Every Missing Piece Book Release - Melanie Conklin

Maddy Gaines sees danger everywhere she looks: at the bus stop, around the roller rink, in the woods, and (especially) by the ocean. When Maddy meets a mysterious boy setting booby traps in the North Carolina woods, she suspects the worst.

Maddy is certain she's found Billy Holcomb-the boy who went missing in the fall. Except, maybe it's not him. It's been six months since he disappeared. And who will believe her anyway? Definitely not her mom or her stepdad . . . or the chief of police.

As Maddy tries to uncover the truth about Billy Holcomb, ghosts from her own past surface, her best friend starts to slip away, and Maddy's world tilts once again. Can she put the pieces of her life back together, even if some of them are lost forever?

Q: Hi! Welcome to Teachers Who Read!!! I am so excited about this new release Every Missing Piece! Can you first tell us a little bit about you as an author (and you as Melanie J
A: Hi, all! Every Missing Piece is my second novel for young readers. I started writing about seven years ago after a decade of work as a product designer. At the time, I had quit my job to spend some time at home with my kids while they were little. I had always been a big reader, so one day when I woke up with the idea for a story, I started writing during naptime. Unsurprisingly, that first attempt at writing a book was terrible, but I found my stride after a year or so and now I very much love writing for young readers.
Q: Before you answer the next few questions – can you tell us what Every Missing Piece is about in your own words.   
A: Every Missing Piece is about an eleven-year-old girl named Maddy who is the kind of child who worries about things going wrong. In fact, she’s even gained a reputation for calling the sheriff too much. As the story opens, Maddy becomes convinced that the new boy in her neighborhood is really a child who went missing six months prior!
Q: What was your biggest influence in creating the story line for Every Missing Piece?  
A: The longer I write, the more I see the same theme repeating in my stories: I tend to write about children who wish the adults in their lives would listen to them. I think that as a child, I often felt like adults didn’t take me seriously—at least, adults outside of my parents, who were always very open with me and answered all of my questions. I think because of their positive attitude, I found it strange that other adults would dismiss me just because I was a child. So I decided to write a story about a girl who is very determined to be taken seriously. Maddy has a voice that demands to be heard and I love her for it.
Q: I loved how you explored several different “issues” in Maddy’s life – her anxiety for example -   Where did your ability to address her anxiety come from?
A: I am an anxious person by nature. What’s interesting is that I didn’t understand this about myself until a few years ago. I always thought that maybe I was just short-tempered, but I actually get anxious pretty easily in social situations. In that way, my anxiety is different from Maddy’s, but we both share difficulty getting to sleep when our thoughts spiral with worry. I’ve learned to be kind to myself and recognize my limits as a person. I think that’s why Maddy’s mom is so wonderful. We all deserve family who recognize and respect our worries and respond with love.
Q: As someone who lost her father (almost two years ago now), the way you handled Maddy’s grief was very sensitive, almost elegant in a way – Does that come from a place of understanding, research, how did you know how to describe her grief in ways that weren’t overbearing for young readers?   
A: Oh, Cassie! I’ve cried many a times reading your eloquent posts about your father, may he rest in peace. I am very fortunate that my father is still with me, but I have encountered many children who have lost family members since Counting Thyme published (wherein the main character’s brother is battling cancer). There is nothing that prepares you for a child to walk up to you at a book festival and share their story of losing a family member. Their stories are gutting, and honest, and I very much wanted to honor their truths when I wrote Maddy’s story. As in THYME, Maddy’s family has been through some very tough circumstances, and I respect the complexity of her feelings about her father’s death. It’s hard to know how you should feel, and what I want young readers to know is that their feelings are valid, whatever they may be.
Q: Can you describe your revision/editing process for students? Also, do you start writing on paper/computer/etc?
A: After a lifetime spent drawing, I love writing on paper! I cherish my writing notebooks and scribble all over in them. However, I also type notes on my phone late at night or use voice-to-text to capture a thought when I am out. There is no correct way to write. It all counts! When I have a story idea, I jot it down in my IDEAS notebook. When I am ready to start turning an idea into a story, I use another notebook to collect my thoughts until I know everything there is to know about my character and their emotional journey. I don’t worry about the plot too much, though. I always have to make a lot of plot changes! I save that work for revision. After I have a draft of a story, I step back and make an outline of it to decide what needs to change to make the plot as engaging as it could be. I usually make those revisions on paper, though I do type my stories directly into the computer rather than writing long-hand.
Q: What advice would you give to middle grade students who are writing?  
A: First of all, if you are writing as a middle grade student, congratulations on writing! I encourage everyone to write, even if it just a daily journal/diary or a list of things that annoy you about your younger sibling. All writing is valuable! My biggest piece of advice is to be patient and kind to yourself when you are writing. It is good to dream big, but being mean to yourself never helps. It will just make you feel bad. So let your writing be a mess in your first draft. Make mistakes! Mark words out! Add spider legs to insert new sentences and ideas! The more playful you can be with your writing process, the more you will enjoy it. Everyone can be a writer if you let yourself try.
Q: Future middle grade projects that you are currently working on? 
A: I’m working on a new middle grade novel for Little, Brown that will come out sometime in the next few years. I’m hopeful that I can go just two years between novels this time. This story is very special to me, because it touches on ADHD and perfectionism, which are characteristics that run in my family as well. Hopefully I will have more to say about this story soon!
Q: What were your favorite books as a kid, and what do you recommend to middle grade classrooms?   
A: What were my favorite books? Is it fair to say ALL OF THEM? Lol! I was such a big reader as a child. I read everything I could get my hands on. Going to the public library was so exciting, and I always exceeded my checkout limit. Some of my fondest memories are of re-reading favorite titles such as Black Beauty, The Three Investigators series, and short stories by O. Henry. I even used my birthday money to buy an ancient anthology of his stories at a rummage sale! These days I love reading books by Erin Entrada Kelly, Rebecca Stead, and Jason Reynolds. They all write such powerful and evocative stories. I’m also looking forward to reading Butterfly Yellow by Thanhha Lai, Fighting Words by Kimberley Brubaker Bradley, and Some Places More Than Others by Renée Watson.

