#readorwriteanywhere plus Where in the World is Madelyn Rosenberg?

Greetings, readers and writers!

As you may know, the YA Chicks have started a #readorwriteanywhere campaign this summer with the goal of getting people to to do exactly that. I’ve been packing a notebook so I can write as I wait for my kids outside of music lessons or the pool or school (we go through late June here). But as part of the campaign –where you guess where we’re reading or writing so you can enter to win books and more — a photo of me sitting in a stuffy car seemed a little too obvious. And boring. Plus, the YA Chicks wanted us to show some fun locations.

How’s this?

IMG_4293Okay, not the most comfortable seat in the house, is it? But this particular location features prominently in Nanny X Returns (out this fall), so I really wanted to stop here. Where am I? Any guesses? I’ll give you some clues below.

Carl Sandburg wrote a poem about this place.

– If you want to do stairs, come here: There are more than 800. (By contrast: Rocky climbed 72 at the end of his legendary run.)

– The cornerstone of this structure was laid on July 4th. (I’m not going to say which July 4, though.)

– Martians destroyed this place (in the movies).

– An earthquake damaged this place (in real life).

Have you got it? Okay, then. For a chance to win prizes, go back to YA Chicks starting at 9 a.m. on May 22 and make your guess.

But wait, there’s more!

~For more chances to win, visit some of the other author’s and guess their locations. Every author location you guess correctly increases your chances to win.

~Post a picture of yourself reading or writing on Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #ReadOrWriteAnywhere (must have the hashtag). That increases your chances, too.

For writer prize packs:

~Post pictures of yourself writing in a fun location on Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #ReadOrWriteAnywhere. Then follow the directions on the Rafflecopter giveaway to let the Ya Chicks know you did it.

~Gather your writer friends together and post a group shot with the hashtag #ReadOrWriteAnywhere. That increases your chances, too!

All entries must had the hashtag. Otherwise, it’s like a tree falling in the forest.

For teacher prize packs:
~Post pictures of your class reading or writing on Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #ReadOrWriteAnywhere (must have the hashtag). Then let us know you did it when you enter the Rafflecopter. If you don’t have a Twitter or Instagram, you can email (yachicks@ gmail. com) your picture directly with the picture pasted directly into the email (no attachments) AND the subject, “Read or Write Anywhere.”

~You can also check out the YA Chicks Read or Write Anywhere lesson plan, available on their site.

We can’t wait to see what people come up with!

Note to any teachers trying to win a Skype visit from me: While Nanny X is a middle-grade, I’ve also written YA and picture books, so I can find something to talk about with any age group.

Good luck!

Posted in fabulous prizes, middle grade, Nanny X, ya, young adult | Leave a comment

Summer Reading

During the summer, I sign my kids up for nearly every reading program I find. I’ve heard some parents worry that there shouldn’t be prizes because reading is a prize in itself (true). But many of the summer programs give away books, or give you the potential to win books, which means more reading, which means: we’re in.

I wanted to highlight a new campaign this year — the YA Chicks’ #readorwriteanywhere campaign. It brings awareness to the fact that you can bring your book (or notebook) wherever you go this summer. Plus, there’s a chance to win fabulous prizes.

For teachers: enter to win Skype visits with authors. For writers: enter to win critiques. For everyone: enter to win books, books. books.

The campaign starts on May 22, when 30 authors (including me) post pictures of themselves reading or writing somewhere, along with clues. It could be somewhere exotic. It could be somewhere iconic. Take a guess, and enter it into the rafflecopters at the YA Chicks’ web site.

For more details, check back on May 22nd. And this summer, remember that you really can read or write anywhere. (Well, almost.)

Not a mystery spot: Me in my backyard, last summer, for DC Library's #mysummerreadingspot

Not a mystery spot: Me in my backyard, last summer, for DC Library’s #mysummerreadingspot




Posted in libraries, reading with kids, summer, summer reading | 2 Comments

Wendy Shang hits a home run

c64789462cf27f9bb1a03cb0fd706557When it comes to words, Wendy Wan-Long Shang is patient. Sometimes the words rush right at her without pausing for breath. But they also walk. They amble. They bend down to pick a blade of grass.

