An Astronaut Tells All…

Well, not quite everything, but Dr. Dave Williams, a NASA astronaut with three space walks 1466990396under his belt, does reveal the answers to questions young middle graders want to know.

Don’t expect a boring display of facts. The guide is 56 pages of photographs, fun illustrations, and of course explanations as to how our bodies adapt to the conditions, especially the lack of gravity.

If you have ever wondered…

  1. How do you go to the toilet in space?
  2. What does food taste like?
  3. Is it dangerous to burp in low gravity conditions?
  4. How does a person sleep in the space station?
  5. What happens if you have to go while you’re on a space walk?
  6. Why do astronauts sometimes have a puffy face?
  7. How do you brush your teeth without making a huge mess?

The importance of answers to these and many more oddities (Yes, flatulence is covered in detail) is because some day we’ll send humans to Mars. The one way trip takes six months and keeping astronauts fit and healthy is the first priority.

Middle graders with an interest in space will be the first to line up to read this unique book. For the rest of us it’s a fun diversion and one that will have you saying, “Oh, so that’s how it works in space!”

To view the inside visit Annick Press.

Order your own copy at AMAZON.


I’ll be back on Monday with a review and blog tour stop for MYSTERIES OF COVE: GEARS OF REVOLUTION:


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FRAZZLED for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

Middle school can be a scary place for kids… especially the first few weeks. Abbie Wu is y648one of those kids. She narrates her rocky road as a sixth grader at Pointdexter Middle School. Filled with black and white drawings, it may remind you of the Wimpy Kid series with a female as the protagonist.

This will be a big hit for those that want to relieve some of their own anxiety if they are dealing with the  switch from elementary to middle. The story and pictures are enjoyable, despite the unlikely reaction to Abbie’s way of dealing with feeling left out. She starts a lunch time food trading scheme the administration spends way too much time worrying about.

Nevertheless, with its fast pace and a family that grows on you, I’m looking forward to more of Abbie Wu.


FULL PLOT (From HARPER COLLINS) If you ask me, the worst part about middle school is the fact that it is MIDDLE school. Nothing good happens in the Middles, and since middle school is the middle of all Middles,

I am guaranteed, without a doubt, 100% doomed.

Meet Abbie Wu. She’s about to start middle school and she’s totally freaking out—and not just because she’s stuck in a family that doesn’t quite get her or because the lunch ladies at school are totally corrupt or because everyone seems to have a “Thing” except her. Abbie Wu is always in crisis.


  1. The author is a doodler at heart and the pictures are just what you’d expect from a tween MC. Charming, spot on, and never the same.
  2. Abbie is a middle kid who must follow in her older brother’s footsteps. He’s perfect, a jock, and the world loves him. Abbie and Peter’s sibling relationship is well portrayed and provides the most change of the characters.
  3. Abbie begins to find her identity in unexpected ways. It’s a lesson that is perfect for all middle school students. Very endearing.
  4. Conflict is everywhere. Friends, teachers, and family all provide interesting subplots and Abbie’s voice shines. She has many amusing observations and sketches.
  5. A supportive family, including Aunt Lisa, and no bullies. A rare happening in MG these days.

FAVORITE LINESOnce everyone was settled, a woman in a frumpy suit walked up to the podium and introduced herself. Mrs. Kline looked nice, but she also looked really tired, kind of like the “before” version of ladies on those makeover shows or like one of those grown-ups who always complains about needing coffee.


Let’s get this out of the way first.

Yes, I work in publishing.
Yes, my name really IS Booki.

Sometimes I joke that I got hired because of my name. Who knows, that might be kind of true.


To be honest, I didn’t plan on working in publishing. Actually, I didn’t plan on studying writing or literature, or anything book-related at all. At one point, I was heading towards biochemistry and pharmacy school. To be fair, at another time, I was thinking pretty seriously about becoming an elephant trainer.

Things change. (Read the rest of HOW I GOT INTO PUBLISHING here.)


Make a comment if you have time. I enjoy reading all of them. Click on the comments link below.

Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.


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Last weekend I attended the 40th anniversary of the Rocky Mountain SCBWI Conference. scbwibagWhat a fantastic time! Great speakers, food, and conversation. Nearly 300 people attended the two day chapter event. It struck me how little diversity there was in this group and the lack of male participants. I counted 15 including myself. Yes, we need more diverse voices in MG and all books.

