Monday, May 15, 2017

5 with Laurel Snyder--Author of Orphan Island

"Nine on an island, orphans all, any more, the sky might fall."

Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder pulled me in from the very first page. It begins with the ringing of a bell, and we learn that Jinny's life on the perfect island with the other 8 orphans is a about to change. The small green boat with a new orphan has arrived again. Every arrival on the island also means a departure--the Elder orphan, Jinny's best friend Deen, must leave. Now Jinny is the Elder with the newest, youngest arrival "her Care."

Orphan Island has a beauty in the language that begs you to linger paired with a story that compels you to race ahead. Since finishing I find my mind wandering back to the magic of the island. This is a book to treasure and share with many readers.

Today Author Laurel Snyder stopped by to answer my 5 questions.

On Sale: May 30, 2017

Welcome, Laurel, thank you so much for visiting LibLaura5!

1. Orphan Island is a very special book for readers. I understand it was a special book for you to write as well. What made writing Orphan Island unique?

Oh, thank you!

When I started writing poems and stories, I was 8 years old, and I wrote because I wanted to get the words and ideas. It was an entirely creative project. As I got older, and writing became my job, something in the process changed for me. It was still creative, but writing also began to feel like producing. Wordcounts and deadlines.

I knew that I wanted to get back to my 8 year old writer-self, and when I started Orphan Island, that was the goal. I sat down with a pencil and a yellow legal pad, and promised myself I wouldn’t think about writing a book I could sell, or pleasing an editor, or getting good reviews. It had to be personal. A book I needed to get OUT.

So it felt important to go back to the tools of childhood. To step away from my laptop.  I was actually talking about this with Emily Hughes (who is illustrating another book of mine) yesterday, and she said something about how important the sound of a pencil scratching on the page can be.  That feels true to me. That I wanted to call back the ghost of what it felt like to write when I was a kid. And that tactile sensations like sound or smell are probably helpful in that.

2. The Island… is not a place you can ever revisit.

3. Do you believe in magic?

I do!  

Well, I mean that I believe in the potential for magic. I believe in the potential for anything to happen. I have never seen a unicorn, but I refuse to rule out the possibility of unicorns. It seems to me that science is what we call magic when we figure out a way to explain it.

4. What question have you been asked the most by Orphan Island readers so far?

Oh, everyone keeps asking me what happens next. The book leaves a lot of questions unanswered. It’s interesting how people respond to that ambiguity in different ways.

The book that was really the initial inspiration for Orphan Island was The Little Prince. I remember talking with my kids about it after we finished reading, and they spent hours discussing the ending. Did the prince die? Did he go home? How could he have gotten there? How far was his home?  Was the snake evil? That book drove them nuts, but it also inspired so many great conversations.

5. Sharing the books we love is a way we share about ourselves and connect with each other. What is one book that has been important in your life?

One of my favorite all-time books is Dicey’s Song, by Cynthia Voigt. I think about it more and more, as the years go by. It’s so sophisticated, emotionally. And yet the book feels simple.

It’s really just about this girl living her daily life. The sophistication comes from allowing all aspects of that life into the book. It isn’t ABOUT boys, but there’s a boy. It isn’t ABOUT responsibility or family loyalty or anger or poverty or abandonment or social unease, but all that stuff is in there. The book trembles and bristles, the way I remember trembling and bristling in those years.

I’m very focused right now on the need for more good upper middle grade. I could spend an hour talking about it, but I feel like it’s a gap we need to fill. Dicey’s Song is one of my models for what upper middle grade can be.

Thanks again for visiting LibLaura5!
Thanks for having me!

Orphan Island Teaching Guide

Visit Laurel Snyder's Website:

Find Orphan Island on...

May 20: Book Monsters

Monday, May 1, 2017

5 with James Ponti--Author of Framed!

Framed! by James Ponti is the first book in a fun and fast-paced mystery series about two friends Florian and Margaret who solve mysteries using T.O.A.S.T (the Theory of All Small Things). I flew through Framed! and an early copy of book #2 Vanished! and have found myself T.O.A.S.T.-ing ever since.

Today Author James Ponti stopped by to answer my 5 questions.

In Paperback May 2nd

Watch for Vanished! this August
Welcome, James, and thanks for visiting LibLaura5!

Thank you so much, Laura! It’s a real treat for me.

1. First, T.O.A.S.T (the Theory of All Small Things) is how your characters Florian and Margaret solve mysteries--Where did T.O.A.S.T. come frome?

The idea of T.O.A.S.T. is that people lie and deceive in big, overt ways but often overlook smaller details about themselves that are inconsistent with those deceptions. So if you skip the obvious and only add up the details, it can expose otherwise hidden truths.
I think I’ve been on the lookout for clues and little details ever since I read the Encyclopedia Brown books as a kid. But T.O.A.S.T., as it is in the books, is the product of being stuck in airports for my day job as a television producer. I’ve spent way too much time in terminals waiting for flights. One of the ways I pass the time is to study the people around me and try to see what I can figure out about them that they might not realize is evident. It’s not meant in a prying way, but more as a fun mental challenge. But in this game was born the concept for the mystery series.

