Bookish subscriptions

Now that I’ve caught up from BookExpo and NJ-SCBWI and the weird summer flu my husband gave me, I’m back in my chair, working hard.

One of the bennies of working for a literary agency is getting to attend events that my bosses can’t. One of those was a Lunch and Learn hosted by PJ Library during BookExpo.

Not familiar with PJ Library? Neither was I. I’d heard of them, but I didn’t know nearly enough about them. PJ Library is a philanthropic organization that sends FREE Jewish children’s books to families in the United States and around the world – every month.

That’s right. Every month, Jewish children – no matter their background, family make-up, knowledge, or observance – can receive free books after signing up with PJ Library. The original program is for children 6 months to 8 years old, and there is a follow-on program, PJ Our Way, which provides books to children 9-11 years old.

Pretty great! Of course, for us as writers, this means there is also a steady demand for books with Jewish themes, values, and stories. This is a very broad spectrum, inclusive of intermarried families too! (Jewish values? Think tikkun olam – making the world a better place ORย tzedekah – charity.)

PJ Library sends out over 165,000 books each month. That’s a LOT of books.

You can read about how they choose books here. I was happy to learn that PJ Library is committed to working with agents to fulfill their consistent need for these stories – they have special incentives and a dedicated contact for agencies. (And the incentives go to THE AUTHOR.)

If you’ve a Jewish story you’re working on, keep PJ Library in mind as a possible submission. Remember, authors do not need to be Jewish themselves. (Though as with all diverse voices, #ownvoices are great.) ย ๐Ÿ™‚

Another great service I noted at BookExpo was Owl Crate. Need a great gift for teens? (Or that YA librarian in your life?) Owl Crate is a subscription service (from 1-6 months) that ships a box containing a brand-spanking-new YA novel AND other bookish goodies – even author notes and such – right to your recipient’s door. (Or your door, as the case may be.) Each box is centered around a theme. July’s is WANDERLUST.

(They are also offering a middle grade service, Owl Crate JR. for readers ages 8-12. )

I’m thinking I’m all set for summer birthdays and my niece’s holiday present this year. Friends’ children get the single box, my niece gets a three-month or six-month bundle of reading fun. Less shopping for me, more reading for them. Yay! More time for my MG novel draft. ๐Ÿ˜‰



We could all use a little


It’s a little thing that is not-so-little to those who receive it.

Lately, I’ve noticed a lot more folks being kind. I hope this isn’t a flash in the pan.

Candlewick Press tweeted a new hashtag today that floats my boat:


I love it. Especially after finishing Leslie Connor’s ALL RISE FOR THE HONORABLE PERRY T. COOK today.

Heartwarming. And not mushy. Just the way I like ’em.

What have you read lately that’s kind? And while you’re being kind to others – don’t forget yourself. โค

Labelling books

Eileen & Jerry Spinelli wrote a wonderful book titled ย Today I Will: a Year of Quotes, Notes, and Promises to Myself.ย I bought it in Chautauqua during a Highlights Foundations Children’s Writers Workshop. I don’t look into it every day, but when I do it never fails to surprise me with a great piece of advice – usually, but not always, from a kids’ book. Today’s passage was even more thought-provoking than usual:

“October 26

To me, the labels that people gave each other – or themselves – were like invisible name tags. Once you started to ‘wear’ one, everyone was free to make assumptions about who you are.

More than a Label: Why What You Wear or Who You’re With Doesn’t Define Who You Areย 

by Aisha Muharrar

So why do it? Why costume yourself like a this or a that and thereby invite everyone to assume you’re so much less than you really are?

I am not a label.

I am not a label.

I am not a label.”

Published in 2002, Muharrar’s book looks at the role of labels & cliques for teens, based on a survey that then teen-aged Muharrar performed while a member of “Teen People News.” It’s still relevant – perhaps even more so – today, given what’s happening in publishing and kidlit. #WNDB isn’t just a hashtag. (Thank goodness! ๐Ÿ™‚ )

But it’s also relevant in our libraries: classroom, school, public, and even personal.

