April 12, 2016

Monday, February 1, 2016

Amok No More

As of 2/1/16, I will be blogging at Find me there for Poetry Friday posts, author interviews, and updates about my books for middle grade readers.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Poetry Friday: Goodbye to Author Amok

This week's host is Catherine
at Reading to the Core.
Happy Poetry Friday, friends.

After nearly eight years here at Author Amok, I am moving! As of February 1, I will be blogging and participating in Poetry Friday at my new website

There are a few housekeeping items to share before I pack up for good.

First, the annual daily writing prompt project is on for 2016.

This year's theme is FOUND OBJECTS. I invite you to join this community project. The focus is on writing every day (or as often as you can) and sharing the results with our fellow poets and authors -- an opportunity to focus on drafting and to turn off our inner-editors for one month. We always have a great time with this project and there are prizes for contributors.

You'll find more information about the project at this post. And here is a sneak preview of our first writing prompt, contributed by Robyn Hood Black.

This year, we're going to focus
on using multi-sensory images
in our daily writing workout.
If you'd like to contribute a poem, please leave it in the comments of this post. Be sure to specify that this is your DAY 1 found object poem.

Second, MYRA of Gathering Books is the winner of the MY CRUEL INVENTION book giveaway. Myra -- please get in touch with me via email so I can send out your book.

Third, an update on my book launch. THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY will be published on April 12. I'm excited to have a book birthday during National Poetry Month. The Poetry Friday community has been so supportive of this project.

In the weeks leading up to NPM, I'll be introducing the Emerson E.S. fifth graders at the new blog. I came across this poem today, which was cut from the novel. Newt Mathews is an amphibian-loving, rule-following student who shares in his poems how Asperger's Syndrome affects his writing. Mr. White is his aide.

Newt is at the bottom right
wearing his favorite frog T-shirt.
Sound Poem
By Newt Mathews

Buzz! Beep!
Goodbye sleep.
Time to get out of bed.

Honk! Zoom!
Rumble! Vroom!
Time for the bus to come.

Rush. Zing!
The late bell rings.
Time to take my seat.

Scritch, scratch.
Quiet at last.

Mr. White helps me write a poem.

Last, I thought it would be fun to reprint something from my very first blog post, from August of 2008. I was just back from a creativity workshop with master storyteller Odds Bodkin.

This Week’s Writing Exercise (Appropriate for All Ages and Levels)

Don’t Write! Imagine

We often ask students, and ourselves, to be imaginative when writing. But imagination without boundaries can be uncomfortable. After all, our imaginations produce nightmares. Here is one of Odds’ best recommendations from the storytelling workshop: when you’re asking someone to use his/her imagination, start with a familiar setting to warm-up those mental muscles. So, put away the notebook and pencil while you try this exercise in sensory imagination (adapted from Odds Bodkin’s workshop). You can take notes later. 

Sit quietly, close your eyes and imagine that you are in your bedroom. Your bare feet are standing on a low marble pedestal. Turn slowly – 360 degrees – and take in every detail of the room. Not just the pictures on the walls and the colors of the bed spread, but also any smells, and the temperature of the air. You notice a light coming from under the bed. Filled with curiosity, you step off the pedestal. You move the bed aside with one hand – it’s as light as an empty box and glides across the floor. There, where you expected to see carpet or planks of wood, is a window. What a strange place for a window! How can sunlight be shining through a window in your floor? You kneel down beside the window and see… this is the tricky part, writers. Without composing a story, let your imagination see, feel, hear, taste and smell whatever is beyond that window. Let us know what’s out there.

Thank you all! Blogging at Author Amok has been an adventure. It's been wonderful to have so many traveling companions.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Poetry Friday: My Cruel Invention Giveaway

Happy Poetry Friday, everyone! Let's celebrate the end of a week during which the cruelest invention, Death, took the lives of cultural icon David Bowie, poet C. D. Wright, and actor/ heartthrob (at least to me) Alan Rickman.

