Kate Messner is a genuine wizard with words. I had the honor of hearing her speak at the national SCBWI conference in New York last year and came away absolutely inspired. I’m so grateful she took the time to read and share her thoughts on The Pirate Code:
Anne Ursu‘s Breadcrumbs has earned a place amongst my favorite middle grade books, and The Real Boy is is no less amazing. I was floored when Anne agreed to blurb The Pirate Code, and utterly thrilled at what she had to say:
Words are my job. I can spend hours searching for the just the right one. However, when my book is being praised by authors I admire, the best I can come up with are, “Ahhhhhh!” “Really???” and “Thank you!”
All this week, I’ll be sharing blurbs from fantastic authors. First up, Adam Rex.
This is you, writing from the future where TVs are larger than your Kirk Cameron poster but only as thick as a Nancy Drew book, and there are little boxes that you hold in your hand to change the channels, and there are tiny, flat phones that fit in your pocket and have no curly cords to attach them to the wall. I am not even joking here.
The future is magical.
So, it’s almost your eleventh birthday and you are over the moon because you just received a letter from the author James Howe who wrote some of your favorite books like Bunnicula, The Celery Stalks at Midnight, and Howliday Inn. I know, I know–James Howe! You will still find this event as mind-blowing thirty years in the future as you do right now. And that advice he gives you? It’s great writing advice and you will internalize it and apply it without even realizing you’ve done so.
Eventually his letter is going to get filed away in a scrapbook and you will forget about it for a while as you get caught up with dance and your aspirations to be a Laker Girl or backup performer for Janet Jackson. As you pursue those dancing dreams, you will also rediscover your love for writing and stories, and that passion will ultimately triumph over everything else and point you with purpose and focus into your future.
And then one day you’ll be living in Colorado (yes, you really do move out of California in the future. I know, you can’t imagine living anywhere else right now–except maybe Stoneybrook, CT, with the rest of the girls in The Babysitter’s Club–but you will move and you will be happy about it.) While sorting through your childhood things in Colorado, you will rediscover the letter from James Howe, and this will happen during a stretch of time when you are working multiple jobs while trying to write a novel. During this period you often doubt whether you have it in you to be a children’s book author like you dream of becoming. Finding that letter will feel like your destiny has been revealed, and you will plunge forward with confidence. Which doesn’t mean the path suddenly becomes clear and easy, but you will feel content with your choice to be on the path, no matter what obstacles lay ahead.
A few things I want to tell you before I get to the questions I know you are most eager for me to answer:
You are the driver of your life. Other people will offer you maps, tell you the best route, or demand that you follow to where they are going, but ultimately you have the say in where you steer your car and how you get to your destination.
You can’t control everything that happens, but you can control how you react and how you move forward. Look to people you admire as mentors (fictional people count too!) and think about how they carry themselves through the world and what they would do in a tough situation.
Surround yourself with good people. You can tell the quality of someone’s character by their actions, not their words, but at the same time be understanding that everybody has their bad days.
There is always an opportunity to try again. Just because you fail at something once doesn’t mean you should give up. If it still matters to you, try again.
Maintain and nourish your sense of humor. This will help you in just about every aspect of life.
Okay, now the stuff you really want to know about:
1. There is going to be a sequel to The Egypt Game by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, but you will have to wait a while. Like ten or so more years. (Oh, and if the James Howe letter is tripping you out, get this: One day you will talk to Zilpha Keatley Snyder ON THE PHONE. You also eat lunch next to Lois Lowry. I know. I know!!! I told you, the future is magical.)
2. Your collection of VHS tapes with dutifully recorded and saved episodes of 21 Jump Street, ALF, and Moonlighting are not going to come in as handy as you think they will.
3. I’m sorry to break this to you, but you are not going to marry Corey Haim. You’ll ending up marrying . . . well, I don’t want to spoil it for you. But trust me, it’s a very happy outcome.
4. You won’t transform into an extroverted, chatty person, but that’s okay. It really, really is. All those things about yourself that make you feel awkward and like you don’t fit in? You’ll end up embracing them and appreciating your own individuality.
Okay, you can get back to your game of Super Mario Bros. now. And happy birthday, kid!
For twelve-year-old Emily, the best thing about moving to San Francisco is that it’s the home city of her literary idol: Garrison Griswold, book publisher and creator of the online sensation Book Scavenger (a game where books are hidden in cities all over the country and clues to find them are revealed through puzzles). Upon her arrival, however, Emily learns that Griswold has been attacked and is now in a coma, and no one knows anything about the epic new game he had been poised to launch. Then Emily and her new friend James discover an odd book, which they come to believe is from Griswold himself, and might contain the only copy of his mysterious new game.