Check out her books here: Click on the image to purchase! 

Click on Every Missing Piece to preorder and Counting Thyme her debut to order. 

IMWAY ~ May 11th

Good morning everyone! How are you all doing? I am finally getting out of a rut I have been with reading and wrapping up online learning (we have 2 weeks left). I am excited for summer break to really just relax and focus on me, my family, and reading. I think I have done so much for online learning that my brain definitely need some time of no work!   

I have started to reread some of my favorite books (realistic fiction) to make a potential list of book for book clubs I will be doing with my students in the fall! 

Take a look at what Cassie, Haley, and I are reading this week. 

What are you reading this week? 

One Last Shot Blog Tour

Have you ever had students that you could tell were trying really hard to be into something that they just, well, weren't? I see it a lot in movies and TV shows - a teenage kid forcing himself to enjoy watching football because he wants to make that connection with his dad. As a teacher, and a parent, we all know how imperative those relationships are (meaning healthy, good relationships) with their parents. This is a story that addresses just that, and much, much more. 

Malcolm has never felt like he has good enough, for much really. He tried, he really did, but his parents were always at each other and Malcolm was well, caught in the middle. As I'm sure most of our own students are. In the end though, the connection he was missing the most, was with his dad. Considering he felt as though he didn't share any similarities with him - it drove a bigger wedge between them. Malcom's father was the typical up and coming sport star who never made it, so he puts all that pressure on Malcom. Which didn't work. 

THEN, Malcom discovers one thing he is good at - miniature golf. Not your typical go-to sport, but he enjoyed it, a lot. Malcom practices a lot, even gets lessons from a one time friend of his fathers with a wish-washy career as pro-golfer at one point in his life. 

