What To Expect When You’re Expecting–a BOOK! part13: Season’s Readings*!


(*Credit to Paul W. Hankins for that clever phrase.)

It feels like Christmas came early this year, thanks to the wonderful people at @scbwi 

who included THIS CRAZY BLOG on their main page BLOGROLL for the month– along with some incredible names in children’s publishing.


(For those of you visiting for the first time, my blog series WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU’RE EXPECTING–a BOOK! starts here. )

This morning I took a holiday stroll over to the sites that SCBWI recommended, and I highly recommend you do the same. As authors and illustrators–aka busy book-parents–, it’s so important for each of us to TAKE TIME from the hustle and bustle of our lives and READ.

So, my friends, I urge you to treat yourself to these musings and inspiration.

Reflect. Renew.

I have a feeling it will help us all


Isn’t that what Season’s Readings should do?

Happy Holidays to ALL!

Hohoho– “It is resolved that DECK THE WALLS teaches kids bad manners.” *Using DEBATES to teach Close Reading!

Tomato SnowmanI had the pleasure of presenting at the California Reading Association’s PDI again this past November, to a packed house of AMAZING EDUCATORS, including the innovative crew from Loomis Grammar School, recipients of the 2013 California Exemplary Reading Program.

Everyone participated in one or more of my FLUENCY GAMES & SONGS for Common Core and at the end of my session I proposed a re-invention of one of my favorite classroom activities:


Confession: OK, OK–I admit that I was trying to find a way to mention my new holiday book, DECK THE WALLS, in my presentation when I came up with this idea initially but…still… it works! And it’s fun for kids of all ages. (Especially the ones who LOVE to ARGUE.)

“But wait–,” you say. “Aren’t we supposed to be teaching Common Core, Project Based Learning, and Close Reading?”

Yes, Virginia–but it doesn’t have to be tedious and boring….

DEBATES address the following Common Core English Language Arts and Literacy Anchor Standards:

Standard 1: Teams must find evidence in the text.  

Standard 2:. Team must delve into the author’s message.

Standard 3: Teams may address characters’ feelings.

Standards 4–6: Teams may find evidence in craft and structure.

Standards 7–9:  Teams will integrate knowledge and ideas.

Nice, huh?

“But aren’t DEBATES for older kids?” you ask.

Nope. Adjust the speaking times a bit (see below) and coach them through in the following demo and you’ll have them hooked–at any age.

In fact, right before my CRA presentation, I discovered an article by Thom Markham,The Challenges and Realities of Inquiry-Based Learning,  On CUE Magazine, Fall 2013, p. 18-19, wherein Markham says he introduced debates to his SECOND GRADERS.


According to Nancy Boyle’s article for ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development): Closing in on Close Reading, Dec. 2012/Jan 2013, “We can’t wait until middle school to teach close reading.”


DEBATES teach listening, controlled argumentation, persuasive argument, evidence, cross-disciplinary understanding, presentation, and technology. That’s a lot of educational food groups, my friends. Not to mention the fact that they’re fun.

Thus, I hereby urge you to try this activity.

DEBATES as a springboard to Close Reading (for all grades)

Step 1: Choose a book the whole class has read recently–from picture book to YA.

Step 2: Brainstorm a topic for debate.



Topic: “It is resolved that the Big Bad Wolf was framed.”

WonderWONDER by R.J.Palacio

Topic: “It is resolved that, ‘Your deeds are your monuments.'” (inscription on an Egyptian tomb/from Mr. Browne’s precepts)

Deck the Walls cover by Erin DealeyDECK THE WALLS by

Erin Dealey

Topic: “It is resolved that DECK THE WALLS teaches kids bad manners.”

(*Pick me–pick me–pick me! We had hilarious results with this at the CRA PDI.*)

Step 3: Select two kids for each team and introduce the debate terminology–


The teams will speak in this order: (adjust times for your specific age group)

First Affirmative–2 minutes

First Negative–2 minutes

Second Affirmative–1 minute

Second Negative–1 minute

Two minute “RECESS” to prepare Rebuttals.

Rebuttal order: (Allow anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes each for speakers, depending upon age level. )

2nd Affirmative–2nd Negative–1st Affirmative–1st Negative

Step 4: (Yes–I borrowed this from TV Game shows and not from formal debate procedure.) Each team may pick one “Phone a Friend” helper (especially for the lower grades) who will stand behind the team (thus out of the pressure-filled limelight) and offer ideas, evidence, persuasive points via notes only–NO TALKING unless the teams are in Rebuttal RECESS.

