The Center of Everything by Linda Urban


Today I’ll be driving to Chicago with my dear friend Brian Wyzlic for the American Library Association Annual Conference. As we roll down I-94, we’ll be jamming to Call Me Maybe. Why you ask? Because, for me, Call Me Maybe is my unofficial song for Newbery Medal winning book The One and Only Ivan. Every time I hear that song I think about how much I love Ivan. I felt so strongly about the song and the book being the best of 2012 that I made this little video.

What does this have to do with Urban’s The Center of Everything? Ah, well you see, I have come across a 2013 song that make me think of The Center of Everything. Every time I hear the song I think about how much I adore  Ms. Urban’s writing in The Center of Everything. I’m not saying that The Center of Everything is going to win the Newbery Medal (I’m also not saying that it won’t), but I am saying that this book is amazing.

The Center of Everything is the fist 2013 novel that I reread, and like all Linda Urban novels they get better with each read. The second time through I was able to pay close attention to the beautiful setting Linda has painted, and the distinguished characters she has crafted.

I read somewhere that somebody said that kids won’t relate to The Center of Everything. I believe they also said that this is a book that teachers will like more than students. Pish posh! Kids are loving this book and they will continue to love it for years to come. They will be able to relate to Ruby wishing that she could relive a moment in her life where she was frustrated with how she acted, and they will surely be able to relate to complex friendships between Ruby, Nero, and Lucy.

Bottom line. Linda Urban is able to capture real world moments as well as any writer that I have ever seen. I’m hoping that you’ll give The Center of Everything a read (I suggest reading it at least twice.).

Yikes! I totally almost forgot what song makes me thing The Center of Everything. Every time I hear the song Can’t Hold Us by by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis I can’t help but dance, just like I dance to celebrate Ivan when I hear Call Me Maybe.

I’ve included the music video of the song in case you are interested in dancing along.

A big thanks to the publisher for the review copy. I’m hoping that when I stop by their booth at ALA that they will want to dance to Can’t Hold Us with me.

Interview: Lenore Look


I’m sure that many of your share my love for Alvin Ho. He’s one of the most unique characters in children’s literature that I have ever read. Getting the opportunity to interview Alvin Ho author, Lenore Look, is an honor. I’m hoping that you enjoy the interview, and that you check out her beautiful picture book Brush of the Gods.

BRUSH OF THE GODS_cover image

My students and I study legends and myths as part of our fourth grade curriculum. I am excited to add The Brush of the Gods to our arsenal. Can you talk about how your Chinese heritage has informed her work on this book?

I grew up listening to my dad tell tall tales about growing up in China, and about Chinese historical figures and events that really sparked his imagination. He knew the cold, hard facts, but the way he told them to us always sounded like a first-hand account. For example, I know for a fact that my dad suffered the cold winters and brutal beatings as a forced laborer in the construction of the Great Wall. Also, he was practically scared to death as a sculptor in the creepy tomb of the terra cotta army. In happier times, he witnessed the invention of the kite, ice cream, and fireworks. He never told me about Wu Daozi, but he knew Wu’s friends very well, the poets Li Bai and Du Fu.


Why do you feel that it is important that we continue to pass legends on from generation to generation?

Wu Daozi isn’t a legend, per se, he was a real guy. To me, a legend starts with a sensational, fictional birth, like the Monkey King, or Romulus and Remus, and survival depends on a series of miraculous interventions. Wu’s birth was ordinary, as far as anyone knows, and his survival as an orphan and then as an artist, in 8th Century China, depended on luck and pluck, which meant that he had to do a lot of plain, hard work. The only part of his story that is legend is the claim that he never died, but simply walked into his last painting and disappeared.

We tend to turn real people who have accomplished great things into legends, and Wu’s contemporaries did that to him, though I’m not sure that it was intentional. It was the first time that people saw three-dimensional painting and they were so amazed by it that they really thought that his paintings moved and walked away. They were not making it up! It’s hard for us to imagine their astonishment, but they really did believe that he created life with his brush. And the fact that the elements would eventually wash away his work, contributed to their wonder. So this isn’t a legend, I’m simply passing on the cold, hard facts.

BrushofGods2When writing a picture book about a legend where the main character is an artist, the illustrations are vital. Did you get a chance to work with or have any input with Meilo So on the illustrations? What did you think when you saw the final art?

