Diverse Books Reading List

I love the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign. I also love summer reading lists. The Lee and Low diverse summer reading list is perfect for both!


They have a list for grades K-8 broken down into age groups. I will read them all. I spotted one of the SCBWI Crystal Kite winners on the list.

A really fun part of this reading list is the award certificate parents can download. If you know me at all, you know I love award certificates.

We’ll be doing a trip to the library soon for sure. If you go, and all these books are checked out, blame us.

I’m going to read them and share my reviews here. If you’ve read any, send me your reviews.

Diverse Reading List Book Reviews


Big Rewards for Reading

I love big rewards and I love reading, so this summer, we are going to tackle Scholastic’s Summer Reading BINGO. I loved doing these activities as a kid and yes, I force my kids to do them, too. But I don’t have to force too hard. I would like to find a math version of this kind of project because we need to keep those skills sharp, too.

Reading offers big rewards already and luckily in this family, we don’t need a lot of incentive to read books. But over the summer, it’s fun to tackle these kinds of challenges and reward yourself by reading and celebrating. And don’t forget to chat about the books you’ve read with friends (book club!).

After presenting the idea to the boys, they decided to work on one card together. Every time someone completes a square, they can record the name, book title and date of the person who worked hard for their big reward. Sometimes, they want to take a short cut and find the easy way out, so I had to designate a start date of May 26, the last day of school.

Small Rewards

I know they can easily complete one row, column, or diagonal. So I’m going to offer them a small reward for completing one of those.

I think the small rewards would be a game of miniature golf, or a hike to the local waterfall, or even a visit to the zoo.

What would be your small reward?

Big Rewards

I don’t want them to stop once they’ve completed one row or column. So to keep them motivated, I’m going to offer a big reward if they complete the entire card.

My idea of big rewards are things like a trip to Kennywood, or Sky Trails, or Climb North.

What would be YOUR big reward for completing a card?


One day, I’d love one of my books to be on a young reader’s summer reading Bingo card. That would be a pretty cool reward for me.

Summer Reading Programs!

Summer reading is almost here! Summer reading feels like such an indulgence. I look forward to it every year. Yes, sometimes I force my kids to participate in the summer reading programs, but the good part is I never have to force them to read. Here’s what’s happening in our area:

Northland Library Summer Reading

Make the world a better place—by reading!


Kick off Summer Reading and help Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh reach its 180,000 book challenge. The fun begins June 11 with an outdoor festival for all ages. Head over to the Library in Oakland for music, crafts, games, storytelling, food trucks and more! While you’re there, find out how to enroll in a Summer Reading program that will help you improve the world around you.

Here’s a sample of some of the great things you can do at this year’s Extravaganza:

  • Enjoy live performances, interactive storytimes and puppet shows
  • Browse the annual book sale
  • Play a fun Readers Game
  • Check out our new musical instrument collection or stop by the CLP Arcade
  • Decorate your own Eat’n Park Smiley Cookie and sing him Happy Birthday
  • Support your Library by purchasing food from the featured food trucks
  • Sign up for Summer Reading and so much more!

Schedule of Events:

EQT Performance Tent

Emcee: Larry Berger, SLB Radio Productions, Inc.

  • 12:00 – Pittsburgh Puppet Works, WQED Writers Contest “The Write Dream 2017”
  • 1:00 – Pittsburgh Musical Theater, Xtreme Teen Broadway
  • 2:00 – 1Hood
  • 3:00 – Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Welcome
  • 3:15 – Celebrate Smiley’s birthday with singing and cake!
  • 4:00 – Timbeleza, Street Samba Funk

Quiet Reading Room, First Floor

Artists brought to you by 91.3 WYEP

  • 1:15 – Miranda Brandon
  • 2:15 – Sophia Blake
  • 3:15 – Hunter Greenberg
  • 4:15 – Julia Renee

Storytimes, Read Alouds and Puppet Shows

  • 12:30 – Children’s Room, The Magic Tree puppet show
  • 12:45 – Family PlayShop Tent, Baby and Toddler Snugglebugs storytime
  • 1:00 – Citiparks Stage, Daniel Reads a Poem read aloud
  • 1:30 – Children’s Room, The Magic Tree puppet show
  • 2:30 – Children’s Room, The Magic Tree puppet show
  • 2:45 – Family PlayShop Tent, Baby and Toddler Snugglebugs storytime
  • 3:00 – Citiparks Stage, Daniel Reads a Poem read aloud
  • 3:30 – Children’s Room, The Magic Tree puppet show
  • 4:30 – Children’s Room, The Magic Tree puppet show

Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh Hands On Learning Tent

  • 12:00 – Paper Folding Demonstration
  • 12:30 – Paper Folding Demonstration
  • 1:00 – Paper Circuits Demonstration
  • 1:30 – Paper Circuits Demonstration
  • 2:00 – Paper Folding Demonstration
  • 2:30 – Paper Folding Demonstration
  • 3:00 – Paper Circuits Demonstration
  • 3:30 – Paper Circuits Demonstration
  • 4:00 – Paper Folding Demonstration
  • 4:30 – Paper Folding Demonstration

Favorite Kids’ Book Series

This month, I read the boys two Judy Blume books: Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and Superfudge. These were two of my favorite kid book series growing up.