I’ve always been a little annoyed by the constant narrowing down of divisions in kid lit. PB, MG, YA… easy read or chapter book? … fiction vs. nonfiction … shelving series separately or with other fiction. Don’t get me started on shelving biography separately from Dewey call number 920.

Volunteers always want to pull out books. Make a shelf for princess books. Make a shelf for holiday books – no, not 394, that’s nonfiction, we want holiday picture books.ย Why are graphic novels shelved with nonfiction?

Sheesh. Sometimes separating books is a good thing. (Hello, Dewey subject headings and call numbers?) But more often, it creates a morass of shelving minutia that’s hard for new volunteers and new students to understand. That’s the surprise and delight of browsing: finding something you didn’t even know you wanted just because it happened to be by an author whose last name started with K when you were about to re-read one of Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid books.

And separating books by reader age? Picture books are for everyone, but too many people regard them as only for very young children. Where does that leave the many “picture storybooks” of the past? There’s a clear line between most easy readers or beginning chapter books and middle grade books or YA, but what about the morass that faces the middle school reader or advanced MG reader? Please don’t tell me that now there’s upper MG. And forget about NA.

What happened to integrating all the fiction – assuming shelf heights and space allow – and letting kids discover books for themselves? Did libraries start following a bookstore model, or was it the other way ’round? Was it an outgrowth from the classroom and the now constant leveling of readers? (Stick to the five-finger rule, my friends! Works for all ages, not just kids.)

We make assumptions about books based on the labels they “wear,” just like we make assumptions about people. “That’s too hard for me.” “I don’t like fantasy.” “I want a princess book.” (You try giving a determined kindergartener a ‘real” fairy tale instead of name-your-Disney-Princess-here. Fun!)

I see it in the queries I read for the slush pile all the time. Yes, it’s important to know your audience. It’s important to know your genre. As a literary assistant, it’s very helpful – unless I read your pages and realize that you really don’t know what YA is.

As a writer, I don’t want labels to limit the audience for my book. As a lapsed librarian, I know some labels are necessary so readers can find the books they want. Maybe the folks who shelve their own books by color instead of by genre or alpha by author are on to something. I’m not that brave with my own bookshelves.

As a person, I agree with today’s passage. I am not a label. It’s the sum of the many labels I have worn and do wear that make me who I am.

Instead of dividing books or people – as labels do – let’s start adding.

What I read this summer

As I wrote way back in June, I’m not headed back to school this year. While I miss seeing my students and setting up displays of new books to share, I don’t miss being on the school schedule. (7:30 AM bus, anyone?)

It was a luxurious summer of settling into my new job and starting to shovel out the slush pile. Which was not only educational, but enjoyable. (Yes, I’m *that* crazy about reading.)

What else did I read? I caught up on some grown-up reading, enjoyed several new mysteries, and of course, treated myself to some kid lit.

  • The Porcupine Year by Louise Erdrich
  • Girl Parts by John Cusick
  • Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
  • First and Then by Emma Mills ย – Emma’s newest is almost out ! Watch forย This Adventure Ends!
  • Falling into Place by Amy Zhang
  • Damage Done by Amanda Panitch
  • Forget-Me-Not Summer by Leila Howland
  • The Perfect Place by Teresa E. Harris

Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale is waiting on my bedside table for the perfect moment, and Betsy Bird’s Wild Things! has moved from the bookshelf to my bedside, too.

I’m thinking I need to read all of Erdrich’s Birchbark stories and dive into the pile of Candlewick advance copies I was so generously given. I meant to read so much more this summer, but much of my time was spent writing my second novel, which is finished and awaiting critique at Kathy Temean’s Avalon retreat.

Too many books, too little time. I never did get around to pruning my Goodreads to-read list. But that’s a good problem to have.

