Chin up, Buttercup

I’m revising a story and reminding myself to “Think big, work small.”
To “Be brave.”
And “try, try, again.”
Taking it in tiny, doable bits.
After all, “finishing is better than starting.” (Ecclesiastes 7:8)
Sometimes the road is long, and sometimes you’re blessed with great views along the way.



What I’m Reading Wednesday

If your middle schooler liked National Treasure, he/she may enjoy this book, the first in a new, smart mystery series by attorney turned author Deron R. Hicks.

Secrets of Shakespeare’s Grave (Houghton Mifflin, 2012) tells the story of twelve-year-old Colophon Letterford and an ancient treasure left to her publishing family. While the story started a bit slow, the descriptions of Manchester, the family home, complete with it’s swoon-worthy library, drew me in. Whispers of the treasure, gems from Shakespeare, and the curious oddities the family amassed kept me interested, turning pages, even when I hoped Colophon would do more. And do more she did. The second half of the book picked up speed, as her brother and an older eccentric cousin, both joined the hunt. In fact, I may have stayed on my treadmill this morning, longer than intended, because I lost track of time and miles. All in all, an engaging read with a satisfying conclusion that left me wondering what adventure, pray tell, comes next.

Goodreads description:  Twelve-year-old Colophon Letterford has a serious mystery on her hands. Will she discover the link between her family’s literary legacy and Shakespeare’s tomb before it’s too late? Antique paintings, secret passages, locked mausoleums, a four-hundred-year-old treasure, and a cast of quirky (and some ignoble) characters all add up to a fun original adventure. Readers will revel in a whirlwind journey through literary time and space in real-world locales from Mont St. Michel to Stratford-Upon-Avon to Central Park!

Some Thoughts on Success & Rejection

“Success as a writer depends more on intelligent persistence than on raw talent.” – author Ellen Jackson

Hey, writer friends, the article 6 Steps to Dealing with Rejection by author Ellen Jackson is one of the most encouraging posts for writers I have read in a long while. Ellen probably won’t remember, but we exchanged emails a couple years ago. She was helpful and kind and wise, I immediately felt valued as a newbie and grew to respect her and her years of experience in the industry. (Ellen is also a regular commenter at VerlaKay.) Follow the link for Ellen’s tip in point 3 for how she moves from disappointment to hope in fifteen minutes flat. And remember “don’t be afraid of Nobody Land; it’s your best source of material.”

Wise words to remember.

Happy weekend, everyone. Tell me a way that you will persist this week. (I’m going to finish one of the final scenes in my middle grade. Yipee!).


Updates and whatnot.

I have been missing from the blog as of late. School started. We moved. And, well, we’re just now feeling somewhat settled in the new place. It’s a process, but I love our quirky old house. It fits us. I hope we wear it well.

I did manage to sneak in a few middle grade reads. I may very well be the last kid lit enthusiast standing who hasn’t read THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN. I’m a few pages in and smitten.
With IVAN, WONDER, LIAR & SPY, and THREE TIMES LUCKY, I fear this new CHRONICLES of EGG pirates book as well as THE PECULIAR (which I have but haven’t begun). . . are all enough to make a middle grade writer throw her pen down in despair. But she can also vow to become better at her craft. It’s equal part admiration and awe and confounded frustration at how *easy* it all seems. But nothing that looks easy is rarely that way. Lots of behind the scenes sweat and tears, colorful cursing and prayers into a book make. I guess that’s true of most everything.
What have you read lately that is unputdownable and engaging? Anything I need to add to my list?

Picture Book Jackets, An Observation

I noticed last weekend, while at my local bookstore, a handful of recent picture books have predominantly white jackets.

EXTRA YARN by Mac Barnett + Jon Klassen

They look crisp, clean, and sharp.


DRAGONS LOVE TACOS by Adam Rubin + Daniel Salmieri

I’ll admit, I sort of chuckled because it transported me to ninth grade cheerleading when my sponsor/coach announced our cheer uniforms had been changed from the traditional red to white.


ANOTHER BROTHER by Matthew Cordell

We were mortified. They’d show dirt. Make us look ill in the middle of winter when we’d be far from suntanned. Oh, were we vain.

A HOME FOR BIRD by Philip C. Stead

But, you know what? Our coach was right. We looked sharp and put together… as well as a group of junior varsity cheerleaders could in side ponytails and bangs sprayed to the stratosphere. (As a side note, that was my last year to cheer. I had much more fun gabbing in the stands.)


BOY + BOT by Ame Dyckman + Dan Yaccarino

So these bright white jackets got my attention. They stood out on the crowded picture book shelf. I’d even wondered if it was a new trend. Then I remembered Olivia, which I believe debuted in 2000.