I successfully glossed over the part where a secret about a certain holiday character is revealed, and the boys asked for more books about Peter and Fudge.

Updated or Original?

I searched on Amazon for other books in the series. That’s when I learned that the Judy Blume books have been updated and re-released for modern readers. I just wasn’t interested in those versions. I feel like reading the old versions gives my kids a glimpse into the past when the past was the present.

We’re going to check out Double Fudge and Fudgamania from the library, but I ordered the classic version of Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great.

Would you choose the updated or original versions?

More Book Series

There’s nothing like a good series to combine the familiar character with the unfamiliar new adventure. After I saw how much they loved these books from my childhood, I thought about other series I loved. asked them if they wanted to hear some Ramona books, or some of the Little House series. I’ve already shown them the movie version of Anne Shirley, but I don’t really see them tackling that whole series like I did. My oldest was into the Goosebumps series for awhile but has moved on.

Nowadays, their favorite kid book series are the Junior B. Jones, Percy Jackson, and I Survived. They also love the non-fiction Who Was? What Was? series. Of course they’ve read Harry Potter. But the middle is now on to Ranger’s Apprentice and you all know they enjoyed the  (disappointing) Unwanteds. They read some Magic Treehouse but no Lemony Snicket or Time Warp Trio. The youngest, who loves horses, likes the Breyer’s Stablemates series from Scholastic.

What favorite kid book series have you shared with your kids?

What are their favorite modern book series? 

Bad Soup Analogy for Bad Books

Should we let kids read bad books? Quick blog post today, readers, about the quality of kids reading materials. Lots of parents just want their kids to read. I’m lucky that my kids are hearty readers and devour most books without any fuss. In fact, taking away reading time is one of their dreaded consequences.

But what if the book your kid is reading is really bad?

Not full of bad words, but just written poorly? Bad books are all around us, but many of us don’t even know it.

Bad Soup

Here’s the bad soup analogy. I’m sure someone mentioned this to me, but I can’t remember who.

“You know when you make soup and you throw all the ingredients and cook it for 15 minutes and you can still taste everything separately that it’s not good soup. It’s bad soup.”

bad books

The Unwanted series is bad soup. If you read the cover, you think you’re getting this great combo of Harry Potter and Hunger Games. It’s got magic and science and death and teenage angst. But it’s also got head-hopping point-of-view problems, tons of showing, not telling, and in the first book, I don’t think the main character solves his own problem. I couldn’t read the other books in the series. The real unwanted is the kind of writing in these books. But my kids loved them.

Luckily, they are also reading Reina Telgmeier’s books and Judy Blume’s books and John Lewis’s books.

So does it matter if my kids are reading books that suck? Isn’t it more important that they are reading? I think it is, and I never once told them I thought the book was bad or poorly written. I let them read it and enjoy it and love it and when they are older and drag it out to read to their kids, they will figure it out for themselves.

Here’s a scary thought. What if I’m writing a bad book and I don’t even know it? Yikes.

And here’s another scary thought: they are making a movie.

Writing a Novel (Tips & Tools)

I use a few tools when writing a novel.

I do a long outline of the story. I write the shorter synopsis. I write a bunch of taglines to see what story idea sounds really catchy.

I use the alphabet trick when determining and deciding character names.

I draw maps of the novel neighborhood. I use the objective/obstacle/outcome approach to structuring and analyzing my chapters.

Today I adopted a new tactic: a calendar.

novel writing tools

Since my story is based about the school year, I realized part of my confusion and uncertainty while writing a novel was that I was having trouble keeping track of days. I’m also hoping this will help me analyze if my novel is too heavy in the beginning, and if it’s too weak in the saggy middle, and if there’s enough action at the exciting end.

I am absolutely completing this calendar in pencil, because I am still revising.

The Finish Line

I don’t really believe in writer’s block. I believe a lot of times writers just have problems with their stories that they haven’t solved yet. These tools are ways that I eliminate writer’s block. They help me visualize the story in a new way. Some writers have big pieces of paper taped to their walls, or draw out big charts to track character arcs and plot lines. I think eventually I will trace the character arc of my main characters once I’m done this version of the novel. I want to finish first, then go back and strengthen. But using these tools along the way will make sure my finish isn’t me collapsing as I cross the line, to use a running analogy. I’ll finish strong. Then, unlike in a race, I will go back and fix the weaker parts.

When I don’t have a lot of time to work on actually writing, there are some useful activities I can do when I don’t have time to write longer chapters.

What tools do you use to keep your novel straight?

Six Word Stories Part 2

Who doesn’t love good six word stories? They are short and sweet.

I am so lucky to be able to visit classrooms and hang out with kids. As a writer, there’s nothing more valuable than learning from and listening to your target audience. So when I had a chance to go into my son’s sixth grade class, I decided the topic would be “brevity.” Now, I didn’t tell them that, but it gave me a framework.

Picture Books

First,  I read a short but very skillfully done picture book. You’re never too old to read a picture book and really learn about the essence of story. A picture book needs to tell a story in very few words.