Where is the poetry action this week?
At Keri Recommends!
I recommend you visit her site
for more Poetry Friday goodness.
This week, I am giving away a copy of the new poetry anthology MY CRUEL INVENTION to one lucky reader. Post a comment to be entered into the drawing. The book is "An outstanding collection of poetry about inventions and inventors, real and imagined," edited by poet Bernadette Geyer. [Quoted from back cover.]

More about the book in a moment. First, a few important announcements for fans of Author Amok.

First: I'm moving my blogging HQ to my newly refurbished website. I'll continue to post Poetry Friday entries here at Author Amok through January 29. As of February 1, you'll find me at my new blog.

Second: I am hosting the fourth (wow!) annual daily poetry prompt this February, with some help from my friends. The theme this year is FOUND OBJECTS. You will find a full explanation of this year's daily poem project at my new location. Past daily poem projects and National Poetry Month series will remain here at Author Amok, so you'll still be able to access those posts.

Now, on to MY CRUEL INVENTION. This cover! The Green Man goes Steampunk.

Find out more on Goodreads.
Check out some of the poem titles from this gorgeous little collection:

"The Rube Goldberg Contraption for Kissing" by Karen Skolfield
"Jekyll's Apology," by Kathryn Rickel
"A Physics Haiku," by Keith Stevenson
"I am a Geothermal Heat-Pump" by Nolan Liebert
"Dance with Rocket Shoes" by Alex Dreppect
"Edison's Elephant, 1903," by Tanis MacDonald
"Catherine de Medici and the High Hell" by Marcela Sulak
"Cadaver Feet" by Karen Bovenmyer

One of my postcard poems, "Eyes on the Back of My Head" is also anthologize here.

I reached out to poet Marjorie Maddox, who has given me permission to share one of my favorite selections from the book with you. I love how time travel underscores the layered interactions between parent and child in this poem.

H.G. Who?
by Marjorie Maddox

"I'm going back in the time machine;

I'll be right back," my daughter hollers
from the backyard when it's time
to set the table. I let her go
off into that world of minutes
cartwheeling backwards
and upside down into the oblivion
of imagination I once knew
in that past she's hurtling toward.
I stay where the seconds click
toward pot roast and green beans,
which she'll later leave on her plate,
off to visit the  moon
or that strange new solar system
calling to be discovered.

First published in The Same 10, no. 1, 2012. Posted with express permission of the author. All rights reserved.

You can learn more about Marjorie Maddox and her work at Or check out her book of poems LOCAL NEWS FROM SOMEPLACE ELSE, which includes "H.G. Who?"

Available from Amazon.
Would you like a copy of MY CRUEL INVENTION to call your own? Leave a comment -- that's all you have to do. I'll choose a winner on Wednesday, January 20.

See you in the stratosphere, fellow travelers. There's a starman, waiting in the sky.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Laura's Bookshelf: COUNTING THYME

Happy New Year! I am so excited that 2016 is here, at last.

It's the first Poetry Friday of 2016!
Mary Lee is hosting our New Year's Party
at A Year of Reading.

Being part of a debut author group has given me behind-the-scenes insights and previews of so many great books coming out this year.

One of those books is COUNTING THYME, by Melanie Conklin.

This middle grade novel is about a family who moves from California to New York City, so the youngest of the three Owens siblings can be part of a cancer drug trial. The narrator is middle child Thyme (all three sibs are named for spices). Thyme is a super-feeler. She struggles with balancing her grief about moving away from her home, her grandmother and her best friend, with her hope that moving across the country will extend little brother Val’s life.

Because this is Thyme’s story, Val’s illness – while important – is only a part of the narrative. Thyme has to deal with adjusting to a new school and classmates, living in an apartment building for the first time, and navigating a busy city. All of these elements work together to create a realistic portrait of a loving family going through the highs and lows of an extended crisis together. I especially liked that the finale of the book is about Thyme’s growth, and that some important threads of the story are left, believably, open-ended.