Step 5: Preparation–Once teams are formed, each team gets to work developing their argument for or against their topic; scour the selected book for evidence to support the argument; brainstorm what the opposition might bring up and find evidence to prove them wrong; write up notes for their speeches to present their cases.

LOWER GRADES VARIATION: *For the DECK THE WALLS demo at CRA, I gave teams 5 minutes to re-read the book and prepare. If you use this with upper grades–and thus more in depth novels–give them more time to prepare.

Step 6: (Here’s where we sneak in the close reading–bahaha!) Guide teams to go beyond the story with questions such as:

  •  The author repeats the phrase “Fa-la-la” throughout the book. Why does the author do this? What effect do these falala’s have on the meaning og the story? (Standard 4/ use of language) Does it make the voice or tone formal or informal?
  •   Why do you think the author uses a traditional holiday carol to tell the story? How would the story be different if it were not sung?  (Standard 5/text structure)
  •  What is the narrator’s point of view about family by the end of the book? What is the evidence? When does the narrator’s point of view change? (Standard 6/ point of view)
  •  For picture books: What clues do the illustrations give you?
  •  This article by Nancy Boyles from ASCD/Educational Leadership will give you more ideas to guide the teams, depending upon the book selection.

Step 7: Let the games begin!

“Hold the phone!” you say. “My kids won’t be able to talk that long!”

Fear not, dear educators–Behold a detailed explanation of the duties of each team member. adapt as needed:

  • First Affirmative : 2 minutes *Introduces team and states the topic. Example: “Hello, I’m Sally Smart and I am First Affirmative; This is my partner Irving Intelligent, Second Affirmative. We are for the topic, ‘It is resolved that DECK THE WALLS teaches kids bad manners.'”  First Affirmative uses the rest of the time allotted to:
  1. Briefly outline all the facts and reasons their team will cover to prove their point.
  2. Give a detailed, organized, persuasive explanation of the AFFIRMATIVE side of the topic.
  3. Summarize and restate the AFFIRMATIVE opinion of the topic.

First Negative: 2 minutes–following the same order as above for the NEGATIVE side: ie–“We are against the topic, ‘It is resolved that DECK THE WALLSteaches kids bad manners.‘”

Both 2nd Affirmative and 2nd Negative must:

  1. Jot down notes (while your opponent speaks) about facts they mention that you can disprove.
  2. Remain SILENT when others–your team mate or your opponents– have their turn.
  3. Begin your part of the debate by persuasively tearing your opponents’ case apart and proving them wrong.
  4. Bring up facts that your opponent forgot to bring up or avoided.
  5. Repeat facts brought up by your partner that should be emphasized.
  6. Wrap up the case and make your final statement powerful.

REBUTTALS are the last chance to prove your point.

During the Rebuttal recess, students work with their partners to select facts and opinions that are most damaging to their opponents’ case. To prepare ahead of time, teams should brainstorm points the opponents might bring up and have on hand notes and facts that could disprove these points if necessary.


“How to evaluate them?” you ask?

May I suggest the following:

5pts    Correct introduction and statement of topic.

5pts.   Partner #1 talks for 2 minutes—no more, no less!

5pts.   Partner #2 talks for 1 minute—no more, no less!

5pts.   Rebuttals are well organized and the time is used wisely.

5pts.   Correct debate procedure is followed:  NO TALKING out of turn, or to team partners while opponent is speaking.

15 pts. Team notebook contains required information.

40 points total

Extra credit: I like to have the rest of the class take notes during the debate so that they can “vote” for Most Persuasive” by writing a paragraph that supports their opinion. The team with the most “votes” –in correct persuasive paragraph format–earns 5-10 pt. extra credit.  (Sneaky, huh?)


SPECIAL HOLIDAY OFFER: If  you try this debate with DECK THE WALLS, let me know how it goes. Classes who send me a video to post on my blog will win a FREE author Skype to be scheduled after the holidays.

: )

Meanwhile, THANK YOU TEACHERS AND LIBRARIANS for ALL you do for your students.

Never doubt how much you are appreciated.

Never forget what a difference you make in young lives. (And parents too!)

Happy Holidays to all —

 and to all a good book!Santa

What to Expect When You’re Expecting–a BOOK! part11 with Scott Blagden

I’m thrilled to welcome back YA author SCOTT BLAGDEN, the busy Book-Dad you met two months ago in Part5 of WTEWYE–a BOOK! 

Scott BlagdenYes, the author of one of my favorite YAs, DEAR LIFE YOU SUCK, is still busy, but um…I invited him on a blog-hop a while back and –nice guy that he is–he agreed–even though I sort of overlooked the fact that he doesn’t have a blog to put it on.