As to the name T.O.A.S.T., I wish I had some great origin story about eating breakfast, looking at a piece of toast, and having a eureka moment; but it was much more mundane. I’m a big fan of acronyms and thought it would be good if I came up with one for this so that they could discuss it in dialogue. I said to myself, “Theory of All Small Things - TOAST.” It was pretty boring.

As a side note, I do love the name they use for the French editions. My request was that the acronym be something silly or food-related and the translator came up with GRATIN - Guide de Recerche et Analyse de Tout Indice Negligeable. So, in France, it literally is cheesy.

Reading in front of the self-portrait of van Gogh
where Florian first teaches Margaret about TOAST

2. After I read Framed! I found myself starting to use T.O.A.S.T. 
Do you use T.O.A.S.T.?

I use T.O.A.S.T. all the time, although now it’s usually a case of me looking for ways that Florian and Margaret can use it in the books. That is the hardest part of writing these mysteries because they use it all the time and I want to make the examples varied and different.

What I love, and was completely unexpected, is that I’ve had people tell me that their kids use it. Stuart Gibbs, who writes the Spy School books, is a friend and wrote a blurb for Framed! so he got it early and the next time we talked he said his kids were playing T.O.A.S.T. all the time.

With Marcie in St. Paul, Minnesota
Near the hometown of Liblaura5!

3. Florian and Margaret are such wonderful characters and great friends. Is there any of them that came from you or those in your life?

For me the entire series is about Florian and Margaret’s friendship. The foundation of that friendship is that Margaret sees in Florian all that is special that everyone else, including Florian, overlooked. She understands him better than anyone ever has. And while Margaret is more socially skilled and a star athlete, she has zero interest in being popular, which she sees as superficial. She is about substance and Florian sees in her the far more important characteristics that make her amazing. I think that’s the same dynamic of the relationship I have with my wife who I met in college nearly thirty years ago. So that’s probably a big part of the inspiration.

As to their individual character traits, Florian borrows pretty heavily from my son and me. Awkward on the surface, but a friend for life. Clever, but sometimes too clever for his own good. While Margaret is a mix of what I imagine my wife was like in middle school combined with the confidence, athleticism, and intelligence I see as a hallmark of the current generation of girls.

4. Washington D.C. is almost its own character in your books. What was your process for creating such a rich setting?

I LOVE Washington, D.C. I have ever since I was a kid and have taken countless trips there. I also feel like the city belongs to all of the people, so it’s relatable to readers everywhere. As a writer of kid mysteries, however, Washington is a treasure trove.

There is an endless stream of international characters who pass through the city. There are oddities, such as the law that makes embassy grounds a foreign country. There is a superb mass transit system, which allows my characters access to the entire city without having to call their parents for a ride. And, perhaps best of all, there are so many iconic cultural institutions that provide settings that are both practical and meaningful. So I get to set the mystery in Framed! around the National Gallery of Art among masterpieces of French Impressionism. And I get to set book 2, Vanished!, at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, which brings along its own history and symbolism.

The Romanian embassy while I visited researching Framed! There was someone working at the entrance. When I asked if I could peek in, they were not happy about it. Maybe they knew the Romanians weren't the heroes in this story.

As to the process, I’m a firm believer in research and try to be thorough. The characters in the book go to Alice Deal Middle School, which is in fact a real school in Washington. I work in conjunction with the school and try to go there once a year so the kids feel ownership in the books. They tell me about their lives and show me around the school so I can get that part right.

The entrance to Alice Deal Middle School where Florian and Margaret are students

I also travel around the city looking for settings and talking to people at these various institutions. For example, the Kennedy Center gave me a behind the scenes tour as I was writing Vanished! This not only helped me create a more vivid setting but it also sparked plot points for the mystery.

Backstage at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts during my research trip for Vanished!

5. Sharing the books we love is a way we share about ourselves and connect with each other. What is one book that has been important in your life?

I think the one book that has been most important in my life was From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. I was quite the reluctant reader as a kid, but for some reason this book slipped through the cracks and captured my imagination. I loved the adventure and the fact that the settings were real and these traits have been part of both series that I’ve written. It’s so ingrained in my writing DNA that I’m sure it had something to do with the museum elements of Framed!

Interestingly, when my first book, Dead City, was published I wanted to send a copy to E.L. Konigsburg to tell her that I would never have written it if it hadn’t been for her. Much to my surprise, I learned that she lived in my hometown of Atlantic Beach, Florida and had been there throughout my entire childhood.

Thanks, James! 
I'm am excited to hear that book 3 of the series is already in the works!

Visit James Ponti's Website:

Find Framed! on...

Friday, April 7, 2017

PCS Reads - Episode 17 with Author Judith Robbins Rose

Author Judith Robbins Rose visits PCS Reads and shares about her book Look Both Ways in the Barrio Blanco.

Episode 17:
(Don't see the embedded audio player below? Click here)

More about the Podcast PCS Reads at

Mentioned in Episode 17:

Recommended by Judith Robbins Rose:

Music used in the episode:
Dirt Bike Lovers, The Envelope and Wingspan by Blue Dot Sessions

Friday, March 31, 2017

Megan McDonald Webcast May 3rd

Be sure to scroll down for details on the FREE webcast with Megan McDonald and enter the giveaway for a Box set of Judy Moody books!

