Haley's June Reads

I've been out of school for 26 days. I promised myself that this summer I'd read more than just contemporary fiction. My book gaps became too noticeable this year when I booktalked. So this summer, I've been using a visual reading tracker that Corrina Allen posted on Twitter. This has helped me be cognizant of my reading choices. And while contemporary fiction still dominated what I read in June, I also read 5 other genres! Do you have any reading goals this summer? 


Author Interview: Elly Swartz

My Review: Smart Cookie
Frankie wants to have a family just like everyone else. She wants her family to be complete and her dad to be happy again. She wants a mother. She creates a secret dating profile for her dad online. But, all of that gets side track when there might be a ghost hanging around the bed and breakfast. This is a heartwarming story of what family really means with a twist of mystery and adventure. When you fall in love with Smart Cookie, go and check out Molly's story in Finding Perfect and pre-order Give and Take to read Maggie's story! You will love them all! :) 

Q: Tell us about your book, specifically the story behind the titles (Finding Perfect, Smart Cookie, Give and Take).
In GIVE AND TAKE (FSG/Macmillan 10/15/19), you meet twelve-year-old Maggie who knows her new baby sister who smells like powder isn’t her sister for keeps. Izzie is a foster baby awaiting adoption. So in a day or a week, she’ll go to her forever family and all that sweetness will be gone. Except for those things Maggie’s secretly saving in the cardboard boxes in her closet and under her bed. Baby socks, binkies, and a button from Bud the Bear. Rocks, sticks, and candy wrappers. Maggie holds on tight. To her things. Her pet turtle. Her memories of Nana. And her friends. But when Maggie has to say goodbye to Izzie, and her friend gets bumped from their all-girl trapshooting squad to make room for a boy, Maggie’s hoarding grows far beyond her control, and she learns that sometimes love means letting go.

Who’s got my back? How many people do I get in my life? Those are the questions that eleven-year-old Frankie asks in SMART COOKIE (Scholastic 2018). Frankie’s mom died many years ago, and she feels like a piece of her is missing. So, she secretly puts an ad online to find her dad a wife.

No spoilers, but what she finds instead, with the help of her ghost-hunting best friend Elliot and Jess, her friend-turned-not-turned-something-else, is her herd. The people in her life who love her and all of her idiosyncrasies unconditionally. Her teacher, her neighbors, the people at Mills Senior Center, even Mabel, her gram’s best friend who cheats at cards. We all have one. And this herd is often so much bigger and wider than those with whom you share a name or childhood.

To Molly Nathans, perfect is:
                     The number four
                     The tip of a newly sharpened number two pencil
                     A crisp, white pad of paper
                     Her neatly aligned glass animal figurines

What’s not perfect is Molly’s mother leaving the family to take a faraway job with the promise to return in one year. Molly knows promises are often broken and hatches a plan to bring her mother home: Win the Lakeville Middle School Slam Poetry Contest. The winner’s honored at a fancy banquet. Molly’s sure her mother would never miss that. Right…? 
But as time goes on, writing and reciting slam poetry become harder. Actually, everything becomes harder as new habits appear, and counting, cleaning, and organizing are not enough to keep Molly’s world from spinning out of control.
Ultimately, Molly learns there’s no such thing as perfect.

Q; What is your inspiration behind Give and Take storyline?
A: GIVE AND TAKE is about loving big because it is the most beautiful gift we have to give. Maggie learns that loving Izzie, the foster baby her family cares for, is not about being remembered. In a world filled with manicured moments memorialized in Snap stories, filtered selfies on Instagram and curated videos for TikToc, there are some experiences that are simply about digging deep and loving big. Fostering Izzie is one of those moments.

With Maggie’s big heart also comes a heap of anxiety. The same anxiety that has crept into the lives of so many of our kids. For Maggie, this anxiety takes the form of hoarding. She collects knickknacks and saves objects that most would toss and many would call garbage. She fears if she throws these items away, the memories tied to these keepsakes will disappear forever. Like they did for Nana. Who forgot her love of chocolate donuts, where she lived, and even her granddaughter, Maggie, when her dementia worsened.

Kids hoard. And kids have anxiety. The more we talk about it. The more we share their experiences on the page. The more we breakdown the stigmas and stereotypes associated with mental health. And the sooner all kids, can feel seen, heard, and respected.

I want my readers to know they’re strong. Empowered. And I want them to know they’re not alone.

