People often ask me what children's and young adult books I like to read. This is always a fun topic of conversation for me because though I'm an avid reader of all manner of fiction (and among my favorites in the mainstream category are Anne Tyler, Sue Miller and Margaret Atwood), whenever I'm in the car (and that's often as I'm a suburban mom and do work that often takes me out of my office), I listen to young adult books on tape. The latest I enjoyed were Dairy Queen by Catherine Murdock ( and A Brief Chapter in My Impossible Life by Dana Reinhardt ( Both have main characters who struggle with what they believe is their inability to effectively communicate with the adults and peers in their lives. Yet both girls are poignant in their capacity to tell more than they think they do. I thoroughly enjoyed both and want to learn more about these authors.

        Meanwhile, for those of you who don't share my passion for YA fiction, here are some of my other favorites you may want to experience:

        The Scrambled States of America (a picture book that's a clever take on geography);
        Officer Buckle and Gloria (another picture book that will make you laugh);
        Junie B. Jones (because her voice is so perfect); and 
        anything by Lois Lowry, Karen Hesse or Jerry Spinelli in the middle grade category. 

        That's just a few for today. Happy reading!

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       Confession time: I admit that I've been procrastinating, and as any writer knows, that's a curse. I've been waiting (im)patiently for my agent to get back to me about my rewrites on my YA novel. And while I know you're supposed to just go full steam ahead to the next project, somehow after writing the first chapter of my new novel, I couldn't go on. I stalled. I found so many excuses, and wasted so much valuable time. The truth is, I'm a writer by day; I write newspaper and magazine articles weekly and I edit about 40 articles written by my freelancers each month for my parenting magazine. In addition, when college is in session, I have numerous papers (articles) to grade each week. So I spend all my time with the written word. And I enjoy it. But it's ever so easy to then tell myself that when I just get over this deadline or just edit these stories, then I'll have time to work on my book. 
       The problem with that course of action is that, well, the book will never get written because I'll always have more deadlines and work to do (hopefully!).  I realized this week that the more time I let slip away, the more I was losing my confidence that I was capable of writing another YA book. 
        So, I took myself in hand this week and forced myself to ignore all my other work and get beyond chapter one. And a wonderful thing happened. In two days I had written 10,000 words. I now feel like I'm back in the zone, that exhilarating place in which writers find themselves where they can't stop thinking about their characters and plot, when no matter where you are you have to write notes about some new idea that comes to you. For instance, as I watched an eighth grade basketball game today (my daughter is a cheerleader) I imagined my characters playing basketball, as well. And now they will, while I still have the sounds and movements in my head. 
        And I'm reminded of the joy of writing as well. I prefer not to have an outline, though I know many writers who do. For instance, Walter Dean Myers once told me in an interview that he has a bulletin board above his computer on which he posts photos he's torn from magazines and even birth certificates he creates for his characters. And he's a lot more famous than I, so I wouldn't doubt his methods. But for me, I enjoy not knowing what my characters are going to do next. Yes, I have a basic plotline. But my characters tend to emerge as if from clay, and they shape themselves with my guidance, and truly, they're not obliged to do what I want them to.  Sort of like being a parent. 
        Another thing I do when writing is to start each day by rereading what I wrote the day before. In so doing, I'm always editing, but I'm also getting back in the zone so I can carry on, hopefully seamlessly. 
        So now that I'm re-addicted to writing my YA novel, I hope my children don't mind my distraction. Fortunately, they're as anxious to see what happens next as I am. So I hope that buys me a few passes to avoid driving them to the mall.    

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    It's important for aspiring writers to be aware of the authors and books that have won awards. So, note that today at the American Library Association conference, Brian Selznick won the 2008 Randolph Caldecott Medal for The Invention of Hugo Cabret (Scholastic Press), a 533-page novel that he also illustrated. According to Publisher's Weekly, it’s the first time that a novel has won the country’s top prize for illustration. Laura Amy Schlitz won the 2008 Newbery Medal for Good Masters! Sweet Ladies!: Voices from a Medieval Village, illustrated by Robert Byrd (Candlewick). For more winners and information, paste this link into your browser:

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    Here's the link to the article I was talking about. Let me know what you think. I'm  afraid the only way to get it to work, though, is to copy and paste this address in your browser.,0,772786.story

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    I had a great conversation with Jon Scieszka today. Yesterday I wrote about his appointment as the first ambassador of children's books. As I was writing that blog, I decided that in my capacity as a parenting writer/children's book industry expert I really need to write an article about the topic of reluctant readers. As luck would have it, my editor at Newsday called to ask if I could pull together an article quickly and offered me the chance to write what I want. Serendipity. So, I'm writing the piece now after speaking with Jon, children's librarians and a representative of the National Endowment of the Arts (which published the study, To Read or Not to Read in November, My article will appear in Newsday on Jan. 13th, so I'll provide the link that day. But can I just say how exciting it is to be involved in the world of children's books? All that we do has the power to positively impact children, and that's heady stuff.

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     Librarian of Congress James H. Billington announced today that children's book author Jon Scieszka has been named the inaugural National Ambassador for Young People's Literature. In accepting this post, Scieszka has chosen to advocate for and focus on reaching reluctant readers. During his two-year tenure as children's laureate, he will reach out to parents and educators helping them identify reluctant readers, those children who are capable of reading but are not interested in doing so. As part of his platform, Scieszka will offer suggestions on how to turn reluctant readers into avid readers. His suggestions include:

    1. Letting kids choose what they like and want to read.
    2. Expanding our definition of "reading" to include nonfiction, humor, graphic novels, magazines, action adventure and Web content.
    3. Being good "reading" models for our children.
    4. Avoiding demonizing TV, computer games and new technologies.

    Scieszka is the author of several bestselling children's titles, including The Stinky Cheese Man, which won a Caldecott Honor medal, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs and the Time Warp Trio, a chapter book series. He is the founder of Guys Read (, a nonprofit literacy organization.     
        Check out his Web site and pay attention to this issue of reluctant readers. You as a writer have the potential to break down that resistance for kids. 


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    No matter how you celebrate this holiday season, I wish you a peaceful time. I also extend you good wishes for all your writing endeavors in 2008. When you pass all those books for sale at the book store, envision your own there next year. This business takes talent, luck and a whole lot of perseverance. As I tell children when I do school visits, believe in yourself and your dreams can come true. It's no less an important message for adults. May 2008 bring you all the successes you dream about.

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In this week's issue of Publisher’s Weekly, author Michael Cart is quoted as saying that “over the past decade and a half, as the number of YA books has exploded, the average age of the protagonists has risen from 14 to 17 and the term `young adult’ has expanded to include readers `as old as 25.’ Keep that in mind when you’re creating your characters.

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So, I finally had a chance to read this year's National Book Award Winner in the YA category. I loved Arthur/Junior. Talk about an author creating a voice. Immediately a reader is drawn in to the story because you can't help but root for Junior. I've recommended the book to my husband, an English teacher in an economically-challenged community. I think many of his students can relate to the desire to get out of their current situation, as well as the conflict that arises when you do so. It's a wonderful story, not only to read, but to learn from as a writer. If you haven't already done so, take a few hours to read "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian."
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    The National Book Foundation announced that among its 2007 winners, Sherman Alexie won the Young People's Literature Prize for The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Little, Brown & Company). The story is based on the author’s own experiences. The description is "a heartbreaking, yet funny story that chronicles the adolescence of one contemporary Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he seems destined to live."  I haven't yet read it, but I plan to. As a YA writer, it's always a good idea to learn what quality literature is being published for teens. Besides, I have found that some of the best books out there are written for middle grade and young adult readers.

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