Not only does Malcom find solace in playing miniature golf, but at the course he practices at he meets Lex. Malcom, who always struggled to make friends, clicks with Lex, who we find out also struggles in the friend making department. Everything seems to be coming together as his father is happier with Malcom, but his parents are still arguing. 

Malcom's father eventually signs him up for a tournament and then the plot really thickens - will Malcom be successful? Will he continue this upward slope of creating a relationship with his father? Will his parents stop bickering, or what will come from there? Will Malcolm be able to maintain a friendship considering he never has really before? 

I am genuinely impressed with the topics covered in One Last Shot - the title even gives space for a lot of reflection of how it relates to the deeper story line. Students of mine are going to be able to relate to parents bickering, to not feeling enough, and even to not being able to make friends easily. As a 5th grade teacher, I see that last one a lot more often that I ever really thought I would. I think as adults we just think, "Oh kids will make friends with anyone and keep friends," but for some that is most definitely not the case. I enjoy stories that provide that sense of understanding that it's okay, but a friend will come along. I also know that a lot of my students come from divorced families/separated/witness parents arguments, and they carry that with them. They expect that to be their fault always, when it hardly ever has anything to do with the kids themselves. 

Overall, I am so impressed. I can't wait to book talk and get into the hands of young readers. John David Anderson has quickly become a favorite author of mine. 

*Click this picture to purchase! Affiliated link!

About the book:

The beloved author of Ms. Bixby’s Last Day and Posted returns with a humorous, heartwarming story of family, friendship, and miniature golf.
For as long as he can remember, Malcolm has never felt like he was good enough. Not for his parents, who have always seemed at odds with each other, with Malcolm caught in between. And especially not for his dad, whose competitive drive and love for sports Malcolm has never shared.
That is, until Malcolm discovers miniature golf, the one sport he actually enjoys. Maybe it’s the way in which every hole is a puzzle to be solved. Or the whimsy of the windmills and waterfalls that decorate the course. Or maybe it’s the slushies at the snack bar. But whatever the reason, something about mini golf just clicks for Malcolm. And best of all, it’s a sport his dad can’t possibly obsess over.
Or so Malcolm thinks.
Soon he is signed up for lessons and entered in tournaments. And yet, even as he becomes a better golfer and finds unexpected friends at the local course, be wonders if he might not always be a disappointment. But as the final match of the year draws closer, the tension between Malcolm’s parents reaches a breaking point, and it’s up to him to put the puzzle of his family back together again.

About the Author

John David Anderson is the author of some of the most beloved and highly acclaimed books for kids in recent memory, including the New York Times Notable Book Ms. Bixby’s Last DayPostedGrantedSidekicked, and The Dungeoneers. A dedicated root beer connoisseur and chocolate fiend, he lives with his wonderful wife and two frawsome kids in Indianapolis, Indiana. He’s never eaten seven scoops of ice cream in a single sitting, but he thinks it sounds like a terrific idea. You can visit him online at www.johndavidanderson.org. ONE LAST SHOT  by John David Anderson, published by Walden Pond Press, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN: 978-0062643926

May 4   Nerdy Book Club
May 8    A Library Mama
                Kirsti Call
                Maria’s Mélange

Ways to Make Sunshine - Renee Watson Author Interview and Review

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Ryan Hart loves to spend time with her friends, loves to invent recipies, and has a lot on her mind—school, self-image, and family. Her dad finally has a new job, but money is tight. That means changes like selling their second car and moving into a new (old) house. But Ryan is a girl who knows how to make sunshine out of setbacks. Because Ryan is all about trying to see the best. Even when things aren’t all she would wish for—her brother is infuriating, her parents don’t understand, when her recipies don’t turn out right, and when the unexpected occurs—she can find a way forward, with wit and plenty of sunshine.