She’s still going strong. No matter the hue.


OLIVIA and the FAIRY PRINCESSES by Ian Falconer

So you know, I highly recommend every one of these books. They are fantastic and fresh, with incredible, whimsical art. Each deserves to be read and re-read and read again. Who said the picture book market is dead?

Now you tell me, are there any coincidences you’ve noticed in picture books?



A little in love with my view this week.

And look out the dining room window. Can you just imagine eating all your meals here? I predict by dinner a 1,000 piece puzzle will work its way to this tabletop.

I’m really digging this Murphy bed. And the book nook! And the writing desk! And the awesome red chair. Taking notes for whenever we move.
So the kids were bummed the “treasure chest” only had pillows. But what an awesome space. Oh, and Olivia travels with us *everywhere*. It seems she’s forgotten her leggings. Maybe I should check that box for them. After all, it’s a good 30 degrees cooler than home.


I’d love to hear from you. Are you all going places this summer or relishing in staying home?

Thankful Thursday

1. All the Gray kids can swim across the pool and tread water. Hooray!

2. A good book. Currently reading The Apothecary by Maile Meloy (No one told me she was the big sister to Colin Meloy of The Decemberists and Wildwood fame! So much talent in one family.)

3. A handful of projects with possibility. This is the positive spin that morning brings. It’s tough as nails sometimes fighting through the muck to the final product. Which leads me to

4. Ira Glass on Storytelling and

5. Patience. Waiting on the Lord. Asking and listening and being still. “Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord!” (PS. 31:24)

6. My husband had a most unusual patient at the end of the day — an injured box turtle. Hamilton, a female about four years old, was brought to him by animal wildlife rescue. She was struck by a car and thrown into a ditch. Her shell was in 4 pieces and the part covering her right lung was gone. Now she has a great shot at recovery! Too sweet.

7. Rain.

8. Warm cup of coffee.

9. Blackberries from our backyard.

10. Mercies every morning. “Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you.”  Psalm 31:19

Pixar Story Rules

The other day Pixar storyboard artist Emma Coats (@lawnrocket) tweeted a list of 22 Pixar story rules. Here’s a smattering of favorites:

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff but it sets you free.

#11: Putting it on paper lets you start fixing it. If it stays in your head, a perfect idea, you’ll never share it with anyone.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

Now to put them into practice. Happy writing. 

What I read Wednesday.

Only it’s Sunday.

We took a little road trip. Which was a) amazing b) gave me time to read (when I wasn’t driving) and c) left me with a mountain of laundry and great memories and a good three pounds to boot.

But enough about that. I can tell you 2012 is a stellar year for middle grade books. Best part? We still have six months to go. (Seriously, when did it become June?)

Here’s my reading for the week:

WONDER by R.J. Palacio

WONDER made me tear up, cheer, and then cry a pool of happy tears at its end. Without a doubt, Auggie’s story should mark the top of every fifth grade reading list. If you need an eye-opening, heartfelt read that will leave your kids talking, look no further. There is much to discuss about this courageous protagonist and he how engages his world. CHOOSE KIND is an anti-bullying campaign begun by Random House Children’s division and is inspired by WONDER.

THREE TIMES LUCKY by Sheila Turnage

Possibly my favorite middle grade read since 2010’s Newbery Medal Winner When You Reach Me. Meet rising sixth-grader Moses LoBeau, a plucky Southern girl reminiscent of Comfort Snowberger in Deborah Wiles’s award-winning Each Little Bird That Sings. Mo’s voice stole my heart and tickled my funny bone. From her poignant search for her Upstream Mother to her humorous crushing on the boy “she would one day marry”, Mo shows courage, loyalty, and quick wit. Which she and her BFF, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III,  will need to solve the mystery of their lives. It’s rare that I finish a book and start back at page one. Let’s just say I wasn’t ready to leave the endearing lunch crowd of Tupelo Landing.

and THE LEMONADE WAR by Jacqueline Davies, the first in the series, although the third book just released.

Evan Treski and his younger sister Jessie get along fairly well. He’s good at understanding people. She’s a math whiz. But when Jessie skips a grade, Evan learns not only will his kid sister be in his grade, she’ll be in his class. And he doesn’t like that one bit. At odds, Evan and Jessie begin a competition to see who can make the most money by summer’s end. Highly entertaining, this book is filled with real-life problems that relate to math, getting along with siblings and friends, as well as determining right from wrong. Additionally, each chapter heading boasts a marketing term and definition that is further explored in the story. The Lemonade War is a perfect pick for a reluctant reader. My nine-year-old gives it two thumbs up.