Anyway– this WTEWYE series is all about the unexpected–right?

And it turns out Scott’s WIP (work in progress) is a YA about a high school track star with a full-ride college scholarship who suddenly discovers he’s a DAD.

“His life is turned upside-down as he tries to care for his baby, finish high school, train for the state championship, and decide what to do with his life and baby,” Scott explains.

Which brings me to the aforementioned blog-hop questions:

How does your WIP differ from other works in this genre?

Scott: “Most YA books about teen pregnancy/parenting come from the mother’s perspective, so the fact that it’s told in first person from the father’s perspective is unique. The baby’s mom is not in the picture, so he has to deal with the issue alone. The story focuses on his struggle to decide what is best and morally right for him and his baby. He loves his daughter, but doesn’t see how he can raise her unless he foregoes his dream of college and having a successful career. Should he sacrifice his life for his child? Or would she have a better life being raised by adoptive parents who are more emotionally and financially equipped to raise her? Is it selfish to keep her? Is it selfish to give her up?”

Why do you write what you do?

Scott: “The only stories I seem to be able to write are those which feature a narrator I’m passionate about; one who is struggling with some emotional or psychological dilemma I can relate to. I know I’m failing with a character when I am not being emotionally moved as I write the story.”

  What is the hardest part about writing?

Scott: “Most of my characters have traits/personalities that make them somewhat unlikeable, at least on the surface, so for me the hardest part is getting the reader invested in the character long enough to hang around and discover the WHY of the character and eventually, hopefully come to like him or at least empathize and understand him.”

“For me, the worst thing is to get to the end of a book and realize I don’t care about the character. I was reading a YA book recently that got several starred reviews and with only a few pages left, I said to myself, “I genuinely don’t care what happens to this guy. He could win the lottery or get hit by a bus on the next page. I genuinely don’t care.”

Let me chime in here to add that if you’ve read Scott’s DEAR LIFE YOU SUCK, you know that one very strong aspect that connects the reader with his characters is VOICE. I asked him if he might share some tips about his process. 

Scott: “Character and voice are revealed to a great extent through what the main character thinks about other characters, as well as what those other characters think about him. Obviously the main character has to ask himself a million other questions about a million other things, but the following questions are designed to specifically explore the main character through what he thinks of others and what he thinks others think of him.”

This exercise helps Scott understand the MC and discover his voice:  He asks the questions in an interview format and has the main character answer in first person.

1. What do you observe physically about the other character?

2. What do you think about the other character?

3. What do you think the other character thinks about you?

4. What do you think the other character thinks about himself?

5. What do you think the other character thinks about the other characters in the story?

6. What do you think others in the story think about the other character?

7. What did you think about the other character when you were little and what did the other character think about you when you when you were little?

“Of course there are many more things we need to know about our character,” Scott adds. “Such as his beliefs, dreams, motivations, yearnings, etc. as well as what he thinks about his life and society. And what he thinks society thinks about him. And what he thinks about his world ( parents, school, adults, religion, society, work, money college, sex,–whatever the major factors are in his life. But the above questions help me to understand my MC in respect to his relationship with others.”


Now I see why he’s been a little busy lately.

Like babies–books take time.

So HUGE thanks to Scott for taking the time to blog-hop over.

I love this photo of Scott’s family and agent Rubin Pfeffer (East/West Lit) at the DEAR LIFE YOU SUCK book launch last March.

Are these amazing t-shirts or what?

Dear Life You Suck tshirts

This is where–if he had a blog–Scott would tag


author/Book-Dad of BULLY.COM , which released last April with Erdeman’s Book For Young Readers.


author/Book-Mom of the YA, INFINITE DAYS , and the second book STOLEN NIGHTS in the Vampire Queen series.

So–TAG--they’re it–their turn to answer to the blog-hop questions.

As for Scott–follow this amazing writer pal on Twitter: @sblagden

and congrats to DEAR LIFE YOU SUCK

which has been nominated by #YALSA for the 2014 Best Fiction for YA!

This brings me to another nomination –and an admitedly shameless plug for DECK THE WALLS,

Deck the Walls cover by Erin Dealeywhich made it to the semi-finals of #Goodreads  Best Picture Books of 2013!

Round 2 semi-finals close Nov. 16th. (Please vote!)

Round 2 semi-finals close Nov. 16th.
(Please vote!)

Thank you to all who have made this unexpected miracle possible!

Will there be a WTEWYE–a BOOK part12 next week?

Like babies and books, you never know…

What to Expect When You’re Expecting–a BOOK! part10 with Katherine Longshore

I know what you’re thinking: a blog series about EXPECTING A BOOK

should have nine posts.