My review: 

The whole time I was reading I kept thinking this was written to be the next great series that kids can relate to, and then I read that it’s Renee’s version of Ramona Quimby series and I couldn’t be more excited. It ended where I have so many questions, but I know that Ryan’a stories are just beginning.

There were so many amazing themes intertwined, the most of all being to love who you were born to be.

My favorite quote from the ARC: “How you wear your hair is your choice and no matter what you choose, it’s not going to determine if you’re beautiful or not. The only thing that will determine that is how you treat others.”

Ryan is learning how to live up to her name that means “leader” and along the way she encounters fear, worry, jealousy, and many emotions she can’t quite play out. She hears her dads voice telling her to be a leader and she learns to think before she acts - great lessons to share and discuss in the classroom.

As a teacher, I also marked several spots for notice and note signposts!

Can’t wait for more of the Hart family! 

Q: Can you describe your revision/editing process for students? Also, do you start writing on paper/computer/etc?
A: I always start my first drafts by handwriting in my journal. There’s something about pen to paper for me that makes me feel more connected to my characters. It also makes me slow down. Once I feel like there’s a story to tell, I move over to my computer and type out of the rest. A lot of times, when I’m stuck in the middle of a draft, I go back to handwriting and that usually helps to get me unstuck.

My revision process usually includes sharing drafts with trusted readers who will give me feedback. I ask them: What do you want more of? and What questions do you have? These questions help me go deeper when I go back to revise. When I’m in the final stages of revision, I use Post-It Notes and storyboard the major scenes in each chapter. I stick them to the wall in my office space and then I can see the full story. I take a different color of Post-Its and fill in the gaps, marking where new scenes need to be added. This helps me see where the story is going and where I need to add more. It also gives me a clear checklist for the next round of revising.
Q: What is the transition from YA to MG to chapter books like?
A: There are some challenges transitioning between YA, MG, and chapter books, especially when thinking about how children talk versus how teens talk. But mostly, it’s been really fun to write for a younger audience. There’s a curiosity that is so pure at this age. Imagination and play are still encouraged and so the characters in Some Places More Than Others and Ways to Make Sunshine experiment and explore in ways that look very different from my teen characters.  
Q: Tell us a little bit about your work with social justice education. How can I as a classroom teacher ensure that my work is valid and promising.
A: My work with social justice education explores how art can be a form of activism and resistance. I try to create spaces where young people are celebrating and critiquing their worlds, making art in response to injustice, and raising their voices. As educators, to ensure that our work is valid and promising, we need to make sure the curriculum is culturally relevant and diverse. Knowing the life skills our students will need to be successful citizens of the world, I believe it is important to provide learning opportunities where students can practice empathy, listening, cooperation, collaboration, and sharing. These can seem like simple words, but I believe they are vital attributes of an equitable society. Two resources I turn to time and time again are Rethinking Schools and Teaching Tolerance. They have so much to offer teachers of all subjects and grade levels.
Q: Future middle grade projects that you are currently working on? 
A: I am working on book two in the Ryan Hart series. I’m picking things up where Ways To Make Sunshine left off—Ryan has a new baby sister and that’s bringing a lot of change into her world. Some of it good, some of it not so good.
Q: What advice would you give to middle grade students who are writing?  
A: I encourage young writers to read, read, read. If there’s a book you love, read it again and figure out what the author did to make you love that book. How did they end the chapters? What made you want to keep turning the page? Whatever your answer is, try to emulate that in your own work.

I also think it’s important to be a good listener. Good writers pay attention to what’s going on around them, they are observers. To be a strong writer, I think you have to talk less and listen more.
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer some questions. We are huge fans of Some Places More Than Others and now I know for sure that Ways to Make Sunshine will be a favorite chapter book series. I appreciate the opportunity to read in advance and share with my students!