My school considers Megan McDonald an extra special author, and we have been incredibly lucky to have visited with her in person a few times over the years.

Dedication in Judy Moody Predicts the Future-
to the readers at our school
and our previous school librarian

When Judy Moody first came on the scene in her mood--not a good mood, a bad mood--o
ur readers and teachers fell in love with the feisty and imaginative 3rd grader

Original artwork by Peter H. Reynolds hanging in the Parkview Library

It's been 17 years, and the Judy Moody and Stink series remain staple favorites for our reading community--well loved and well read. Rare!!

Note recently found in Judy Moody book #1

We are so excited to be able to connect with Megan McDonald through Candlewick's free webcast this spring.

Judy Moody Doll by MerryMakers

Connect your students with Megan McDonald this Spring for FREE!

Candlewick Press is hosting a free webcast to schools with 
author, Megan McDonald

The webcast will take place at 1 PM EST on May 3rd, 2017.  
Send in questions both in advance and LIVE via Twitter on the day.
Only requirement to participate: high speed internet

 STEP 1 

Sign up for the webcast here:

REGISTER for a Megan McDonald Virtual Author Event and LIVE Webcast - Rare!!

Candlewick Press Presents An Exclusive LIVE Webcast With Beloved Children's Book Author Megan McDonald Wednesday May 3rd 1p.m. ET Author of the wildly popular Judy Moody series, the Stink books, and The Sisters Club trilogy Winner of the Children's Choice Book Award Sign up now!

(Don't see the sign up form? Click here: )

 STEP 2 

Enter to win a box set of Judy Moody books for your webcast event.

Giveaway ends Wednesday April 12, 2017 at 11:59 PM

Visit the Judy Moody Website:

 Visit Stink's Website:

Visit Megan McDonald's Website:

Monday, March 20, 2017

5 with Elana K Arnold - Author of A Boy Called BAT

A Boy Called BAT is a tender story about Bixby Alexander Tam, known as Bat, who is determined to be a good caretaker for an orphaned skunk kit.

Today author Elana K. Arnold stopped by to answer my 5 questions. 

Enjoy today's interview below and be sure to scroll down to enter the giveaway for a signed copy of A Boy Called BAT.

Welcome, Elana, and thank you for stopping by LibLaura5 to answer my 5 questions!

1. I love BAT because he reminds me of many students I have known through my teaching career. How did his character come to you?
I had dropped my daughter off at rehearsal and was driving to a coffee shop to do some work while I waited for her. It was night, and I was in the turn lane waiting for my light to turn green. And then, a name came to me: Bixby Alexander Tam. In an instant, even before the light turned, I realized that the initials of his name formed a word—BAT—and that this name was perfect for him because I knew that he loved animals, that he had bat-like qualities, and that I loved him.
2. Skunks are …adorable, and fluffy, and also nearsighted and bumblingly slow.

3. What is the most unusual animal you have had for a pet?
We had the great pleasure of being the caretakers of Vegas, Ferret of the World, so called because he was the best ferret to ever, ever live. For ten years, he leapt after yelping children, nipping at their ankles; he wrestled with Sherman, our cockapoo; he slept in my sweater drawer; he stole and hid rubber duckies. He was deaf and rather stinky, yes, and he never did quite work out the intricacies of the litterbox, but he was an Arnold through and through.

4. I was thrilled to discover that A Boy Called BAT is the first in a series. Is there anything you can share about what will be coming in the future?
Yes! I’m excited to share that the second book in the series, BAT AND THE WAITING GAME, will be out next year. Here are a few words about it:
For Bixby Alexander Tam (nicknamed Bat), life is pretty great.  He’s the caretaker of the best baby skunk in the world—even Janie, his older sister, is warming up to Thor.   When Janie gets a part in the school play and can’t watch Bat after school, it means some pretty big changes.  Someone else has to take care of the skunk kit in the afternoons, Janie is having sleepovers with her new friends, and Bat wants everything to go back to normal.  He just has to make it to the night of Janie’s performance... Elana K. Arnold returns with another story of friendship starring an unforgettable boy called Bat.

5. Sharing the books we love is one way we share about ourselves and connect with each other. What is one book you loved as a child?
When I was a young reader, I adored Beverly Cleary’s RAMONA books. I couldn’t have clearly explained then why the books were important to me, but now I can see it’s because Cleary allowed the things that are a big deal to young people to feel like a big deal; she didn’t try to talk Ramona (or her readers) out of feeling big, messy feelings. Ramona feels angry and upset and affronted about things that some adults would say weren’t big deals, that the kid should have more perspective or just “get over it.” But Cleary allowed her young heroine to stew in those feelings and work through them on her own terms, something I aim to do with Bat.

ENTER to win a signed copy of A Boy Called BAT!

Visit Elana K. Arnold's website:

Find A Boy Called BAT on...

Visit the other stops on the A Boy Called BAT Blog Tour:

March 30 LitCoachLou