Q: What are some challenges unique to writing realistic fiction?
A: When I write realistic fiction, it’s so important to me that the story stems from a place of true authenticity. And to do that well, I need to wrap myself around my character, embody her emotions, and connect to her heart. And when she’s in a dark place or her heart is shattered into a million tiny pieces, I need to embrace that, too. Like when Maggie’s nana forgot her. Or the day Maggie said a forever goodbye to Izzie, the foster baby she loved like a sister for keeps. Or the times she had to let go of the objects she cherished and hoarded. If I’m doing it right, those moments should feel hard. Because if I’m honoring Maggie’s true emotions, those moments are hard.
Q; What makes this book a perfect fit for middle-grade classrooms?
A: GIVE AND TAKE touches on topics of fostering and dementia and hoarding, as well, as universal themes of love and family, loss and anxiety. Maggie’s story is a way in. A way to talk about topics that can, at times, feel difficult or scary or emotional to discuss. Her story can give kids the language they need to identify what’s tugging on their hearts. The truth is, kids feel deeply. Hurt deeply. Experience deeply. Maggie’s journey honors that. And allows readers to connect through Maggie’s experiences. To see themselves in Maggie’s life or to better understand and empathize with others.

Middle grade is a time of change and self-discovery. A time to honor our readers. All of our readers. And all of their experiences. Maggie’s story can be a catalyst for conversation, connection, and change.
Q: What does your daily writing life look like? (Do you set a word count for yourself daily? Or a page goal? Where do you write? How often if not daily?)
A: I try to write every day. I write wherever and whenever I can. To me, writing is a gift. A huge gift I give myself. So, I take my laptop with me everywhere. When my sons were younger, I’d write in the parking lot of their schools, on the side lines of their games, in doctors’ offices waiting rooms. When I’m at conferences or away for school visits, I write in the hotel room in the morning. And when I’m home, I write with my beagle Lucy.

I don’t write by word count. I write until the words stop flowing and feeling authentic. My best writing days are when I feel wholly connected to my character and the line between my emotions and thoughts is blurred with my character’s emotions and thoughts. When my heart and her heart are one.

Meet Lucy – My writing partner!
Q: What’s the best thing about being a writer?
A: Everything! I love writing. I love being in the schools. I love connecting with readers and educators and librarians.

But, maybe most of all, I love hearing from young readers who so bravely share their heart with me. What an honor to be trusted with those emotions. To be told the words I put on the page have changed their life, made them feel seen, heard and respected. Made them feel like they belonged. Like they were not alone. That is a true privilege. One I am most grateful for. Every day.
Q: Future projects you are working on?
A: I have a few projects in the works. And I’m super excited about both. One is a new middle grade. And while it’s a work-in-progress, what I can share is that there will be a guinea pig named Cheetos, a girl named Autumn, and a lot of heart.

The other project is a nonfiction book about bravery. How bravery is found in the small moments of our lives. How kids are brave every day. When they walk into school, raise their hand, speak in class, step into the cafeteria. I’m collaborating with schools around the globe on this project. Truly, it’s all about the kids. I want them to see what I see – the superhero within all of them.
Q: What else would you like us to know?
A: I love connecting with readers. And love school visits. Community reads, large assemblies, smaller writing workshops, I love it all. Want more information about what I offer, head over to my site at https://ellyswartz.com/school-visits

And I love hearing from you. So let’s stay in touch! You can find me at ellyswartz.com, on Twitter @ellyswartz, on Instagram @ellyswartzbooks or on my webseries #BooksintheKitchen with Victoria J. Coe.
I also wanted to share that in GIVE AND TAKE, Maggie’s dad has a podcast called, Go On, Change the World! I’m partnering with Bonnie Thomas of Indigo North Counseling, a licensed, clinical, social worker, to create a journaling activity for readers and educators. The activity will prepare educators to talk about the book, anxiety, making change despite anxiety, and journaling, as well as, provide what’s needed to transform any notebook into a “Go On, Change the World!” journal. Like Maggie, I want readers to see they are strong, brave, and not alone. I want them to love big. And then, to Go On, Change the World!

So, if you want a sneak peek of Give and Take, check out this clip of me reading chapter 1: https://youtu.be/_wG1tkSKwXg I can’t wait for you to meet Maggie, Baby Izzie, and Bert the Turtle.  And, happy news – you can pre-order it today. https://ellyswartz.com/give-and-take

Before I say goodbye, I want to thank all the teachers and librarians for making a huge difference in the lives of young readers every day. You are my heroes.