I’m happy to take no credit for the incredible art that Meilo So produced for this book. She worked closely with the amazing team at Schwartz & Wade to create the vision that you see. I don’t get involved at all in the illustration process once I’m done with my manuscript. I believe in letting the artist freely interpret the story as she sees it. It’s art. It can only come from within. It’s not work-for-hire. I’m not asking her to paint my kitchen. The only time I say anything is when there are historical or cultural inaccuracies, or when an artist asks specifically for direction. Otherwise, I stay out of the way.


My students and I are always looking for great picture books about legends. Do you have any favorites that you could share with us? 

EL CHINO, by Allen Say. SNOWFLAKE BENTLEY, by Jacqueline Briggs Martin. STARRY MESSENGER, by Peter Sis. Each one is about a real person who worked very hard and accomplished great things. I have all of these on my shelf and love returning to them again and again.

NPR: The Best Books For Kids Age 9-14?


When Michelle Norris tweeted that The Backseat Book Club is putting a list together of the top 100 books for kids 9-14, I got very excited. When the post asked me to leave a comment with my top 5 books, I got very stressed. It would be much easier to come up with a list of 100, than a list of 5, but I’m going to try.

I’ve given myself a few ground rules:

  1. I have 10 minutes to decide
  2. I can’t look to the internet for help

  3. I can only pick books from the last 10 years (I got too stressed when I started to think about every book ever published)





By: Raina Telgemeier

The One and Only Ivan

By: Katherine Applegate

The One and Only Ivan

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda

 By: Tom Angelberger

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda (Origami Yoda #1)

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

By: Brian Selznick

The Invention of Hugo Cabret


By: Louis Sachar

That was fun. How about you? Can you pick just five?

P.S. It only took me 3 minutes to pick the books:)

Interview: Jennifer Larue Huget


I am super excited to be interviewing author Jennifer Laure Huget today. As a bonus, illustrator Chris Sickels stopped by to answer one of my questions.

Happy reading!

BEGINNER'S GUIDE_cover image

Like most children, I completely failed at running away as a child. I don’t think that I ever even made it out the front door without chickening out. Could you share a childhood running away from home story?

Jennifer: I would love to share my own running-away story. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, I was too big a ‘fraidy cat to run away from home, though I know I considered it a time or two.  I had to wait until I was a grownup with two kids of my own to explore the phenomenon. Each of my kids, separately, decided to run away. My daughter did so because they had better pizza at her friend’s house. My son isn’t quite sure why he left home, which may explain why he didn’t actually pack anything in his running-away suitcase. Each of them made it (under my watchful eye) to the top of the driveway before reconsidering. I welcomed them both home with open arms.

Beginners Guide 1

As a child, when I wasn’t failing at running away from home, I was wondering what came first: the chicken or the egg? I wasn’t exactly wondering this a lot, but it did cross my mind often. Now that I’m an adult and I giant fan of picture books, I often wonder if the art or the words come first. So, what came first: the art or the words?

Jennifer: Chris Sickels/Red Nose Studio is an absolute genius, if you ask me, and I am so grateful that he’s the one who brought this story to life with his incredible artistry. But I had to write the story, first. I sent it to my wonderful publisher, Schwartz & Wade, and they approached Chris about creating the illustrations. Next thing I knew, they were sending me sketches, and then I got to see the final versions of his creations. I couldn’t have been more impressed, or more tickled, by them. I especially love the page near the end when the mom embraces her little runaway boy. Chris did a fantastic job with that.

Beginner's Guide 3

I am completely in awe by the images in The Beginner’s Guide to Running Away From Home. Do I even call them images? Illustrations? Pictures? I have no idea. I also have no idea how they are created. I tried to do a little research on your process, but I don’t think I completely understand how this awesomeness is created. Could you give me a “beginner’s guide” to the type of art that appears in The Beginner’s Guide to Running Away From Home?

Chris: Thanks for your interest in the image making process behind The Beginner’s Guide to Running Away From Home. 

In answer to your question, I call them illustrations. My process is essentially like any other illustrator. Everything starts with thumbnails and sketches that are based on the written content/story. The sketches are submitted in a dummy book form to the editor and book designer and the sketches get revised and edited to best tell the story.

Once the sketches are all approved, the building begins. The scenes are constructed in 3D form using the sketches as blueprints and everything is built specifically for each scene. Similar to how a TV, theater or movie set would be built, everything is built to only be seen by the audience and in my case the audience is the camera lens. The figures and costumes are constructed of polymer clay, wire, foam, and fabric. The costumes are all hand sewn specifically for each character which is generally 6-7 inches tall. Sets are constructed with cardboard, wood, paper, fabric, and any material that works for the specific scene being shot. The sets are dressed with handmade props, and the occasional bits of doll house furniture, but mostly everything is built from scratch so that it can live in the ‘Red Nose’ world, which is a bit skewed and not quite ‘right’. Once a scene is fully constructed, photography and lighting begin. The lighting is where emotion and atmosphere can be reinforced and the scene starts to come to life. Typically it takes 150-200 shots to get the image and lighting adjusted for the final photograph. Typically most of the effects are created on set and in camera, with minor corrections and adjustments with Photoshop. The photograph is the final artwork, it is what is submitted for printing.