Wendy waits for the right words. For the right story. For the right book. For those of us who wait for Wendy’s words not-so-patiently (aka: me), I am happy to say that the book in question — The Way Home Looks Now (Scholastic) — is in stores today.

Home follows Peter Lee and his family as they navigate the aftermath of his brother’s death and the life that follows for all of them, played out against the backdrop of a game they all love. There’s grief, humor and warmth here. There is love and friendship. And there is baseball.

Me: Talk a little about what inspired this story.

Wendy: My father coached my older brother’s baseball team in the early 1970s, and during that time, my father had to handle a pretty hot situation on the team. His feelings on the issue and the way he handled the problem made an impression on me, and I wanted to write about it. When I started researching that time period, I realized what a rich period it was for Chinese-Americans and baseball. Taiwan was starting its era of domination in the Little League World Series around that time, and the team was an enormous source of pride for people like my parents, who had grown up in Taiwan and then moved to the U.S. I started developing a story that could incorporate these ideas.

Me: This story also deals with managing grief. Do you think people know how to deal with grief – their own or other people’s?

wendyWendy: It’s very interesting, because you and I both come from backgrounds where the grieving process is very prescribed. Judaism has shiva, and in China, there are a lot of customs regarding how to honor the dead. In America, there’s no agreed-upon set of rules and customs.

I think the hardest stage of grief is after the rawest phase is over, after the funeral is over and the casseroles stop coming, both for the one who grieves and those around him or her. It’s hard to know what is ‘right’ to feel or, for others, what to say or how to help. That’s around the time we find Peter, trying to negotiate his own feelings while seeing many different examples of how people grieve around him.

Me: Let’s talk a little bit about your writing process – how long it takes you, where you get in the weeds and how you get out again?

Wendy: Oh, I’m such a slow writer. I seem to take about two years to write a book. I usually have a sense of what my character’s internal journey is going to be, but I have a hard time keeping the outward journey on pace and interesting. I try to think of the problem technically – X needs to happen in this chapter so that Y will result – and then I keep an eye out for situations that fit that criteria. Isn’t that romantic?

Me: Your kids have had you pretty much entrenched in baseball for the last decade. And rugby. And karate… But I seem to remember your saying that you yourself were not a sports kid? Both The Great Wall of Lucy Wu and Home are set against a backdrop of sports. Was this coincidence or was there a master plan?

Wendy: Heh heh – no master plan. I played exactly one season of baseball as a kid, but as a writer, I think sports gives us the ability to explore lots of themes – including how we perceive ourselves vs. how others perceive us.

Me: When we were in high school, we had softball teams but the only sports you ever heard girls talk about then were gymnastics and track. How much do you think has changed?

Wendy: Oh my gosh, SO much has changed with regards to women and sports. I remember when the first women sportscasters were coming up, and it was such a big deal.  It seemed incomprehensible to some people – how could women be interested in sports? Now we have so many more opportunities and great programs like Girls on the Run. The door has opened, though it needs to get much wider.

Me: As much as it pains me to call something from my lifetime historical fiction, that’s what this book is. Could you talk a little about your research?

Wendy: I did a little bit of everything. I talked to my parents and my brother, of course. My family took a summer road trip through Pennsylvania and we stopped by the Little League Museum in Williamsport, and I used that opportunity to get a lot more detail about the players and the game that I describe in the book. Newspaper archives were also a wonderful source of finding those smaller-than-front page tidbits that give you a sense of the times.

My biggest regret is not finding the photograph of my brother’s team that my dad coached, and the letter that my dad wrote to the team.

(Ed. Note: TOTAL LONGSHOT, but if you happen to be reading this AND you played on a team coached by Jer-Yu Shang AND you were once a notorious scrap-booker and have such items, we’d love to hear from you.)

Me: Did you unearth anything interesting that you couldn’t include in the book?