Racing against time, Emily and James rush from clue to clue, desperate to figure out the secret at the heart of Griswold’s new game–before those who attacked Griswold come after them too.
Jennifer Chambliss Bertman was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. She studied writing and dance at the University of California, Irvine, and earned her MFA in Creative Writing from Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, California. When she was eighteen, she interned for a magazine in Manhattan and has worked in publishing ever since. To learn more about Jennifer you can visit her blog, follow her on Twitter, or Facebook.
You don’t know me, but I know you. I was you not long ago. Well, you probably think it’s been a while, but I can still remember what it was like to be ten years old. I’ve always been inside our head.
You like to play with your friend Brooke. In the summer, you put doll clothes on water balloons and play house out on the lawn, and in the winter, you turn Brooke’s basement into an obstacle course. But you also like to retreat to your own basement, where a blocky gray computer sits, waiting for you to fill its memory with stories.
As you get older, you’re going to retreat to that computer more often. Luckily, you’ll have good friends who won’t get upset when you tell them you’d rather stay in. Despite this love of staying in, you think you’re an extrovert, and you play one pretty well. You like to speak in church and be the center of attention. Someday, you’ll fake an English accent and entertain several dozen of your peers while you wait in line in a narrow, crowded hall. But after you’ve had a few kids, you’ll read this great book, Susan Cain’s QUIET (write that down!), and discover that you’re actually an introvert—and that that’s okay. Being introverted doesn’t make you lesser. You just grew up in a culture that values extroversion (which is probably why you’ve convinced yourself you are).
What else can I tell you about thirty-one-year-old Krista? You like grapefruit and green beans now. And oh my gosh, you ate tilapia for the first time a few weeks ago and actually liked it. (You still don’t like salmon, though.) You have an awesome husband, three great kids, and two books coming out this year. In other words, you have pretty much everything you’ve ever wanted, but you still have your rough days.
It’s not because you’re stupid or ungrateful. It’s because the chemicals in your brain don’t always work the way they should, and you know what? That’s not your fault. It’s doesn’t always feel that way, but it’s true. Luckily, you’ll have a supportive family and learn a lot about yourself and the people around you (who you used to judge more harshly). You’ll especially like this quote from Orson F. Whitney:
“No pain that we suffer, no trial that we experience is wasted. It ministers to our education, to the development of such qualities as patience, faith, fortitude, and humility. All that we suffer and all that we endure, especially when we endure it patiently, builds up our characters, purifies our hearts, expands our souls, and makes us more tender and charitable, more worthy to be called the children of God…and it is through sorrow and suffering, toil and tribulation, that we gain the education that we come here to acquire.”
Now, that doesn’t mean you won’t compare yourself to others. I hate to break it to you, but you’re pretty good at that. You know what will help? Making friends with other people who are in a similar boat. It’s much easier for you to feel genuinely happy or sad for others when you’ve already established a relationship with them. Oh, and don’t forget to give more than you take. That will just make you feel like an all-around good person.
Keep at it, ten-year-old Krista. You’re standing on the threshold of a beautiful life.
Your older, somewhat wiser self, Thirty-one-year-old Krista
Twelve-year-old Ella Mae Higbee is a sensible girl. She eats her vegetables and wants to be just like Sergeant Friday, her favorite character on Dragnet. So when her auntie Mildred starts spouting nonsense about a scientist who can bring her cousin Robby back to life, Ella Mae doesn’t believe her–until a boy steps out of the scientist’s pod and drips slime on the floor right before her eyes.
But the boy is not Robby–he’s Japanese. And in California in the wake of World War II, the Japanese are still feared and mistreated. When Auntie Mildred refuses to take responsibility, Ella Mae convinces her mama to take the boy home with them. It’s clear that he’ll be kept like a prisoner in that lab, and she wants to help.
Determined to do what’s right by her new friend, Ella Mae teaches him English and defends him from the reverend’s talk of H-E-double-toothpicks. But when the boy’s painful memories resurface, Ella Mae learns some surprising truths about her own family and, more importantly, what it means to love.
The Sound of Life and Everything is available on IndieBound, Powell’s, B&N, and Amazon, or ask for it in bookstores and libraries near you.
Krista Van Dolzer is a stay-at-home mom by day and a children’s author by bedtime. She enjoys watching college football and researching her ancestors. Krista lives with her husband and three kids in Mesquite, Nevada. Connect with Krista on KristaVanDolzer.com, Twitter, and Goodreads.