Me too, actually.

But guess what? Like parenting, and writing books,


my book-baby blog has taken on a life of its own–

with more fabulous guest bloggers, like KATHERINE LONGSHORE:

The happy parents-to-be at a typical English wedding, with Katy admittedly "thankful that my hat took a little of the focus off my belly."

The happy parents-to-be at a typical English wedding, with Katy admittedly “thankful that my hat took a little of the focus off my belly.”

Katy is the book-mom of three historical YA’s, the first two of which are

set in the court of Henry VIII:

 "A substantive, sobering historical read, with just a few heaving bodices."    —Kirkus Reviews "...royally riveting for the reader."    —Booklist

“A substantive, sobering historical read, with just a few heaving bodices.”
—Kirkus Reviews
“…royally riveting for the reader.”

GILT arrived May 2012 (Viking), and

"An un-put-downable historical romance." SLJ

“An un-put-downable historical romance.” SLJ

TARNISH, (also Viking) released last June.

Here’s a look at her third novel, Manor of Secrets, due out January 28th from Scholastic.

manor-secrets-200A “Downtonesque” story set in an Edwardian country house, Manor of Secrets follows the lives of two girls whose very different worlds collide.

What did Katy expect when her career as an author began to take off?

Katy admits she “had no idea what to expect. That’s the great thing about the beginning of this adventure. Many, many people had done this before me but my own path was yet untrodden.”

On CHOOSING AND WORKING WITH YOUR PRACTITIONER, Katy recalls: “I took the informed advice of my agent. She knew more than I did and I trusted her judgement implicitly.”

On NEGATIVE results (rejections): “I wasn’t sure if I wanted my agent to send me rejections, so she didn’t. I do think I could have handled them, but ultimately all you need is one positive result.”

Yes, Virginia–remember our motto:


But back to Katy… On getting that POSITIVE result: “I’m so glad that I had my agent and my writer friends (The YA Muses–check out their great blog!) to help me out. I knew that the contract/meaning the advance could take months. And I knew there would be still a lot of work ahead of me.”

On What You Can Expect From Your Editor: “My experience with my editor has been very collaborative. She sends a long editorial letter, gives me time to digest, and then we schedule a call to talk about any questions I might have. We talk through concerns, discuss ways to move forward, and make alterations accordingly. Any disagreements have been minor and easily resolved.”

On naming the BABY: “After a few fits and starts we ultimately decided that GILT was the best title, and then the designers came up with a gorgeous, eye-catching cover.  It was an incredible experience to see the book through someone else’s eyes.”

On WAITING: “I was lucky enough to have another book under contract. I had finished the first draft (and even the second) of TARNISH  before GILT came out. I’m terrible at waiting but I do well with distractions and deadlines, so I had plenty to keep me busy. And lucky for me, some of my closest writer friends were going through the same thing and we could commiserate.”

Especially in the third Trimester when she started to panic.

Pre-GILT, Katy worried, “What if people hated it? Even worse, what if no one read it at all? What did I know about marketing? Publicity? How could my tiny Twitter following make any difference whatsoever? And though I was excited about my launch party, I was terrified about trying to set up any other events on my own. Totally nerve-wracking. My agent put me in touch with some of her other authors who talked me down, gave me advice, and assured me everyone goes through the same thing.”

Katy and SCBWI RA Emerita, Tekla White at the launch of GILT.

Katy and SCBWI RA Emerita, Tekla White at the launch of GILT.

 What she didn’t know:


Katy: “I was surprised and saddened to learn that some books just don’t get reviewed by Publishers Weekly. That Kirkus is notoriously harsh. And that only those with thick skin should visit reviews of their own books on Goodreads. Because out of an average of ten reviews, most of us will only remember one. The negative one. I learned that everyone reads differently, looking for different things, judging by different standards. And I’m glad that I’ve had more than one book out now, because I see the merit in some of the criticism, and it no longer cuts me to the bone. But in those first few weeks it hurt like hell. Kind of like my Cesarian scar. “


“Unlike parenthood,” Katy adds; ” I feel like the book is no longer mine once it’s finished gestating and is out in the world. It now belongs to the readers, who may do with it what they will. I don’t need to coddle or feed it anymore, like you do with a baby. It’s kind of like giving birth to a teenager. Hard to let go even though you know you have to. And remarkable to see how it fares in the wider world.”

“Ultimately though, it was the work that was the best experience. That intimate bonding experience. I had to come back to the blank page and start another book. That’s why we’re here, isn’t it? Because we’re writers.”