Wendy: While I was at the Little League Museum, I found lots of interesting information about the first Little League team from Taiwan to win the series. They had a news clipping about how the local Chinese restaurant in Williamsport kept the team supplied with Chinese food, and every team has a local host to take care of them. That’s a story in itself.

Me: Talk a little about what you, personally, remember from Taiwan winning those world series.

Wendy: What I remember is that my family, who did not truck in spectator sports of any kind, would stop and watch the series on TV if Taiwan was playing. That action alone made a pretty big impression. My parents and my brother went to the actual games before I was born – they would ride on buses chartered by groups of Chinese families from Delaware.

Me: In Lucy Wu, we were all about dumplings. Here, we have lemon cake and shrimp chips. How important is food when you’re creating a setting or landscape?

Wendy: I like knowing what my characters are eating – I can tell you from my children’s behavior that food can play a huge role in mood and whether or not you’re having a good day. In HOME, food represents memory and longing.

Me: What do you think Peter would have thought of Mo’Ne Davis?

Wendy: Mo’Ne Davis was the first girl to throw a no-hitter in the Little League World Series last summer. Peter would have thought she was terrific and perhaps a bit intimidating.

Me: What’s next?

Wendy: I’m trying to grow as a writer, so I am experimenting with stories that use a different POV and voice, as well as, yikes, poetry. Wish me luck!

We do!! If you want to learn more about Wendy, visit her online at wendyshang.com. You can also follow her on twitter at @wendyshang, though trying to spot one of her tweets is like trying to spot a ruby-throated hummingbird . A fantastic review is here, at the Nerdy Book Club site. And A.B. Westrick talks craft with Wendy right here on her blog.

Posted in author interview, birds, diverse books, family, food, writing | 2 Comments

Molly Burnham talks about punk, kidlit, and her first novel

Molly celebrates her new book

Molly celebrates her new book

Molly B. Burnham’s debut middle-grade novel, Teddy Mars Book #1: Almost a World Record Breaker, comes out next week. It’s about record-obsessed Teddy, who is navigating his way through school and his crazy family, which includes his little brother aka The Destructor. It’s also about pigeons; lots and lots of pigeons.

I met Molly and her fabulous writing the same morning about 15 years ago through a critique group set up by SCBWI, which turned out to be a better matchmaker than either Yenta or Date Lab.

When my Tea Party book and Teddy (which will ultimately be a series) both ended up at Katherine Tegen Books, I told everyone we were label-mates, as if we were rock stars, which Molly totally is. I’m talking about as a human being, though she was also a part of the DC punk scene, where she hung out with the Dischord crowd. When I see her picture pop up somewhere, like Banned in D.C., I get a warm, glowy feeling. Which is why the first question I had for Molly was:

Me: How did punk rock affect your approach to writing?

Molly: It affects everything I do. I got into punk when I was 13/14 (I’ve never been terrific with dates and there was a lot of stuff going on but it was in that region). Punk was about D.I.Y, finding your own way of doing the things you were passionate about, not following anyone else’s path, standing up for things that you believed in, and ultimately about believing in your own creativity and that you had something to say and that that was worth hearing. Growing up in DC, we were a very political punk scene, too. We believed in being active and taking action. We were able to go to protests on the mall, or in front of the South African embassy. I consider us very lucky for that.

Ultimately, I believe in taking part in life, having a voice, and using it, particularly in equity issues. We all really need to stand together to make change. Saying all this, I also come from a family of journalists, and this sort of thinking is found in them as strongly as it is in punk. It just presents itself in a different way.

So how does it affect my writing? I think it gives me permission to have very few rules. I write when I want. I don’t have a certain number of words or pages. I doodle, I pace, I walk, I write. Sometimes I wake up really early to write, sometimes I write late at night (although not often —usually by night I feel pretty done with language).