With so much admiration, respect, and gratitude,

Happy Reading! 


It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

Hello and happy Monday! I think most of our readers are on summer break right now (or does the East Coast get out after this week?) If you are off school, I hope you are enjoying every second and getting a lot of reading in! If you aren't on break yet, it will be here soon!!!
I have been busy reading some backlist from the past few years for my children's literature class called Today in Children's Literature. I love teaching this class so much! If you need any graduate credits and would be interested in this class - let me know! I will be teaching it every Summer and Fall semester. 

Ok, onto the books we're reading this week! Be sure to let us know what YOU are reading in the comments below! 

Have a great week! 


HarperCollins MG New Releases

We have had the privilege to be a part of the Influencer Team over at HarperCollins for their middle grade releases. This past month of May they had FOUR amazing releases that I think should be in EVERY middle grade classroom.

 My review for Other Words for Home: Beautiful. Necessary. A book that all kids need to read and familiarize with. This will be a read aloud for my 5th graders this next year. Loved every page. 

This book is a part of the Project Lit Community this year and I can not wait to share with my readers this upcoming school year and years to come. Written in a verse, this book is one to be devoured and loved. 

I am learning how to be
and happy
at the same time.

Jude never thought she’d be leaving her beloved older brother and father behind, all the way across the ocean in Syria. But when things in her hometown start becoming volatile, Jude and her mother are sent to live in Cincinnati with relatives.

At first, everything in America seems too fast and too loud. The American movies that Jude has always loved haven’t quite prepared her for starting school in the US—and her new label of “Middle Eastern,” an identity she’s never known before. But this life also brings unexpected surprises—there are new friends, a whole new family, and a school musical that Jude might just try out for. Maybe America, too, is a place where Jude can be seen as she really is.

*Affiliated link 

Katherine Applegate is a queen in all her glory! Endling is the PERFECT fantasy series for those of your students who want to escape the real world into a world that was amazingly described. 
The characterization in the first helps readers truly delve into the world Applegate has created. A message of unity, togetherness, full of depth and complexity. Pick the series up today! 

The first was a student FAVORITE this year - I can't wait to bring in the second so they can continue their story! 

To learn if she truly is the last dairne in the world—the endling—Byx and her friends must travel into the snow-covered mountains of the country of Dreyland, where they hope to uncover the truth behind the legend of a hidden dairne colony. But the threat of war across the lands continues to grow with each passing day.

As the group confronts untold dangers at every turn, they will ultimately uncover a treacherous plot that involves the other powerful governing species. With both her dreams and all the creatures of Nedarra on the brink of extinction, Byx and her friends are determined to never give up hope.

Soon they find themselves the unlikely leaders in a simmering rebellion that risks everything they hold dear. Byx may be the last of her kind, but will she also be the first to lead the revolution?

*Affiliate Links 

York 2 is OUT!!! More puzzles, more friendships, more ciphers. But beware; the ending is a cliffhanger - again. 

It was only a few weeks ago that the Biedermann twins, Tess and Theo, along with their friend Jaime Cruz, followed the secrets of the Morningstarrs’ cipher further anyone had in its century-and-a-half history—and destroyed their beloved home in the process. But the Old York Cipher still isn’t solved. The demolition of 354 W. 73rd Street only revealed the next clue in the greatest mystery of the modern world, and if Tess, Theo, and Jaime want to discover what lies at the end of the puzzle laid into the buildings of New York by its brilliant, enigmatic architects, they will need to press on.

But doing so could prove even more dangerous than they know. It is clear that the Morningstarr twins marshaled all the strange technology they had spent their lives creating in the construction of the Cipher, and that technology has its own plans for those who pursue it. It is also clear that Tess, Theo, and Jaime are not the only ones on the trail of the treasure. As enemies both known and unknown close in on them from all sides and the very foundations of the city seem to crumble around them, they will have to ask themselves how far they will go to change the unchangeable—and whether the price of knowing the secrets of the Morningstarrs is one they are willing to pay.

*Affiliate links

A book about understanding the Kwirks and all the quirks that come with families. The story itself is very familiar in John's writing, which my students all love, and he has a way of making you fall in love with the characters and their voice. A story of grief, family, and forgiveness. It's definitely one you will want in your classroom. 