Check out Melanie's blog post,
"Focus on the Good Stuff in 2016."
You'll find printables to create
an achievement jar similar to Thyme's.
COUNTING THYME debuts on April 12. Here is the blurb from Goodreads:

Newbery-winning Rules meets Counting by 7s in this affecting story of a girl’s devotion to her brother and what it means to be home

When eleven-year-old Thyme Owens’ little brother, Val, is accepted into a new cancer drug trial, it’s just the second chance that he needs. But it also means the Owens family has to move to New York, thousands of miles away from Thyme’s best friend and everything she knows and loves. The island of Manhattan doesn’t exactly inspire new beginnings, but Thyme tries to embrace the change for what it is: temporary.

After Val’s treatment shows real promise and Mr. Owens accepts a full-time position in the city, Thyme has to face the frightening possibility that the move to New York is permanent. Thyme loves her brother, and knows the trial could save his life—she’d give anything for him to be well—but she still wants to go home, although the guilt of not wanting to stay is agonizing. She finds herself even more mixed up when her heart feels the tug of new friends, a first crush, and even a crotchety neighbor and his sweet whistling bird. All Thyme can do is count the minutes, the hours, and days, and hope time can bring both a miracle for Val and a way back home.

With equal parts heart and humor, Melanie Conklin’s debut is a courageous and charming story of love and family—and what it means to be counted.

There’s a book giveaway running at Goodreads right now! Click on this link for your chance to win a copy of COUNTING THYME .

Who will like it?
  • Children 9 and up who are curious about living in a big city.
  • Readers who are learning how to handle transitions
  • Foodies young and old!

What will readers learn about?
  • The sacrifices and changes that happen when a member of a family is seriously ill.
  • Patience and a positive attitude can help when you’re going through a difficult transition.
  • Food is a way of sharing with and caring about each other.

I’m pairing two poems with COUNTING THYME and both have to do with food. Over the course of the novel, Thyme learns that food is a wonderful way to show you care about someone. There’s a great character in COUNTING THYME who’s the Italian aunt version of Downton Abbey’s Mrs. Patmore. The dishes she makes for Thyme, the Owens family, and a cranky neighbor had my mouth watering.

A good portion of the story takes place over the winter holidays, so first up is Babara Crooker’s poem “After the Holidays.”

After the Holidays
Barbara Crooker

the house settles back into itself,
wrapped up in silence, a robe
around its shoulders.  Nothing
is roasting in the oven or cooling
on the countertops.  No presents
are waiting to be wrapped, no cards
fill the mouth of the mailbox.
All is calm, all is bright, sunlight
glinting off snow.  No eggnog, no yule
log, no letters to be licked
and stamped. No more butter
cookies, no more fudge, just miles
to go on the treadmill, another round
plate added to the weight machine.
All our good intentions pave the road.
We stride out into the new year,
resolute to become firm, to define
our muscles, to tighten our borders…
Read the rest at Your Daily Poem.

Of course, I couldn’t resist including Shel Silverstein poem entitled “Italian Food.”

Italian Food
by Shel Silverstein

Oh, how I love Italian food.
I eat it all the time,
Not just 'cause how good it tastes
But 'cause how good it rhymes.
Minestrone, cannelloni,
Macaroni, rigatoni,
Spaghettini, scallopini,
Escarole, braciole,
Insalata, cremolata, manicotti,
Marinara, carbonara,
Shrimp francese, Bolognese...

Author Melanie Conklin and Cookies for Kids’ Cancer
are partnering to fight childhood cancer
through funding for groundbreaking research!
Melanie is running a great fundraiser to support the charity Cookies for Kids' Cancer. For every pre-order of COUNTING THYME, she will be making a donation! You can read more about the fundraiser here.

I hope your new year is sweet, everyone! I’ll be at ALA Midwinter next week, so I won’t be blogging. Look for my ALA report at Today’s Little Ditty at the end of January.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Laura's Bookshelf: FENWAY AND HATTIE

Happy Poetry Friday and Merry Christmas to those who celebrate!