I approach my writing like it’s a punk show that I’m excited to go to. A lot of people talk about the struggles in writing. I deeply respect what they say, but it’s not that way for me. There are other folks who have real struggles —struggles with illness, poverty, war. Every day when I sit down, I remind myself about how awesome it is to write. It’s not always easy, but it’s awesome. This is like a punk show. They were not always easy (especially if you got a boot in your leg) but they were always awesome.

Lastly, I want to say that although I did listen to music in the classic punk genre, I was also drawn to any music or arts that had that punk spirit. The bravery, rawness and truth that I feel is the essence of punk rock can be found in many genres and many art forms.

Molly in her teens

Molly in her teens.

Me: Tell us what’s punk about Teddy Mars.

Molly: What isn’t punk about him? He doesn’t really care what people think of him. At first glance he is independent and does his own thing, but deep down he’s actually very community orientated. Also he loves pigeons and they are a very punk bird.

Me: In your book, Teddy wants to stand out – something I think we relate to both as kids and adults. Did you ever go through a phase like that?

Molly: I didn’t know at first that that was going to be Teddy’s ‘big deal’. I came to know it as I wrote the book. I think my own kids helped me to notice this feeling because they would have/still have these feelings — ‘you don’t really see me.’ Experiencing them going through these emotions reminded me of those exact feelings in my family (and like my kids there were only two of us!) I also have friends who are from huge families and they tell the same story. We all want to be seen. It feels like the oldest shtick in the book — wanting to be seen, to really be understood.

Me: Were there any world records you wanted to break?

Molly: I remember thumbing through those Guinness World Record books and being especially impressed by the World’s Longest Fingernails. (As a nail-biter, I didn’t have a prayer.)

I don’t remember actually coming up with one record I wanted to break. When we were kids the photos were in black and white, and of course we stared at the photos a lot. But the book didn’t take pictures of things that I thought I could break. They took pictures of fingernails and tall people. I remember the pictures very clearly. When I was maybe 15 I did try to stuff the most grapes in my mouth. My aunt had a Polaroid photograph of this on her fridge, but I never submitted this to the Guinness folks. I think I got maybe 14 grapes and had to stop. It made my mouth feel claustrophobic.

Me: Because of the ages of your characters, people are bound to make (positive) comparisons between Teddy and the Destructor and Peter Hatcher and Fudge. Have you been hearing that at all?

Molly: I loved Judy Blume when I was growing up, but I didn’t read the Fudge books. I read Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, and a number of other titles. Judy Blume was the only author I wrote to as a kid. She (her publishing house?) sent a signed picture of her (wish I still owned that!) It was my editor, Maria Barbo, who pointed me in the direction of them, and when I read them I fell off my chair. I felt like such a phony, such a copy cat. I felt like I plagiarized Judy Blume! Honestly I didn’t, but I was gobsmacked. Thinking this over though, there are loads of books that deal with these problems. I don’t know what inspired Judy Blume, but I know I was inspired by every sibling relationship I watch, including my sister and me, my own kids, students that I had, as well as friends’ kids. For my book, I just exaggerated. Judy Blume is an inspiration as a writer. She has an outstanding career and takes on topics that are challenging for people (I love that!). Back to your question, I think there are just some universals in the world that Judy Blume and I agree on, and one of those is that having a sibling can be challenging.

Me: I loved how Teddy’s parents were so good at letting their kids be who they were. Do you think you taught Teddy’s parents anything? Do you think you learned anything about your own parenting by creating them?

Molly: I only have two kids, but sometimes I feel like I have seven, eight or nine. In terms of parenting choices I was inspired by friends who are from large families and how when they talk about their parents they are pretty invisible. Although, I also grew up at a time where parents were less attentive to their kids. This has good points and bad points. I was also inspired by my own kids who are always teaching me to let them be independent. Early on as a parent I was more uptight. I felt like every thing I let them do would send them in a direction; now I actually trust that I don’t need to control them so much, that actually through discussing things do we get to a better place. One thing that was funny about the book was that after my kids read it, they were inspired to move out into a tent in our backyard. (This was because they got mad at me about something). In the end, we made up and they slept in the house. But if they had stayed out there, I wouldn’t have minded.