The special guests were the original founders of the national SCBWI organization, Stephen Mooser and Lyn Oliver.

Lyn is a film and television producer who also co-authors with Henry Winkler the Hank Zipzer book series. Stephen is a widely published children’s author. Together they took the audience through the history of SCBWI from 1971 when they were the only two members, to now with over 22,000 members world wide.

There were many published authors present. I went to  a session with Tara Dairman (ALL FOUR STARS; THE STARS OF SUMMER; & STARS SO SWEET). Her topic, First Drafting: Now 96% Faster. Tara had me from the start when she revealed it took her 9 years to write and revise her first book. Here’s her blog post on the topic of first drafts. Very useful information with links to another author, Robin LaFevers, who also has many posts on prewriting, growing the plot, and structure.

peckA very special guest was the prolific author, Richard Peck (A LONG WAY FROM CHICAGO; A YEAR DOWN YONDER; & THE RIVER BETWEEN US to name a few). Writing is something you can do your entire life and Mr. Peck is living up to that ideal. He’s 82 and just released his newest, THE BEST MAN.28251377

I had the chance to read an advance copy last month. The story telling is unique as it follows Archer Magill from his first wedding as a ring bearer at age six all the way to his next one at age 12. The focus is on Archer the entire way as he learns from his role models. What he is really doing is making the mold for the man he will become. I’ll post my full review soon.

Another session I went to seems to be a standard at most conferences. You submit a first page and if chosen it gets read and critiqued. The two people critiquing were Kat Brzozowski (Editor) and Sandra Bond (agent). We were in the 72nd minute of 75 minute session and I figured my one page was lost in the slush pile. But then I heard the title and my posture straightened. There was my first page being read. Next came two minutes of scrutiny. I survived. In fact I’m still grinning from the words I jotted down. “Humor without telling and great writing.” Now I just need to make the other 140 pages the same way.

SCBWI is a great organization with many benefits. Consider joining if you aren’t already a member.

Have a wonderful weekend!

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THE NOCTURNALS: THE OMINOUS EYE for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

New this week is the second adventure with three unlikely friends – Dawn, a serious fox, ominous eyeTobin, a sweet pangolin, and Bismark, a loud-mouthed sugar glider. Together they make up the Nocturnal Brigade. Check out the nice background description of each on THE NOCTURNALS web site.

You may recall my first review earlier this year of book #1: THE MYSTERIOUS ABDUCTIONS . A fun story for any animal lover. This time round the stakes go even higher when a giant beast is after the threesome and their large group of animal friends. A mysterious new character – a tuatara – knows more about the beast than any of them. But should they trust the advice of this creature named Polyphema?

If you have never heard of a tuatara, join the club. With a little help from the publisher and the story, I discovered a tuatara is an endangered lizard from New Zealand with spiky scales. It’s known as a “living fossil” and has a third eye on top of its head. Scientists think they use it to judge the time of day, though Polyphema claims that this extra eye allows her to have the “power of sight”.

There’s plenty of humorous dialog in between the tense scenes and if you decide to jump in without reading the first adventure, THE OMINOUS EYE stands on its own. You won’t know who to trust until the exciting climatic rumble. Enriched with 27 four color illustrations, this tale with its manageable chapter lengths will make a great read aloud either in the classroom or curled up at home before lights out.

In the words of Bismark, “Holy smokes!”


FULL PLOT (From FABLED FILMS ) When a violent jolt fractures the earth, the Nocturnal Brigade sets out to investigate its source. Along their journey, Dawn, Bismark, and Tobin meet an unfamiliar reptile—a tuatara—who reveals that a giant beast caused the destruction and will soon strike again. The tuatara, with her special insights, is the only one who can help them stop this fearsome predator… but can she be trusted? With help from an owl, the jerboas and a few kiwis, a trap is set since surrender is not an option against this relentless beast.


  1. Most chapters end with a page turning surprise – the mark of a good storyteller.
  2. The hints are scattered as to whether Polyphema has good intentions or bad. I never guessed correctly what her true intentions were, but it is a fun ride all the way until the ending big reveal.
  3. There’s not a human in sight, but the animal characteristics will remind you of some human friends of your own that you care deeply for.
  4. Even in this animal world friendships change and fear is something you must deal with in your life. Two great themes running throughout the story.
  5. You might be racing to YouTube like I did to see some of these unusual live creatures in action. Such untypical choices for an MG novel, but those choices is what makes this series unique.

