Books Bandwagon

The new year started and I noticed a trend I’ll call the Books Bandwagon. It’s a listing of all the books someone’s read in the past year, and I decided to hop on. Looking back at the books I read in 2019, I realized I enjoy a variety of genres: middle grade, fiction, memoir, non-fiction, and self-help. Not listed, but even more important to me, are the picture books I read and studied.

Hon, have you read any of these books? Do you have any favorites?

Planet Earth is Blue by  Nicole Panteleakos

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Big Magic:  Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Tatooist of Auschwitz:  A Novel by Heather Morris

Dopesick by Beth Macy

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides

Educated:  A Memoir  by Tara Westover

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson

The Joke Machine by Theresa Julian

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine:  A Novel by Gail Honeyman

Eat, Pray, Love:  One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert

Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity and Love by Dani Shapiro

The Path Made Clear:  Discovering Your Life’s Direction and Purpose by Oprah Winfrey

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Inspirational (and Funny) Poem for Picture Book Writers

Shout out to Derick Wilder, founder of Fit Lit Kids (Its mission is to “provide the highest quality in educational programs that are focused on Fitness and ​Literacy… and sometimes both at the same time!”) for allowing me to post his inspirational  poem for picture book writers. He shared it on KIDLIT411, a Facebook group/website with sources for Kidlit people.

Favorite line: “umm…giant anteater!” 


May there always be time

to write and revise.

May you learn from the lows,

and rejoice in the highs.


May your stories be stuffed

with laughter and smiles.

May then end up on top

of all the slush piles.


May the right words emerge

and flow like sunshowers.

May your plotlines engage

and sprout like sunflowers.


May your narrative soar,

in verse or in prose.

May your “yesses” outweigh

your “maybes” or “nos.”


May your characters teem

with humor and heart.

May you never forget–

leave room for the art.


May your rhymes (unlike this)

be perfect in meter.

May your couplets make sense

umm…giant anteater.


May your journey be long,

response times be short.

May critique groups provide

advice and support.


May your misses be few,

your hits be plenty.

May your kidlit dreams bloom

in 2020!


Little Women, Lovely and Moving

One of the most beautiful movies I’ve ever seen.

The newest movie version of Little Women, based on Louisa May Alcott’s novel featuring Saoirse Ronan, Emma Watson, Florence Pugh, and Eliza Scanlen as the four March sisters, left me weeping. So beautiful! So emotional! It wasn’t just the costumes, setting and lighting that made this version lovely; the character development and story ensured I root for each sister.

Jo March’s need to put words to paper touched me deeply, and witnessing the creation of her book mirrored my own desire to bring my stories to life. I wept as the pages were printed, paper folded, spine sewn, cover glued, and title embossed. Though the time period is different, her dream is my dream and, in wanting to be more than what society expects, a wish for the ages.

Hon, have you seen it? What did you think?

Alcott’s novel was originally published in two volumes in 1868 and 1869, with the first volume following the March sisters—Jo, Mary, Beth, and Amy—throughout their childhood growing up in Massachusetts and the second volume picking up with the characters in adulthood. Instead of presenting the story in two halves, [Greta] Gerwig’s film layers the past and the present throughout the entire movie, flashing back and forth in an attempt to compare and contrast the characters in these two different periods of their lives.

The result is a wildly emotional and deeply impactful piece of storytelling, as the naiveté and endless possibilities of childhood stand in stark contrast to the harsh realities of navigating the world as an adult—and as an adult woman in the 1860s at that. by  for

Everyone’s Got Something: My First Year with Celiac Disease, Authors’ Interview, Part 2

Interview with the authors of
Everyone’s Got Something:  My First Year With Celiac Disease!

High-schoolers Hallie and Rayna, along with their mom Lori, answer questions about Everyone’s Got Something: My First Year with Celiac Disease, a fictional story about a girl diagnosed with Celiac Disease. In addition to the story, there are extras:  “what to look for on ingredient labels, ‘BIG’ word definitions, questions to ask at a restaurant, the best brownie recipe ever, insight from a mom, and the chance to start your own journal!” Check out the book on Amazon and Barnes and Portions of the proceeds will be donated to the Celiac Disease Foundation.