Ring in the winter holiday season
with your poetry friends!
Irene Latham is hosting
this week's poetry links
at Live Your Poem.
One of the biggest gifts my family received this year was this guy:

I stopped by a local animal shelter on a whim, told someone I was looking for a mellow older dog to be a companion for our Schnauzer Sam, and was quickly matched with an overweight, "can I go back to sleep yet?" Beagle mix. Introductions were made. When I brought Rudy home to my husband – Happy Anniversary and surprise! here is the dog I wanted -- he had bald spots on his tail, a gash on his ear, parasites in his lungs, and 20 pounds to lose. 

Rudy is as mellow and companionable as advertised. The parasites are gone, but his snores still shake the walls. We all laugh at his antics, especially the time this now-50-pound dog (he’s down about 10) decided to take over little Sam’s bed.

Since I am now the dog mama of two goofy boys, I couldn’t wait to read FENWAY AND HATTIE.

One of the best parts about being a debut novelist has been connecting with other children's and YA authors in the class of 2016. FENWAY AND HATTIE, by Victoria J. Coe, is one of the Advanced Reader’s Copies (ARCs) making the rounds of my author group.

This super cute early middle grade novel is told in the voice of a young Jack Russell Terrier named Fenway. Fenway is devoted to his girl, Hattie. It’s his job to protect Hattie and her family from intruders, like the ones who arrive one day and TAKE ALL THEIR STUFF! Is it a robbery? Only in Fenway’s doggie mind. In actuality, the family is moving from the city to the suburbs.

Fenway sees Hattie through a somewhat rocky adjustment to her new neighborhood. He’s got his own adjustments to make. Exuberant Fenway begins training, and has to learn that Hattie is not just his loving human, but also the One in Charge. (I feel your frustration, Hattie. I’ve learned from our Sam that terrier breeds have BIG personalities.)

Fenway and Hattie both begin making the transition to adolescence in the pages of this funny book. Just as Hattie must practice to control her throwing arm --she hopes to play baseball--, Fenway must practice to control his fear of THE WICKED FLOOR. (Sam feels your pain, Fenway. Slippery floors are no fun. When your front legs are running and your back legs are suddenly skittering off in another direction? The indignity!)

Find it on Indiebound.

FENWAY AND HATTIE debuts in February. Here is the blurb from Goodreads:

This lovable new series introduces a little dog with a GIANT personality! 

Fenway is an excitable and endlessly energetic Jack Russell terrier. He lives in the city with Food Lady, Fetch Man, and—of course—his beloved short human and best-friend-in-the-world, Hattie. 

But when his family moves to the suburbs, Fenway faces a world of changes. He’s pretty pleased with the huge Dog Park behind his new home, but he’s not so happy about the Evil Squirrels that taunt him from the trees, the super-slippery Wicked Floor in the Eating Room, and the changes that have come over Hattie lately. Rather than playing with Fenway, she seems more interested in her new short human friend, Angel, and learning to play baseball. His friends in the Dog Park next door say Hattie is outgrowing him, but that can’t be right. And he’s going to prove it!

Get a dog’s-eye view of the world in this heartwarming, enthusiastic “tail” about two best friends.

FENWAY AND HATTIE is a middle grade novel, appropriate for second grade and up (younger as a read aloud).

Who will like it?
·                     Animal lovers and pet owners.
·                     Kids who think physical comedy is hysterical.
·                     Readers who are learning how to handle transitions

What will readers learn about?
·                     What it’s like to view the world from a dog’s-eye-view. 
·                     It takes time to adjust to change, whether you are a person or a dog.

The poem I’m pairing with FENWAY AND HATTIE is a dog’s-eye-view poem by my friend, Michael Salcman. It comes from his book THE ENEMY OF GOOD IS BETTER. In addition to being a poet and neurosurgeon, Michael is an art critic and collector. This wonderful ekphrastic poem was written in response to a painting by Henri Matisse.