Perfect words to end part10 of WTEWYE–a BOOK!

Be sure to follow my friend Katy on Twitter @KALongshore  and check out her books! 

And who knows? Maybe there will be a part11 next week…

“Because we’re writers.” 


What to Expect When You’re Expecting–a BOOK! part9: Baby meets world.

Yes, Virginia–WTEWYEpart 9 was supposed to post last week, but hey–when you have a new book-baby (and your internet goes out…)  TIME and SCHEDULES fly out the window.

Arthur Levine and Mike Jung at SCBWI.

Arthur Levine and Mike Jung at SCBWI.

Just ask Mike Jung, book-dad of the hilarious middle grade novel, GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES, which came out last October (Happy First Birthday to GG&SI !) with Aurthur A. Levine Books.

geeks girls and secret identitiesMike is also proud Daddy to a 7.26 year old and a 3.0 year old (Happy Birthday to the pilot-in-training!), and thus doubly qualified to help me discuss another aspect of Post-BOOkum: Baby meets world–the fears and joys of getting your baby out there…

Verizon commercial

Trick or Treat!
Sorry but I love this commercial…
Look at that baby!

Speaking of which >brings out the baby picture aka book cover–ahem<, because my new book-baby is a holiday picture book and


Deck the Walls cover by Erin DealeyI’ve been hesitant to introduce my bouncing baby book to the world too soon.

Check out these kinders with their "OLIVE TO READ" crowns!

Check out these kinders with their “OLIVE TO READ” crowns!

Instead we’ve had Skype parties with kids from Maine to California–plus Berlin, Germany. Cat in the Hat joined me for an event in September (see part5) and look who I met a PAL book signing at SCBWI SF North/East Bay?

Yes that's ME with THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN and Katherine Applegate--no biggie...

Yes that’s ME with THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN and Katherine Applegate–no biggie…

With Halloween officially over tonight, I’ll take my baby to the California Reading Association’s PDI this weekend and a book store event at The Reading Bug (Nov. 3rd 11-1pm–San Carlos, CA–Please come!) which–I admit–is causing a few Will they like the book?/Will anyone come? qualms, but as Mike reminded me–the best part is meeting the kids.

And kids write the best fan mail EVER.

 I Love your dook. Thanks you for saring your dook. It was vere nis I want to reb it. You are the dest testr.

I Love your dook. Thanks you for saring your dook. It was vere nis
I want to reb it.
You are the dest testr.

See what I mean?

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s Mike: “There are many great things to look forward to after your book arrives on the scene (seeing it in a bookstore; signing autographs; getting congratulations from everyone) and there are many less-than-great things too (mean-spirited reviews; events where nobody shows up; the fact that you’re still as anxiety-riddled as you were before your book was published), but I think my favorite thing is fan mail from readers.

“Kids write the greatest letters, in case you didn’t know. Not that adults write bad letters – for example, I greatly admire the letter Daniel Day-Lewis sent to Steven Spielberg when he first turned down the lead role in Lincoln – but there’s a kind of unrestrained expressiveness that you can only find in a young reader’s own words. I’m partial to the handwritten, ink-on-paper letters, partly because a child’s handwriting feels like getting a glimpse into their personality, and partly because they often include drawings, but I’ve been lucky to receive fan email too.

“I met nine-year-old Tatiana at a bookstore event, and she was so bashful that she didn’t say a single audible word to me. The letter she handed over, however, was a gale-force blast of enthusiasm and appreciation.”

fan-letter-tatianaMike continues: “Max is a student of my agent-mate Tara Dairman; we’ve never met but Tara mailed his letter to me, and I had to admire his completely unselfconscious declaration that he’s read my book one and a half times and just might read it a second and a half time.”

fanletterfrommax“I respect people who can come right out and say what they want,” Mike adds, “and Alex’s fan email was impeccably direct:


 Mike: “I’m a believer in the power of books; I think the right books can change a child’s life for the better, even if it’s just by momentarily increasing that child’s capacity to immerse herself in a fun, engaging story. And while this crazy career provides all kinds of gratifying moments, it’s incredibly moving when young readers invest their time, energy, thought, and emotion in the creation of a tangible message about the impact of our work. Those kids are what it’s all about, and their expressions of gratitude are pure gold. They remind me of how grateful I am to be an author. We’re lucky, you know? We’re so lucky.”

Follow awesome book-dad @MikeJung , check out his blog at Mike Jung’s Little Bloggy Wog, and read his books!

Meanwhile, have a Happy and safe Halloween, and come back next week for part10

with author Katherine Longshore.