Me: You went through the writing program at Hamline. I know it’s ridiculous to try to sum up all of the things you took away from that experience, so I’ll settle for two…


  1. It was important because it was really the first time in my life that I took my writing seriously. I had just turned 40 and wondered if I was on my death bed what would be my biggest regret. It was pretty clear that it was that I never really 1000% tried to be a writer. I studied writing as an undergraduate but I worked the whole time I was in school, I was distracted by friends and going to see bands. Going to Hamline was me doing the scariest thing in my life because I wanted it so much. I couldn’t really even talk to anyone about it. But I remember the first day, meeting these people at Hamline, and realizing I had found a tribe. I had other tribes, but this was my children’s book tribe. Everyone was so great. But even so I think we all felt like phonies, and wondered how we got into the program and when were all the real writers going to figure out we were phonies? Then Gary Schmidt stood up and said, something like “Welcome to Hamline, I want you to know that you deserve to be here.” I started crying.
  1. The second important thing about the program was just writing, writing, writing, which is the best training to be writer that you can get.

Me: It’s the eve of the publication of your first book. Not to be too much of an in-your-face sports announcer, but how does it feel?

Molly: Exciting, of course. Terrifying, of course. And like nothing is going to change because the point for me of this whole thing is to be able to write everyday. To do the thing I love to do: tell stories. It’s like flossing my teeth, just because I do it in the morning doesn’t mean I get to stop doing it for the rest of my life. I do it twice a day for the rest of my life because I really like my teeth.

Me: Talk a little bit about middle-grade, and how that became your sweet spot.

Molly: From 1998-2007 I mostly worked with kids. I was a nanny, and then decided to get my MA in Elementary Education. I went on to teach at a school for kids with behavioral and psychological challenges, and eventually taught Kindergarten and 3rd Grade in a Northampton Public School. I had been writing during all this time, but I was only writing picture books. Being a nanny was when I started to engage with children’s books outside of my own self, it was all about reading them and how the kids responded. This was a terrific education. Then I went into teaching and it’s all thinking how does this book connect to curriculum. You have to stay so open and read so much. At some point I wrote a picture book that was funny and great but way too long. Someone suggested I turn it into a middle grade. I wasn’t sure I could do this because I’d always  written short pieces, but going to Hamline was the perfect place to explore this. What I love about middle grade is the same thing that I love about 3rd grade. The magic of life is still appreciated. Even in the toughest kid, who’s gone through real struggles, at that age, they know so much but they still connect to the magic of this world. Anything is possible in middle grade — for example a kid can move into a tent for almost a whole year! Or try and break world records. There’s a wackiness to them. It’s like watching I Love Lucy. You just believe it.

Me: I know how much you love hearing about other people’s writing process. Could you talk briefly about yours?

Molly: My life is pretty chaotic, and not orderly, and my mantra is: The map is not the terrain. I need to follow my terrain.

Me: And, while you’ve been waiting for this book to come out, I know you’ve been busy writing the second. Do you have a title for that one yet? 

Molly: Teddy Mars Book #2: Almost a Winner

Thanks, Molly! You can (as of next week) find Teddy Mars Book #1, Almost a World-Record Breaker at a bookstore near you. You can find Molly online at Mollybburnham.com and on twitter at @mollybburnham. And you can get a taste of Teddy from this cool claymation video:

Posted in author interview, family, kidlit, middle grade | Comments Off


I love the Washington Post Peeps Contest and each year I swear I’m going to enter, even though I haven’t since Peepi Longstocking about four years ago. I keep my Peeps stocked in the basement, just in case, but the deadline always catches me off-guard, as it did tonight. This time, though, I tried a last-minute entry as a tribute to Leonard Nimoy. It’s not as professional as the architecture firms who usually enter (or as Lois, my highly skilled neighbor), but what the heck? The title is The Trouble with Peeples. LLAP.

IMG_3694 IMG_3701

"Somebody close that door."

“Somebody close that door.”

Posted in peeps | 4 Comments