NG:  How old were you when you were diagnosed with Celiac Disease? What grade?
H&R:  We just turned 13 years old, and in 7th grade. 
NG:  How did you feel when you found out?
R:  Shocked, confused and determined to deal with it in the best way I could.
NG:  How did you explain it to your friends?
R:  We told our friends we had a huge announcement, to which they replied, “Oh my gosh, we’ll be the bridesmaids!” which was comic relief that we didn’t know we needed. When we told them we had celiac disease we didn’t even fully know how to explain. A couple of our friends assumed they knew what gluten was (incorrectly) and at the time we didn’t know how to correct them, which is now something we have since learned and mastered how to do.
NG:  What was the biggest change you had to make?
H:  The most drastic change was converting our entire kitchen into a 100% gluten free space. This required getting rid of many kitchen items and running many loads of other items in the dishwasher. The most difficult change was eating outside of our house. It was hard to find restaurants that could prepare food safely. A lot of restaurants offer gluten free options, but they do not all prepare the food safely and without cross contamination. Another change involved having to bring food with us when we went out to eat or eat something before.
NG:  Why did you decide to write the book?
H:  The idea for the book started after we began writing down our thoughts and experiences as a way to process the changes that were occurring. We decided that it might actually benefit others to read it so we thought about how to organize our thoughts, our feelings and our experiences into a book format. When we were diagnosed, we looked for books on celiac disease for tween/ teenagers and we mostly found picture books for younger kids and heavy research, scientific books more geared for adults. We wanted to create a book that suited the tween/teen age group.
NG:  Did you want the book to be fiction, non-fiction, or both?
R:  We wanted it to be a bit of both! We created a fictional character to tell about many of our real life experiences. The main character is a mix of both of us with a few fictional aspects, but her experiences are completely based off of ours.
L:  Our goal was to create a relatable character that inspires hope and optimism in the face of a major life change.
NG:  How long did it take you to write the book?
L:  The [girls] were diagnosed in spring 2014. The initial draft was completed by the summer/fall 2015. However, we went on to more than double the book the following year or so. We started the publishing process the summer of 2018 and it finally became available for purchase this past March. It is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites in paperback and it will be available as an e-book by May (for Celiac Awareness Month). People can start their own journal at the end of the book which lends itself more to the paperback version, but a lot of people enjoy e-books, so we wanted to make sure it would have that option as well. 
NG:  How did you two and your mom collaborate?
R:  We wrote a lot of it together, but also some separately. We each read every section to ensure we were happy with the end result and that the voice of Lexi stayed consistent throughout the book! Writing it was all teamwork! 
NG:  Did you work with an editor?
L:  Yes, we worked with a local editor from Westfield, Lillian Duggan. She was referred to us by Eva Natiello. Eva spoke with us in the very beginning of the publishing process to give us a guideline and some suggestions of how to proceed. Lillian was meticulous in her editing and really helped ensure there was consistency in the character’s voice as well as making sure it was grammatically correct, yet vibrant and true to how a 13-year-old might speak and write in her own journal.We worked with the staff at Jera Publishing who helped with all things publishing: formatting, the cover design and interior images that are throughout the book. There are a couple of original drawings by Rayna and Hallie that are in the book.
NG:  Did you have to do a lot of research?
L:  We did research to back up any facts that were included and particularly the “big” words that were used. We include a glossary in the back of the book called Big Word Definitions to explain the more complicated words associated with celiac disease. For example, cross contamination, endoscopy and villi are defined in the book. It was important to us to use the accurate vocabulary to describe celiac disease, but also break the “big” words down to increase understanding for readers of all ages. 
NG:  Are you planning on writing any other books?
R:  Who knows?! We’re not opposed to it and would be willing to sometime in the future. We might already have some ideas in the works :). For now our hope is to be able to get this book into the hands of people who could really benefit from it. 
NG:  Any other comments you’d like to add?
H&R:  Celiac disease is something that is part of us, but does not define us. We are grateful that we were diagnosed when we were, that we now know what is healthy for our bodies and that we have had to opportunity to meet really good people that we otherwise would have likely never met. 
Also, the title seems to strike a chord with a lot of people whether they have celiac disease or not – we did feel that it is true that “Everyone’s Got Something” – sometimes you can see it, sometimes you can’t, and sometimes you have more than one thing – we hope the book serves as a resource to both empower and reassure people that they can do this!  

Everyone’s Got Something: My First Year with Celiac Disease, Part 1

Darcy, Hallie, Rayna, and friends volunteering at Habitat for Humanity.
Darcy’s friends have published a book!

