go:

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

#BookTalkTuesday August 1, 2017

It's #BookTalkTuesday, summer edition. Today's recommendation comes from an incoming 4th grader. 

P. recommends The Forgetting. - The Forgetting is about how one girl named Nadia never forgot. In Caaan every twelve years everybody forgets everything about themselves... who they loved, who their parents were and even what they had accomplished in life. Nadia is on a quest to stop the forgeting but is she really the only one who ever remembered?

His review: I think this book is very interesting because it makes Nadia a hero for doing something that we do for our whole lives. In the book Nadia remembers every twelve years while about everyone else forgets. She uses her ability to try to stop The forgetting which makes her a hero.

Thanks for the review, P! Sounds like a book I would enjoy. That's all for this week. I hope to here from more of my students and will post when I get them. Please comment or share your recommendations in the comments. We love hearing from you!