I hope that helps clear it up a bit, and even though I go by the name Red Nose Studio, it is just me working in my garage.

Beginners Guide 2
I have a 6, 4, and a 3 year old at home. None of them have tried to run away from home. Do you have any tips for their first attempt?

Jennifer: Well, the two little ones should wait a while; they need time to build up a really good reason to run away. As for tips for their first attempt, I would recommend they read this terrific new guide to running away from home. It’s called THE BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO RUNNING AWAY FROM HOME…..

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 6/24/2013



Miles Last Week: 26

Total Miles: 497

Books Last Week: 22

Total Books: 478

Be sure to visit Mentor Texts to learn more about It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

Beholding Bee

By: Kimberly Newton Fusco

 Beholding Bee

Daisy Gets Lost

By: Chris Raschka

Daisy Gets Lost

Alvin Ho: Allergic to Babies, Burglars, and other Bumps in the Night

By: Lenore Look

Alvin Ho: Allergic to Babies, Burglars, and Other Bumps in the Night

Criss Cross

By: Lynne Rae Perkins

Criss Cross

Guest Post: Kristen Kittscher


I’m super excited to be a part of Krsiten Kittscher’s blog tour, and to turn over the blog to her today.

Happy reading!

Publishing’s True Undercover Operatives

I’m so thrilled to be here on SharpRead continuing my blog tour for THE WIG IN THE WINDOW!

Before I wrote a book, I thought of it as a solitary activity: genius authors furiously typing away at their desks, fueled by inspiration. The truth is, it takes the collaboration and hard work of many people to help make a story the best that it can be.

It occurred to me I might not be the only one who had that mistaken impression, so on each tour stop  for THE WIG IN THE WINDOW, I’ve been pulling back the curtain on the publishing process to reveal just how much effort—and how many people—are involved in turning an vague idea into a real, live book.

Today you’re in for a treat. Harper Children’s has given me permission to declassify some highly confidential information about WIG’s publication journey. Perhaps you think I’m exaggerating a tad? It’s possible. I have been known to exaggerate all the time on occasion. But I’m willing to bet a gazillion dollars (well, five, maybe?) that you’re going to be as surprised as I was when you discover the secret identity of the very talented well-known author who worked behind-the-scenes turn my manuscript into a real, live book…

Before I unmask her identity, though, I’d like to shine a spotlight on this least highlighted yet absolutely crucial stage of revising a manuscript for publication: copyediting!

Even that exclamation point doesn’t help make it sound any more exciting, does it? And yet, copyediting is exciting – and high stakes, too. All it takes is one factual error, typo, or inconsistency to jolt a reader out of a story—and make them start to question other elements of the fictional world. A copyeditor comes in to save the day after an author and editor have tried to make a manuscript as polished as they can on their own. They pore over every last comma, grammatical error, usage problem, or leap in logic.

I thought it might be interesting for you to see the level of detail and thought that goes into even into what seem like minor details. My Mystery Copyeditor and Harper’s wonderful head of production, Renée Cafiero made some fantastic (and funny) catches:

I wrote:
“Spying on her had to be more interesting that examining the Hodges’ bedtime hygiene routines.”

My eagle-eyed copyeditor noticed a critical flaw:

This plural possessive would have to be Hodgeses.

Hmmm. Indeed. Just like that, the Hodges applied for a name change and became the very plural possessive friendly “Wagners.”

On another occasion, my main character describes a group of girls who always seem to be involved in rather vague, questionable charity efforts. One day they’re selling baked goods to ‘Save the New Zealand Bush Wren.’

Harper didn’t miss a beat:
OK that NZ Bush Wren has been extinct since 1955? Perhaps change to a different bird?

I decided that it was actually fitting that the New Zealand Bush Wren has been extinct since 1955; my main character frequently exaggerates for comic effect and we can’t rely on her view entirely, but it was so wonderful to at least know I was making a mistake!

At one point I referred to “self-made” plastic yellow aprons characters are wearing.

Mystery Copyeditor:
Self-made seems to indicate that the aprons made themselves.

Oh dear. They were not supposed to be magical aprons. Home made is much better.