Let’s kick this off with a quick word about the nickname business you’re obsessing over. Gizmo Mogwai – ain’t gonna catch on. Sorry, but it just isn’t. And really, do you want people to associate you with a gremlin for the rest of your life? Thought not. Think potential boyfriends…
Also, all of the gymnastic-themed names, Flip, Split and the likes, I don’t think these are going to work, either. Stick with Kate. It’s a good name.
You love lists, right? Me too! They rule. Keeping life all neat and tidy and ordered. Everybody should like lists; everybody should write them. All hail the list!
Well, I’d like to run through one specific list you wrote not long ago. It’s the ‘Potential Careers’ list. It’s in the shoe box in the bottom right corner of your wardrobe, the box with the Bros stickers splattered all over it. Got it? Great, let’s start.
1: ‘Supermodel’ Mmm, interesting. Yes, you’re ridiculously pencilly thin. Yes, your skin is horribly flawless. But I’ve got this feeling there might be a height issue ready to stand in the way of your dream. I know, it’s going to be a tough pill to swallow, but there just aren’t many catwalk queens averaging little over five feet. For now, carry on swirling in front of the mirror and sauntering up and down in Mum’s heels, but be prepared to cross through this with a permanent red marker pen one day.
Oh, and please be careful in those heels. Specifically when you’re about fifteen on a night out with friends at the movies. Think stairs.
2: ‘Nurse’ Awesome job, and you’d be just like Mum, your hero. But, I have this feeling you’re going to be an emotional individual; breaking down regularly over the smallest things, like…I don’t know…old people, sad adverts, tiny kids falling off bikes. And being a nurse is going to bring a lot of heartbreaking things into your life. I’d ponder this one for a little longer.
3: ‘Vet’ See ‘Nurse’.
4: ‘Cleaner’ Excuse me while I wipe up the mouthful tea I just spat everywhere. Seriously girl, what are you thinking? You love tidying up, I know this, and it will be something that, at times, you have the potential to become ever so slightly obsessed about. You love lists, already mentioned, and neat piles, folded clothes, toys in boxes, shut doors and drawers, straight lines, corners, and…oops, sorry, I got carried away there. But have a quick peek at your bedroom. Yes, it’s clean, but is it REALLY clean? You know, dusted? Polished? Vacuumed? Noooo, it isn’t. And when this does happen, Mum does it. This is pretty much what being a cleaner will entail, all the things Mum does. Which brings me neatly on to the next point.
I believe you might have your fair share of cleaning in the future. I’m thinking out loud here, but boyfriend, marriage, babies. Babies who grow up to be dirty, smelly boys. Boys who produce poo-stained pants and filthy bedrooms. Heck, you might even have a dog one day, which equals fur, paw prints, slobber. Think gag-reflex. Enough said. So cross this one out. No, scrap that, rip it right off that bit of paper. (But make sure to put it in the bin.)
5: ‘Horse rider’ ??? Is that even a job?
6: ‘Author’ And we’ve landed. Why oh why are you embarrassed about your writing? Is it still because your brother laughed at that short story, Monty Mouse, all those years ago? Is it because the only other kids who like writing in your class also like to darn ballet shoes and collect toy buses? You’ve got to rise above it. Don’t you remember those five sparkling team points Mr Havard awarded you for The Space Rocket? A teacher who probably had a note from home to say he was allergic to team points and excitement. No one had ever seen him so worked up! And all because of those 500 and something words YOU put together. It’s a sign, I tell you, a sign!
Don’t shy away from being ‘different’, OK? Just don’t. Different is cool. And your imagination, your love of words, might just be the cure to your self-esteem issues. I’m saying, let YOU shine through, release the words. It’s been a bumpy ride so far, I’m aware of that, and it’s likely to get even bumpier in the years to come. But there will be plenty of smooth riding as well. Times when containing your elation might prove too difficult. So don’t contain it, let it out; lap it up, swim in it. Life’s too short to wonder what if.
Good luck, my friend. Until later.
~From your 30-something-year-old self
Winell Road is the most boring street on Earth and 12-year-old Jack Mills is sick to his molars of living there. But when a UFO nearly abducts him outside his home, his life takes a terrifying and mysterious turn. With the help of his new friend and neighbour, frighteningly tall Roxy Fox, Jack discovers there’s a lot more to Winell Road and his life than he’d ever imagined.