Read about this painting at
the Baltimore Museum of Art's blog.
The Dog Speaks
                   --Interior with Dog (Matisse), 1934
By Michael Salcman

I’m only half-asleep so I know you’re standing there
Wondering if I’m asleep. Nope.
It’s not easy to rest under this table—
For one thing, there’s a strong downward slope
And gravity’s got me half tipped out of my basket
Like an apple by Cezanne.
Talk about a flat world!
For another, I can’t get way from these colors
The red floor tiles, orange table leg
And pink wall burning on my lids like the sun.
Then again I’m never alone; the kids think a gray dog is cute
And I’m the only dog in the room. I was bribed
(that’s my excuse) with a bone
And a bowl of fresh water. Really,
I wish you wouldn’t stare—it’s extra hard to be an icon
When you’re not an odalisque and have no hair.
Here’s the inside dope, he wore a vest when he painted them
But saved his housecoat for me. I liked sitting for him,
He was never rude and spared me his violin.
I think I look very dignified, not naked, just nude.

Merry Christmas from Rudy, Sam, and me!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Poetry Friday: Counting Down to 2016

Thanks to Diane Mayr
 at Random Noodling

for hosting this week's
Poetry Friday shenanigans.
Two weeks from today, we will be welcoming a new year. There are so many unexpected surprises ahead of us. But there are also events we are looking forward to. Maybe you have a wedding, a new baby in the family, or a long-planned trip that will finally happen in 2016.

For me, 2016 marks my debut as a middle grade author. It's been so much fun to share the journey from draft to final book with my Poetry Friday friends. You're all (almost) as excited as I am. How do I know that? This is what wonderful Irene Latham sent me for the Poetry Friday Holiday Swap.

A poetry collage!

The little finch card reminds me of a poem in my book where a girl is watching a cardinal and his mate prepare a nest in early spring. 

And wow -- this beautiful collage. Did Irene know there's a scene in my book where a character compares all the people in the hallways on International Night to a busy outdoor fruit and vegetable market? 

The steeple makes me think of my book's setting, in an aging school building. 

And I love how Irene used elements of THE LAST FIFTH GRADE OF EMERSON ELEMENTARY's cover in the collage. That's Brianna at the top right corner and Sloane near the bottom, by the button. 

I still haven't figured out what the mysterious writing says, but I'm intrigued.

Here is Irene's poem:

by Irene Latham

for Laura

Children march
through the streets
of this newly bound city,

offer their stories
like farmers at the market:
Pomegranate? Papaya?

Here a syllable, there a stanza,
soon words rise like steeples
across a white paper sky --

spring breeze tickles,
whispers, welcome,
we've been waiting for you.

Poem shared with permission of the author.

And here is an excerpt from a poem in my book, "Faces," in the voice of Norah Hassan:

... Tonight, our school
reminds me of shopping in the Old Jerusalem market.
... Fifty types of peppers to eat!
Pale green, yellow as a lemon, dark brown, red,
each with a different flavor.
On International Night,

the halls are as noisy as an outdoor market.

Thank you, Irene, for helping me celebrate my book's upcoming debut with such a beautiful poem of welcome. I'm honored!

Thursday, December 3, 2015


Happy Poetry Friday. This week, I'm pausing to think about my friends who struggle with the holidays. 

Festive occasions are especially challenging when we've suffered a recent loss. The grandmother, son, or friend who always told the best jokes at gatherings, made homemade blueberry pie, or gave warm, comforting hugs is absent from the festivities for the first time.

Let's gather together for the comfort
of friendship and poetry
at Buffy Silverman's blog this week.

One of the best parts about being a debut novelist has been connecting with other children's and YA authors in the class of 2016. We’ve had a great time sharing each other’s Advanced Reader’s Copies (ARCs). Several weeks ago, I read Jen Maschari's middle grade novel THE REMARKABLE JOURNEY OF CHARLIE PRICE.

is available for pre-order.