Then, we worked on a 26 word alphabet story about sixth graders. There were some funny parts, like when we included eating and farting. We had tech, including iPhone, video games and memes. One girl suggested we delete “sleeping” and write “Zzzz” – which was GENIUS. We had a lot of sports like gymnastics and karate and soccer.


Six Word Stories

Finally, we got to dessert: the six word story.

As I took them through the first two parts of the visit, I explained how stories build to a climax of emotion and action and then offer a resolution. I challenged them to include all of those elements in their six word stories.

Here’s what we came up with:


Last man on earth heard knock.

I am cool, you are not.

Roasted, toasted marshmallow on the fire.

Learn something!

I really loved hearing their stories. And since the main character in my current project is in middle school, I decided to write some six word stories for her.


She quit everything, until she didn’t.

She botched everything except dreaming big.

For Fun

Do you agree that a lot of six word stories sound so ominous? I love to laugh and have fun and wanted to write a humorous six word story.

Apology accepted. Now explain the bird.

No Time to Write

Some days I have no time to write.

Some days I have hours to write and can lay down over 2,000 words. Or I can read and heavily revise two or more chapters. I really lose myself in the story and just let it flow.

But other days are busy and it seems I have no time to write.

That’s actually not true. Even though I may not have hours to write a lot of words for my story, I have time to work on my story. There are numerous short tasks writers can do to improve their stories and manuscripts and novels even if you only have 15 minutes.

Take a look at this stream. Sometimes it’s rushing and deep, traveling through the farms and fields. Sometimes it narrows to a little trickle, barely a thread of water snaking between the banks.

Whether its wide and deep or shallow and tight, the stream keeps going. Like you, writer.

no time to write

Let it flow.


Some days you’re the rushing flood, some days you’re the persistent trickle. Either way, you’re moving forward.

Here’s a list.

No Time to Write Tasks

  • Write out your character’s appearance.
  • Write out the appearance of your secondary characters.
  • Check how many exclamation marks you have used and delete at least 2/3.
  • Draw a map of your story world.
  • Fill out character background sheets.
  • Think of sensory details to add in to your story.
  • Work on your tagline or logline.
  • Look for comps for your story.
  • Check for adverbs. Remove some.
  • Show instead of tell. Search for “I felt” sentences and rewrite some.
  • Write with action. Check for “I started” sentences and just start.
  • Pick a scene and make sure there are three senses identified.
  • Read a chapter and check for transitions.
  • Do the ends of scenes and chapters hook readers?
  • Summarize your story from the antagonist point of view.

Several of these ideas came from my recent workshop at the Highlights Foundation. I spent a great four days learning from K.L. Going and Clara Gillow Clark. They hosted the “Novel Beginnings” workshop and critiqued the first 50 pages of our novels. We also discussed craft, voice, most common mistakes, emotions, movies, layering and so much more.


Writing Prompt: The Lost Potato

Do you see that? There on the ground? It’s a potato. It’s just sitting there, all by itself, on the sidewalk. How did it get there?

This lost potato is the perfect writing prompt. I can think of lots of stories about how that potato ended up there.

Send me your stories about the Lost Potato. Feel free to change the title. I’ll share them here and someone (or ones) may receive some kind of recognition for their creativity.

Room for Improvement

room for improvement

Stop here.

Running has a finish line, but with stories, there’s always room for improvement.

Virginia Wolf wrote that it’s essential for women to have a room of one’s own, and I don’t disagree. But there’s another room that’s also essential. Room for Improvement.

I don’t usually write stories for specific contests, but I will revise them. There’s this website, Mslexia, that I like. I like what they say about women and writing. I want to send them a story and get good feedback. They have a contest with a deadline of March 1, 2017. I have a story I think they will like. Their contest has a word count limit of 3000 words. My story is 4719. I’ll have to cut 36% of my story to have it qualify. I worked on it for two weeks and I finally have the story down to 2995.

Is it the same story? Is it better or worse? Who knows.

There’s always room for improvement.

I have another story that meets the word count for the next round of Pen Parentis, in fact, it’s well under. It got great reviews on another website but when I pulled it out to re-read it today, I realized I can rewrite it even better, stronger. I overused the word “too” for example. I can spruce this up, get it proofread, and send it off to the contest, which opens March 1.

There’s always room for improvement.

Back in October 2015, I wrote a 50,000 word draft of a novel for NaNoWriMo, but I didn’t really write the full story. I wrote the fun scenes of a story. Now as I’ve pushed this manuscript through one round of revision, I realized I didn’t have a strong story line and I need a synopsis. So I’ve paused my revision and I’m now telling the story in synopsis form. This is a good exercise because I have to turn in my first 50 pages to the hosts of a Highlights Foundation workshop, and the pages are due March 1. (It’s a busy time.)

Once the synopsis is done, I’ll go back and revise those first fifty pages and make sure they really set up the story I plan to tell, so the workshop hosts know what I’m bringing them. I know my revision won’t be perfect, but that’s why I’m going to the workshop. I’m eager for their advice and feedback.

Because there’s always room for improvement.