FAVORITE LINES: “So be it! Bold in adventure, brave in challenge, the Nocturnal Brigade to the rescue!” cried Bismark. With a flourish, he drew out his glittering, blue snakeskin cape – the costume the Brigade wore when they were on a mission. Dawn and Tobin took their capes out, too, and fastened them around their necks. Within a moment, the trio was ready. It was time to keep the Brigade’s promise to protect the animals of the night.

AUTHOR QUOTE (from a BN KIDS BLOG Interview): I have one middle grade aged child who is a huge influence on the material.  He is the reason there is a hockey game in the first book of the series, The Mysterious Abductions. My older kids read the material and help me with ideas as well. My middle daughter plays the voice of Dawn in all of the animated shorts we are making for the series. I would say that all of the kids in my life, my nieces, friends, neighbors etc., influence how I tell these stories and what I choose to tell them about. You learn a lot about conversational dynamics and issues of middle graders when you spend time with them.

See more at THE NOCTURNALS website including some great resources for teachers.




Make a comment if you have time. I enjoy reading all of them. Just click on the Comments word below.

Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.


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I have an ancient paperback source on the U.S. Constitution sitting in my office. Constitution_CoverI believe it may be the same one that induced many kids to doze off while reading. This new effort by Carla Mooney brings the topic to present day in an easy to read format that will keep our always on generation turning the pages to learn more.

The U.S. Constitution received a nod this past summer during the Democrat Convention. Although this book is intended for a middle grade audience, perhaps all candidates would benefit with this well laid out review on what keeps our nation’s democratic tradition in place.

BACKCOVER BLURB: In The U.S. Constitution: Discover How Democracy Works, children ages 9–12 learn about the foundation of democracy in the United States and how the documents crafted hundreds of years ago still have an impact on our country today.

  • Integrates democracy with civics, social studies, language arts, and history.
  • Readers use critical thinking skills to deconstruct the meaning of language used at different periods in American history.
  • Examines the founding and structure of the U.S. government and the electoral process.
  • Encourages readers to connect historic events to present-day political disagreements.


  1. There are dozens of QR (Quick Response Codes) included throughout the book, enabling students to use present day technology to view primary sources on a smartphone or tablet.QR
  2. Hands on activities are suggested in each section. A few of my favorites included MAKE YOUR OWN PARCHMENT or playing the role of a founding father as you write a series of tweets to make an argument for ratification.
  3. A glossary is presented at the usual place in the closing pages. Many of the words also appear in a WORDS TO KNOW box on the book’s pages so you don’t have to keep going back and forth.
  4. Colored drawings throughout keep those visual learners engaged.
  5. There is a whole chapter devoted to IMPORTANT DOCUMENTS OF OTHER NATIONS. This gives the advanced learner who already knows the main topic a chance to extend their learning.

This smart and engaging addition to Nomad’s Press history titles will be a keeper for years to come and is perfect for this season of change – both in the weather and in politics.

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SOAR for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

soar-9781481447119_hrI picked up this title off the top of my TBR stack and one thought came to mind… Didn’t I read this already? SOARI checked my reviews for the past year and sure enough I reviewed a book called SOAR by Joan Bauer. It’s an inspirational story about a baseball loving boy who can’t play because of a heart condition.

But this new SOAR has a different cover because it’s a different story. Strange that publishers doubled up on this title especially since they were both released the same year. I did discover names of books are not copyrighted in this helpful article.

Now that this confusion rests, I’ll get on with telling you about the heartfelt tale of Eddie. He’s a birder like his father who recently passed away. After not reading any books where the main character has birding as a hobby, I’ve read two this summer (THE DRAKE EQUATION is the other).

As a new seventh grader, Eddie’s voice rings true. He misses his dad, there’s a new girl in the neighborhood he likes, and his personal bully is after him again. This bully is different than most because Mouton has Tourette’s. He shouts out what seem like random phrases (Eddie-Shovel-Truck) and continually repeats them.

Eddie’s quest to find a Golden Eagle in his neighborhood and to win a blue ribbon at the science symposium is what he wants the most. All of his problems and goals collide to provide a winning conclusion. Eddie is a character you won’t long forget.