The Space Between Lost and Found: Review and Author Interview

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From the acclaimed author of Extraordinary Birds, a powerful story about family, friendship, and the light that can be found even in the darkest of places.
Cassie's always looked up to her mom, a vibrant woman bursting with grand ideas. Together they planned to check off every dream on their think-big bucket list, no matter how far the adventures took them. The future seemed unlimited.
But then came the diagnosis, and Mom started to lose her memories. Even the ones Cassie thought she'd never forget. Even Cassie's name.
Cassie tries her hardest to keep Mom happy . . . to focus on math lessons and come up with art ideas that used to burst off her pen. But as Mom's memories dimmed, so did Cassie's inspiration. She's even pushed away Bailey, the one friend who could help make things okay.
So, Cassie decides to take action. It's time for one last adventure… even if it means taking a big risk to get there.

Sandy Stark-McGinnis was born in California. Early childhood dreams: Play quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams or work as a forest ranger. Instead, she became a teacher, a job she found deeply fulfilling.
Currently, she teaches fifth grade, and is amazed and inspired by her students every day. She spends her time reading (of course), and traveling with her husband and two children. Sandy believes her thirteen years as a competitive swimmer trained her to have the discipline and perseverance to journey through a writing life. Her middle grade debut, EXTRAORDINARY BIRDS, was released by Bloomsbury on April 30, 2019.

Q: Hi! Welcome to Teachers Who Read!! We are so excited to host you. I love to always start with – What was your inspiration behind becoming a middle grade author?   
A: I had a writing mentor who told me she thought I had a great middle grade voice, so I took her advice and started writing Extraordinary Birds.
Q: What was your influence for The Space Between Lost and Found? I know your author’s note gives a little insight, but for those that haven’t read it yet can you give us any background information. 
A: My dad suffered from Alzheimer’s and I wanted to explore what that experience would look like through the eyes of an eleven, twelve-year-old.
Q: Can you describe your revision/editing process for students? Also, do you start writing on paper/computer/etc?
A: My process has changed. I would start writing a novel with a beginning and an end and just let myself write—which worked well because it allowed me to connect to voice. But now, I work from a synopsis before I begin writing my first draft. Even though I have an outline of where the story goes, I still give myself the space to find the voice of the character. Connecting to the voice of a character is important for me, not to mention it’s one of my favorite parts of writing. I used to write a full draft in long hand. Now, I write on the computer except when I’m stuck. When I’m not sure where to go, I go back to paper and pencil. It creates momentum for me.
Q: How do you manage teaching still AND writing such amazing stories? (Also this is my DREAM and I need some inspiration to get it going!)
A: Well, I was a pretty serious swimmer when I was younger and through high school. I used to get up at four o’clock in the morning to make practice, go to school, then after, practice again. When I started writing, it was somewhat easy for me to carve out a time and be consistent because I’d had the experience of dedicating myself to swimming.
Q: What is your favorite thing about teaching 5th grade?  
A: My favorite thing is my students! They are at the age where we have great, serious conversations. Every day I’m in awe of the insight they have and how much they take care of each other. They give me hope! And, they get my jokes!
Q: What advice would you give to middle grade students who are writing? 
A: I think the important thing is to write (and read), be open to the journey of learning about the craft and be willing to apply what you learn to your writing.  
Q: Future middle grade projects that you are currently working on? 
A: Well, right now I’m working on another contemporary, realist middle-grade that is somewhat based on a personal experience I had when I was younger.
Q: What were your favorite books as a kid, and what do you recommend to middle grade classrooms?   
A: I wasn’t a big reader when I was young. I didn’t come to love books until I was in college and fell in love with stories through movies. It was then I started to read books! There are so many great middle grade books out there, but some I’ve read recently and loved are Worse Than Weird by Jody J. Little, The Other Half of Happy by Rebecca Balcarcel, Quintessance by Jess Redman, and The Queen Bee and Me by Gillian McDunn.

You can also order her debut, Extraordinary Birds HERE! :) (and in paperback)
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