At one point Sophie Young describes the funny pictures her crush draws for her:
“His first was a bug-eyed caricature of our French teacher, Madame Tarrateau, her generous armpit hair penciled in like seaweed. Underneath it he’d written…”

The copyeditor asks for some clarification here:

Underneath the armpit hair, or underneath the whole picture?

Ah, pronouns are so vague! In fact, it was not under just the armpit hair. That would have been strangely specific of Sophie’s crush.

Sometimes my word choice and Harper’s house style didn’t match, but they were kind enough to defer to me:

“I dashed along the side yard–leaping to avoid the hose—and dove for cover by the hedge, where Grace had huddled in the shadows only a moment ago.”

The copyeditor asks:
House style prefers first listed term in Webster’s, which in this case is “dived.” Change to “dived” in all instances of “dove”?

In this case, I was worried about the ramifications of the change. I wrote back:

“Stet. I prefer the shortness in these action-y sentence. Also, I am reminded of Daniel Pinkwater’s story of all instances of “troll” in one of his books being changed to “elf,” resulting in his being complimented on his unusual phrase: “Selfing in the park,” and “being out for a self.” While I don’t think I have any mentions of, say, turtledoves in WIG, I think I want to play it safe. I’m global-change shy.”

I learned a great deal else. That “Thighmaster” really should be spelled “ThighMaster” per That the Massif Central region in France is made up of both mountains and plateaus. That yin and yang is commonly used enough that the terms don’t need to be italicized, like terms from other languages usually do. It might seem silly to pay so much attention to detail in an over-the-top, slightly surreal book like The Wig in the Window—but when there’s plenty else that requires willing suspension of disbelief, I think it’s all the more important to get the little things right!

Hope you enjoyed this little peek! I couldn’t be more grateful to them.

Now who was that Mystery Copyeditor?

None other than Nova Ren Suma, author of SEVENTEEN & GONE, IMAGINARY GIRLS, and DANI NOIR!

I knew there was a reason I loved all her re-wording suggestions.

Credit: Konrad Tho Fiedler

Credit: Konrad Tho Fiedler



Mon | May 20 - I Am a Reader, Not a Writer

Wed | May 22 - Hobbitsies

Thu | May 23 - The Book Smugglers

Mon | May 27 - (Review by The Book Smugglers)

Tue | May 28 - Read Now Sleep Later

Wed | May 29 - Teaching in Cute Shoes

Mon | June 3 - Great Kid Books

Wed | June 5 - Mod Podge Bookshelf

Mon | June 10 - Cracking the Cover

Wed | June 12 - Kid Lit Frenzy

Mon | June 17 – HeiseReads


Wed | June 19 - The Brain Lair

Thu | June 20 - Teach Mentor Texts

Fri | June 21 - The Windy Pages

Mon | June 24 - Sharpread

Thu | June 27 - There’s a Book

Fri | June 28 -

Interview: Sara Pennypacker


When I told my four year old daughter that I would be turning 32, she looked at me with big sad eyes and said, “Dad, even though you are really old, I promise that I will still love and care for you.” It doesn’t get much better than that. Unless of course, you also get a chance to interview Sara Pennypacker on your birthday.

Clementine and the Spring Trip cover

Hi Colby – Happy Birthday and Happy Summer Solstice also! A character in the Clementine books has a birthday on the same day as you, but you’ll have to wait a year and a half to find out who it is, I’m afraid. Thanks for having me, and thanks for creating such a great blog – I’ve been reading about so many wonderful books here, and can’t wait to get reading or re-reading them. Thanks also for the great questions – I can tell you and I would talk for hours if we met in person…


How did I transition from being a watercolor painter to a children’s author?

I know, right? But actually, it wasn’t that big a change at all. I’d fallen in love – I mean madly, passionately in love – with children’s books when I was reading them to my kids, and decided to dedicate my life to mastering the craft. What surprised me was how similar the two fields were. Artists and writers go into their studios and figure out what to “say” then wrestle with how to say it. The main difference is that as a writer, I get to sit down.


Ah, my characters…I’m so glad you love them! You ask: Are any a challenge? Do I have favorites? How do I create them?

It’s hard to call any part of the Clementine writing a challenge, because there’s so much joy.  And I love them all, I really do. Margaret breaks my heart, she’s so uptight, and Mitchell is such a great kid, and the parents – they are so much fun to write. I’d say my biggest challenge is to tell the truth – to not love these characters so much that I make them perfect.