FULL PLOT (From Simon & Schuster) Eddie learned everything there is to know about birding from his dad, including the legend of the Golden Eagle, which Dad claimed he saw once down near Miss Dorothy’s pond. According to his dad, the Golden Eagle had wings wider than a creek and talons the size of bulldozer claws. But when Eddie was in sixth grade, Dad “flew away” for good, leaving Eddie on his own to await the return of the elusive raptor.

Now Eddie is starting seventh grade and trying to impress Gabriella, the new girl in town. The annual seventh grade Science Symposium (which Dad famously won) is looming, and Eddie is determined to claim the blue ribbon for himself. With Mr. Dover, the science teacher who was Dad’s birding rival, seemingly against him, and with Mouton, the class bully, making his life miserable on all fronts, Eddie is determined to overcome everything and live up to Dad’s memory. Can Eddie soar and make his dream take flight?


  1. When Eddie sees a bird he draws it and adds the information in his journal. He also adds a comment and question to his dad. They tell the underlying story of the hurt inside Eddie.
  2. Two themes common to middle grade kids are friendship and loyalty. They are both put to the test here in a fulfilling way.
  3. Included in the back of the book are Eddie’s Bird Log and a nice bibliography on where to go for more information on birds.
  4. The character of Eddie is spot on for a seventh grade boy. He knows the difference between right and wrong, but sometimes the wrong rears its ugly head and leads him to trouble. Eddie also is sensitive to the happenings around him and deals with the sometimes hurtful facts in a typical way for this age group.
  5. The chapters are short and usually end with a perfect kicker to make you read another.

FAVORITE LINE:  There’s something else to know about Mouton. He has Tourette’s syndrome, a brain disorder that makes him blurt out words, even if it’s at inappropriate times. The worst part is when he gets stuck on a word or phrase and then repeats until you can’t take it anymore. My mom says they’re called vocal tics. Mouton has the same one all the time (Yip!), which gets worse when he’s nervous. I know I’m supposed to ignore his outbursts, but it’s hard to do that when he makes my life miserable on purpose.

AUTHOR QUOTE:  School was not kind to me. Or should I say, I was not kind to school. I was a class clown and never made outstanding grades. The funny thing is, I really enjoyed reading, just not the books teachers wanted me to read. When I wasn’t outside playing baseball, you could usually find me on the couch with a book–probably Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (by Roald Dahl) or something similar. (Read more at Tracy’s Author Web Site)


Make a comment if you have time. I enjoy reading all of them. Click on the comments link below.

Check the links to other Middle Grade novels over at Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.


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Picture the Perfect First Page

iStock_000024086772LargeI’m spending several weekends this month at local writing events. One is our region’s SCBWI conference while two others are informal gatherings with other writers. Each one gives me the opportunity to present one of my first pages to a captive audience.

I’ve heard all the advice for making a first page shine:

  • Introduce your MC but not in a dream or when they first wake up.
  • Start with action but also include conflict and tension.
  • Create a beginning so intriguing a reader can’t put your story down.
  • Make each word and sentence count.
  • Humor can help carry a reader to the next page.

I know how important this is because agents and editors will often only read that far before tossing your story aside. I get it, but I do find exceptions for established authors.

I’ve read many books this year by some of my favorite authors and the first few pages are yawn inducing. But I read on because I have a past with this author and know how much I enjoyed their previous efforts. They always come through.

A recent weekend visit to the bookstore confirmed the reasoning behind making first pages for newbie authors sparkle. I wandered around the children’s section looking at titles but also watching adults and children do the same. We all had the drill down pat: 1) Pick up a book because of the title or cover. 2) Read the inside cover description. 3) Read a paragraph or two on the first page.  4) Place back on shelf or tuck under your arm for purchase.

Conclusion: Each book received an average of one minute of contact though kids were closer to 20-30 seconds.

I have six first pages I can choose to get feedback on – just 18 lines to be read out loud to a captive and critical audience.  One I’ll use is my newest first page of a work in progress. I’m getting better at this first page business because it isn’t too bad, but I’ll see what kind of feedback it gets.

Of course once you nail the beginning, the rest better hold up… or your beloved story will end up on the chopping block. In the end it’s a broken record but an important one to remember: Never give up and continue to Revise… Revise… Revise.



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