From the moment I opened this book, Charlie felt like a real kid. He's got the in-betweenness of a middle schooler, used to being a goofy little kid, but trying to be a wiser, smarter (and smart aleckier sometimes) adolescent. There's a heaviness to Charlie, despite the natural good humor that peeks through the restrained demeanor he shows to adults and friends. Charlie's mother has recently died of cancer, and loss is where he lives. 

If you don't think loss can be a setting, as well as an emotion, consider the ways that losing a parent affects a young family. Meals can never measure up to the ones prepared by Charlie's mom, nor can they be eaten as an intact family. Dad, engrossed with his work as a way to manage his own depression, forgets to help Charlie and his younger sister Imogen with everyday chores like laundry and packing lunches. Every little detail of their warm, but increasingly neglected home, is drawn to portray how the Price family's lives now, compared to how they used to be.
I found the use of magical realism in this novel to be an effective metaphor for grief. Charlie and his younger sister discover a portal to an alternate reality where their mother is invitingly alive. The more time they spend with this shadow mother, the less present they are in their real lives. By the time Charlie recognizes the danger, he must reach out and accept help from others in order to rescue his sister. To me, the portal world (under Imogen's bed) was symbolic of the ways that grief can pull us down until we feel that we are hardly alive ourselves.

THE REMARKABLE JOURNEY OF CHARLIE PRICE debuts in February. Here is the blurb from Goodreads:
A heartfelt, beautifully written novel of love, loss, and math—perfect for fans of Rebecca Stead and Sharon M. Draper.

Ever since twelve-year-old Charlie Price's mom died, he feels like his world has been split into two parts. Before included stargazing and Mathletes and Saturday scavenger hunts with his family. After means a dad who's completely checked out, comically bad dinners, and grief group that's anything but helpful. It seems like losing Mom meant losing everything else he loved, too.

Just when Charlie thinks things can't get any worse, his sister, Imogen, starts acting erratically—missing school and making up lies about their mother. But everything changes when one day he follows her down a secret passageway in the middle of her bedroom and sees for himself.

Imogen has found a parallel world where Mom is alive!

There's hot cocoa and Scrabble and scavenger hunts again and everything is perfect . . . at first. But something doesn't feel right. Whenever Charlie returns to the real world, things are different, and not in a good way. And Imogen wants to spend more and more time on the other side. It's almost as if she wants to leave the real world for good. If Charlie doesn't uncover the truth, he could lose himself, the true memory of their mother, and Imogen . . . forever.
THE REMARKABLE JOURNEY OF CHARLIE PRICE is a middle grade novel, appropriate for third grade and up. Because of the subject matter, younger readers will find it helpful to discuss Charlie's story with an adult.
Who will like it?
  • Readers who like stories that blend fantasy and contemporary elements.
  • Kids who are beginning to ask about and understand the concept of grief.
  • Dog lovers. (Cover dog Ruby is quite a heroine!)
What will readers learn about?
  • People who are grieving need time before they are ready to engage in "normal life" again. 
  • Kids who have suffered a loss have lots of helpers they can reach out to: friends, teachers, counselors, even pets.
  • One way to cope with loss is to share memories of the person who has died.

There were many poems I thought of pairing with THE REMARKABLE JOURNEY OF CHARLIE PRICE. We often turn to poetry in times of loss, so there are wonderful poems on this theme. I like this one by poet and children's author Naomi Shihab Nye because it is powerful in its simplicity.

One Way or Another
By Naomi Shihab Nye

She is gone, where did she go?
He can’t imagine how the house will feel
when he enters it, moving room to room.
Now that the wait is over, a larger pause
will blanket the roof, softness settling
slowly down. By which window or door
may future days enter? 

You might also like the anthology THIS PLACE I KNOW: POEMS OF COMFORT, edited by Georgia Heard.

Candlewick has a PDF about the book here.