I do have some favorites. Clementine, of course. What I love most about her is that she says “okay, fine” – by that, I mean to express that she’s very accepting of her flaws, and just wants to move forward, to do better next time. A very wise attitude, I must say. And Principal Rice – I so look forward to that scene in every book where Clementine and Mrs. Rice are looking at each other across that vast desk. With Principal Rice, I try to have her say as little as possible, and let her eye-rolling and long-suffering sighs say the rest. And I have to mention Clementine’s father – that guy deserves the “Father of the Year Award” hands down.

How do I create them? Well, everyone is based on real-life people I know. I keep track of their personalities and habits and funny stories and store them in my “character toolbox” – it makes the characters seem believable to use real details. (Always ask people if you can do this, though!)


Working with Marla Frazee

Oh my gosh, I’m with you – what a genius she is! You know, we don’t “work together” at all, although we’re very in tune about the characters and the story. She really gets the relationships between all the characters, which you can tell by looking at their body language in the pictures. Look at this picture here (below), where Clementine is telling her father how sad she is – this is my all-time favorite Marla drawing, although there are about a hundred in close second place!

Clementine with dad

Illustration copyright Marla Frazee

How we do it is this: I write the story first – all the way to the final draft. Then Marla decides where pictures are needed and which things she can deepen or expand upon by illustration. She never just draws what I’ve written, she always adds something to the scene. I often say that I don’t need to write a single word about how loving this family is, or how funny the characters are, because Marla’s drawings are so emotional and so hilarious. I don’t know what she’s going to illustrate until she does it, and I have no idea how she chooses, but when it’s all done, the book feels exactly right, don’t you think?

If I could spend one day inside the world of a book, which book would I want to hang out in? What a great question! It depends…could I change things, or would I only be able to watch? If I could do something, I’d have to choose a book like THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN because I just can’t stand the thought of the characters in those books suffering so much – I’d have to free them, or at least try to make things a little better for them. (Of course, that would ruin a great book, though, wouldn’t it? Hmmm…) If not, I think I’d pick ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS – I love to have to try to survive out there…but only for one day!

Will we see more of Clementine?

Well, I have good news and bad news.

The bad news is, I have just finished the seventh book in the series, and it will be the last.  I love this character so much, and I’m going to miss her and her family terribly, but I felt seven was exactly the right number of stories to tell about her. Each one feels important – there are no soft “filler” books in the series – and the series takes her from the beginning of third grade right up through the last day. Clementine herself is so fresh that I just didn’t want for her to become stale or predicable, either to me the writer, or you the readers.

But now for the good news! Drumroll, please, because I am about to make an announcement, and your blog is the very first time I’ve let this out! I am doing another series. The main character will be Waylon, the “science-y” kid from Clementine’s class, who made his first appearance in CLEMENTINE AND THE FAMILY MEETING. Like the Clementine books, the Waylon books will be funny while at the same time covering real things that come up in school and family life. I’m setting the series in fourth grade, and of course they’ll be about a boy, so there will be some differences. I’m looking forward to getting to know Waylon and his friends. (One of them, I’m thinking, might be Baxter…sounds like you agree Baxter should come back!) Well, the best thing about this series is also the good news: Clementine, and Margaret and Mitchell, will be back. They won’t be main characters, but they’ll drop in and out of the books, and we’ll get to see how everybody is doing a year later.

No, wait. The best thing about this new series is that Marla Frazee will illustrate it!


Holy smokes. I feel honored to have Ms. Pennypacker make such an exciting announcement on my blog. I cannot wait to read more from her and Ms. Frazee.


Sara Pennypacker ( was a painter before becoming a writer, and has two absolutely fabulous children who are now grown. She has written several books, including the Clementine series, all illustrated by Marla Frazee, The Amazing World of Stuart, Sparrow Girl, and Summer of the Gypsy Moths. She grew up in Massachusetts and splits her time between Cape Cod and Florida.

Sara Pennypacker (deck)


Hyperion is providing a copy of Clementine and the Spring Break Trip for a giveaway. (U.S. and Canada).

Giveaway closes 6/30 at 11:59 PM EDT

Rules for giveaway:

1. Must be 13 or older

2. Must live in the U.S. or Canada

Be sure to check out Sara’s other tour stops:

Mon, June 17: GreenBeanTeenQueen -

Tues, June 18: Once Upon a Story -

Wed, June 19: Mother Daughter Book Club -

Thurs, June 20: Media Darlings -

Fri, June 21: Sharpread -

Mon, June 24: Children’s Book Review -

Tues, June 25: Kid Lit Frenzy -

Wed, June 26: There’s a Book -

Thurs, June 27: As They Grow Up -

Fri, June 28 Bookingmama