Along with their mom Lori (shout out to the most wonderful Girl Scout  leader ever!), Hallie and Rayna Katzman have written a book about a very personal experience–Celiac Disease. I remember when Darcy’s friends received the diagnosis  as middle-schoolers. Now, as high school seniors, they can add authors to their lists of accomplishments.

Everyone’s Got Something: My First Year with Celiac Disease is geared toward tweens, teens, and parents, as well as people who’d like to understand more about Celiac Disease. It’s available on Amazon and portions of the proceeds will be donated to the Celiac Disease Foundation.

Lori says, “It has been a meaningful journey translating Hallie and Rayna’s longtime love for reading into writing a book that they hope can help others feel understood and less alone.”

I can’t wait to read it, hon!

Synopsis of Everyone’s Got Something: My First Year with Celiac Disease

Thirteen-year-old Lexi hasn’t been growing as well as expected. In fact, she basically fell off her growth chart over the course of a year! Blood tests revealed “ABNORMAL, VERY ABNORMAL” results. As far as Lexi was concerned, there wasn’t much normal in her life already–par for the course for a newly minted teenager! Learning she had celiac disease gave her a whole new perspective on what’s normal and what’s not. After some ups and downs, Lexi learns how to make lifelong changes and realizes that although celiac disease is something she has, it does not define who she is. With supportive family and friends, Lexi comes to believe that she can “do this,” and she knows that you can, too!

This book is written by teen sisters, Rayna and Hallie Katzman, and their mother, Lori. They created the fictional character Lexi to describe what life was like for them that first year after being diagnosed with celiac disease. In journal entry form, Rayna and Hallie describe how Lexi handles the many “firsts” she encountered in the doctor’s office and with friends and family. The authors’ intention is that readers feel understood, less alone, and more confident in managing this life change.

Be sure to check out some of the “extras” the book has to offer: what to look for on ingredient labels, “BIG” word definitions, questions to ask at a restaurant, the best brownie recipe ever, insight from a mom, and the chance to start your own journal!
Coming up:  Q & A with Hallie and Rayna.

Book Launch Buddies!

from left to right: Guy Olivieri, Paula Cohen Martin, Linda Kujawski, Yvonne Ventresca, Laurie Wallmark, Cathy Daniels, Jeanne Balsam, me.
I recently joined Laurie Wallmark for the launch of her new picture book biography, Hedy Lamarr’s Double Life, Hollywood Legend and Brilliant Inventor at The Book Garden in Frenchtown, NJ. It was so nice to see other SCBWI peeps at the book launch. So wonderful and supportive! And I have to get back to Frenchtown–so cute!
From Laurie’s site:
HEDY LAMARR’S DOUBLE LIFEMeet savvy scientist and inventor Hedy Lamarr, also known for her career as a glamorous international movie star. Dubbed “The Most Beautiful Woman in the World,” Hedy actually preferred spending time creating inventions in her workshop to strutting down the red carpet. Hedy co-invented the technology know as frequency hopping, which turned out to be one of the most important scientific breakthroughs of the twentieth century! Today’s cell phone, computers, and other electronic devices would be more vulnerable to hacking without the groundbreaking system discovered by a world-famous actress and gifted inventor.



Skype-a-Thon with Second and Fourth Graders

California Connection

Sometimes a week is just a week, and sometimes you do something awesome like Skype with second and fourth graders at Stagg Street Elementary School in the LAUSD (Los Angeles Unified School District)!

Shout out to Vickie Waite, ITF, Instructional Technology Initiative who reached out to me through Microsoft Educator. I read chapters from The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, and we discussed what makes the book fantasy. I read chapters from two The Terrible Two books by Jory John and Mac Barnett, and we discussed what makes the books humorous. The kids prepared questions, asking where I get story ideas, do I have a favorite manuscript, who is my favorite author, and what’s it like to be a writer? Then the kids met Lucy! Fun! 

According to Waite, our session was “timed for the Skype-a-Thon, which provided much-needed funding for impoverished countries calculated on the cumulative miles Skyped.”

The Microsoft Education site reported that 23,629,665 virtual miles were traveled!

“Hundreds of thousands of students, teachers and guest speakers in 102 countries gathered over Skype and in 48 hours helped raise the funds needed to educate up to 35,000 children in need in WE Villages – supporting UN Sustainable Development Goal Quality Education.

It was amazing!”