Foster is a freelance editor and children’s writer who likes lists. Originally from the UK, she now lives on the Gold Coast in Australia with her three sons, husband and spoodle. Winell Road, her debut middle grade novel will be released later this month. Connect with Kate on KateJFoster.com, Twitter, and Facebook.
You know how people tease you for reading so much? Don’t listen to them, and don’t change that. Escape into books when you need to. Remember that spending time with books doesn’t mean you don’t like people — it means you love stories. It’s fine to need a break from the everyday world sometimes, and a reading life is a pretty great life. Anyone who says you can’t live in books has never been a writer.
You know how, when you have a bad day, your mom always says “It’s material for your novel” – she’s right. It really is.
Try not to worry so much. It’s okay to feel afraid – it’s even smart, sometimes — but why let fear run your entire life? Think about what you actually, truly want to try. Is it going to hurt or kill you, or ruin your life? If not, maybe it’s worth it to try something new, even if you aren’t instantly good at it. It could even be fun. (It could even make a good story.)
It’s okay to ask for what you truly want. You’re going to be surprised how many things could have been possible if only you’d asked for them. Not everything. But more than enough. If it’s important, it’s worth asking.
Be your own kind of strong. Do the best you can to do what you think is right, even when it’s hard. Practice apologizing when you did something that wasn’t good after all. (You’re going to use that skill a lot.) Be brave for yourself, too — stand up for yourself. People shouldn’t treat you in ways you’d never treat someone else.
Listen to what you actually think. Just you. Everyone in your life is giving you advice and opinions right now, even me, and some of it’s really good advice, but you know what? It doesn’t matter as much as learning to find your own way through. Learn what’s right for you, and learn how to stick to it.
But remember how many people are on your side. Your family, your friends, your teachers, your community – even if they don’t say it, most of them are there for you when you need them. They believe in you. They are proud of you.
Remember that I’m proud of you, too.
When you didn’t do it right the first time? That’s because you were learning. Take that knowledge and try again. And again, and again, and again. (It’s a good thing you’re so stubborn. Hang onto that.)
When you cried because you weren’t brave enough to stand up for someone else? You didn’t let yourself off the hook. Keep trying, every time you can. (It’s still hard. It still matters.)
When you wondered what someone else would think, and then said what you believed anyway? When you stepped away from the crowd, or towards it, to do what you felt was right? Keep doing that.
Keep believing you can do anything. I can’t wait until you see what you can do.
Love, Kelly, thirty years later
P.S. Maybe you don’t actually hate chickens. Or maybe you only hate Rhode Island Reds, like that one that pecked your foot. That’s fine; you can use that.
P.P.S. You know that book you really like, The Hoboken Chicken Emergency? Read that one again. And again. (Anyone who says you don’t learn from rereading books doesn’t know anything about writers.)
Twelve-year-old Sophie Brown feels like a fish out of water when she and her parents move from Los Angeles to the farm they’ve inherited from a great-uncle. But farm life gets more interesting when a cranky chicken appears and Sophie discovers the hen can move objects with the power of her little chicken brain: jam jars, the latch to her henhouse, the entire henhouse….
And then more of her great-uncle’s unusual chickens come home to roost. Determined, resourceful Sophie learns to care for her flock, earning money for chicken feed, collecting eggs. But when a respected local farmer tries to steal them, Sophie must find a way to keep them (and their superpowers) safe.
Told in letters to Sophie’s abuela, quizzes, a chicken-care correspondence course, to-do lists, and more.
Kelly Jones has worked as a librarian and a bookseller, and has her own (much-loved, but fairly ordinary) chickens. Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer is her first novel. Connect with Kelly on curiosityjones.net, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.
one I GIFed this old vine of myself so everyone can see my winning smile. Aren’t you glad???
Edit: Why isn’t it looping? Click to see it again.
two START SPREADING THE NEEEEEWS! I’ll be in New York at the end of the month. If you are in the area, you’ll have three chances to hang out with me: signing advance copies of The Pirate Code at Book Expo, hanging out and playing games with dozens of other middle grade authors, and talking pirates and hot dogs with author Tara Dairman. See my events page for more details on each.
three Tiny Hamster Tiki Party!
four My I <3 Educators giveaway is on for a few more days. Tell the teachers and librarians in your life that they could win a hardcover of Hook's Revenge, an advance copy of The Pirate Code—both signed, a classroom pack of bookmarks and postcards, and a free in person visit from me! Enter here.
five Here’s another GIF. Like creepy mother, like creepy daughter, right?
Call my hometown bookstore, The Book Bin at 503-361-1235, and place an order!
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