What did you love reading this summer?

Walking and Talking, wow!

Last night, I saw a post from Betsy Bird, author & children’s librarian extraordinaire, and I just had to share:

Walking and Talking with… Kate DiCamillo!

Of course, Betsy is sharing one of Steve Sheinkin‘s great “Walking and Talking” comics… so you may find yourself falling down the rabbit hole of the web. It’s worth the time, trust me. And now I wish I had some of Steve’s great non-fiction in my library. Alas, that will be an order for next year.

The whole conversation resonated with me, but the point that struck me first – and perhaps most – was when Kate says, “I think about the story. If I’m thinking about the reader, I’m thinking about making the reader happy. Then I might change something for a reason that might not be true.”

Wow! I LOVE Kate DiCamillo – she’s quite possibly the patron saint of pantsers everywhere. ๐Ÿ™‚

And I love the idea that the story exists as its own organic structure, that it contains a truth of its own. Sometimes this truth exists because of the reader, sometimes despite the reader.

What about you? Do you keep a reader in mind as you write? A specific person or just a general avatar for the audience? Or like Kate, do you focus solely on your story?



NYC Reads


If you’re in need of a reading list for Pre-K through 12th grade, check out the wonderful lists at NYC Reads 365, compiled by a committee of school librarians (who else?) and reviewed by literacy specialists from the NYC DOE. The downloadable posters and bookmarks for each borough are pretty cool, too!



And if you’re a fan – and who isn’t? – the upcoming exhibit of Mo Willems’ art at The New-York Historical Society is not to be missed. No matter how many copies I buy for my library of the Pigeon, Elephant & Piggie, and Trixie books, they’re soon loved to death. And if you want a sure-fire read-aloud, We are In a Book! always gets laughs galore. (No matter how well the audience knows it.) Not to mention Mo is a really swell guy. Not only did he sign my daughter’s books, he posed for a photo so I could show her I’d really met him at the SCBWI NY conference some years back.


All of these thoughts on NYC reading got me thinking about my favorite NYC books. Besides Mo’s books. ๐Ÿ™‚

In no particular order:

  • From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
  • Harriet the Spy
  • When You Reach Me,ย Liar & Spy, and Goodbye Stranger
  • Bernard Waber’s Lyle books (The House on 88th Street begins the series)
  • Kay Thompson’s Eloise books
  • Gregor the Overlander
  • The Lightning Thief
  • Rita Garcia-Williams’ Gaither Sisters trilogy (the girls live in New York, even though much of the action is elsewhere)
  • Uptown
  • Blackout
  • All-of-a-Kind Family
  • Under the Egg
  • Tar Beach
  • Balloons Over Broadway
  • The Grimm Legacy
  • Sky Boys

And of course,

  • The Snowy Day
  • This Is New York

Did I miss any of your favorites? Leave a shout-out in the comments. ๐Ÿ™‚

I love

Rock and roll! (Whoops. Time to stop channeling Joan Jett and put down my highlighter microphone.)

I love lots of things. Including rock and roll. You probably already know I love reading and writing and libraries and books and…


That’s right, I love me some MG. Middle grade reading. Middle school reading, even.

Now Workman and Algonquin Young Readers are sharing the love with a special promotion just for us MG types. Seems a fella named Trevor Ingerson decided that middle grades reads needed celebrating. Apparently there was swag and everything. (I love swag too. OK, only some swag. No more lanyards, okay?)

Join up and spread the word and some love with #iLOVEmg on your favorite social media app. And check out the PW article above for Tracey Baptiste‘s take on loving MG! My MG readers are fans of The Jumbies – we’re almost finished reading it aloud. (Hey, each class only gets library once a week. It takes us a while to finish.)

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get back to work on my own MG novel. Four days of 500+ words! I’m on a roll. Maybe next week, I’ll shoot for 750. ๐Ÿ™‚