Rion Kwirk comes from a rather odd family. His mother named him and his sisters after her favorite constellations, and his father makes funky-flavored jelly beans for a living. One sister acts as if she’s always onstage and the other is a walking dictionary. But no one in the family is more odd than Rion’s grandfather, Papa Kwirk. He’s the kind of guy who shows up on his motorcycle only on holidays, handing out crossbows and stuffed squirrels as presents. Rion has always been fascinated by Papa Kwirk, especially since his son—Rion’s father—is the complete opposite. Where Dad is predictable, nerdy, and reassuringly boring, Papa Kwirk is mysterious, dangerous, and cool.

Which is why, when Rion and his family learn of Papa Kwirk’s death and pile into the car to attend his funeral and pay their respects, Rion can’t help but feel that that’s not the end of his story. That there’s so much more to Papa Kwirk to discover.

He doesn’t know how right he is.

*Affiliate Link

Be on the lookout this month for some amazing new releases coming from HarperCollins! Follow me on Instagram @mrs_cmt1489 and Twitter for more recommendations!

Instagram: @harperkid
Twitter: @HarperChildrens
Facebook: @harpercollinschildrens


Author Interview: Sean Easley

A magical hotel, a mysterious tree, and a cryptic story about their missing father leads twins Cam and Cass on a worldly adventure in this enchanting debut novel that’s perfect for fans of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library and Wildwood.

Twins Cam and Cass have never known their parents. They’ve been told their mother died, and Cass is certain their father abandoned them. Cam isn’t so sure. He wants to prove her wrong; he must.

Cam’s wish is soon granted in the form of a glistening, golden sign with elaborate flourishes that reads: The Hotel Between. With doors that open to countries all over the world, magical trollies, charmed corridors that can be altered on a whim, stone elephants that come to life, sweets made from rocks; everything is possible in the Hotel. Cam has a hunch his father is somehow connected to this magical place, and may even be lost within its hidden halls.

Every journey has its risks, and The Hotel Between is full of dangerous secrets. If Cam’s not careful, his stay may be over before his vacation has even started.

My Review: 

 absolutely loved Hotel Between from the first page to the last page. This book is filled with action and adventure that will sure to engage any reader. Cameron has been sucked into a magical hotel that allows you to travels to different places in the world just by opening up a door as he searches for his lost father.  I like how there is so much geography and traveling the world mixed in with fantasy and adventure. Can learn about these places and people in a way that is fun and attention-grabbing.  Happy reading!

Q: Tell us about your book, specifically the story behind the title.
A: THE HOTEL BETWEEN is a MG fantasy/adventure about a boy who joins the staff at a magic hotel that has doors that lead all over the world, and uses those doors to search for his long-lost father. The titular Hotel Between (which is the name of the organization in the book) has a tagline: “halfway between here, there, and everywhere,” which inspired the title. I really liked the idea too that the name of the Hotel has the inherent question, “Between what?” Though, I suspect that’s why so many people can’t stop calling it the Hotel In-Between, haha.

Book two, which is coming out in September, is titled THE KEY OF LOST THINGS, and carries through the idea of searching for someone. I don’t want to give too much away, but it’ll suffice to say that there are magic keys that all have different functions, and a very specific key--the Key of Lost Things--plays an important role in our protagonist uncovering even more secrets in the Hotel, and possibly even losing a few more. ;)

Q; What is your inspiration behind Hotel Between storyline?
A; It’s always hard to answer this one, because I’m convinced that stories come from everywhere. There’s no one thing that inspires these worlds. I could point to a dream I had where my wife and I moved into an apartment building that was a mixture of a hundred different architecture styles, or to my foreign language teacher mother, or my world-traveling athlete father, or my time working with a diverse group of students over the years… so many components all conspired together to plant the seeds of the garden that became this book, and they’re all of equal importance.

Q; What are some challenges unique to writing fantasy?
A; I think part of what makes fantasy so intriguing to me is the ability to look at life through a different lens, but sometimes the act of crafting that lens can be a bit cumbersome. As much as I love world building, it can be very difficult to communicate these various twists on the rules of the world to your audience in a way they can fully grasp it.

I think this is especially true when writing for a younger audience. There’s a necessary economy of words--a budget, that has to be spent sparingly--to hold young people’s attention while laying out the sometimes complex rules and systems for your world. That can lead to under-explaining to keep the pace going, which is typically fine for middle-grade readers but not as readily accepted by some older readers. Young people will often simply accept the rules given to them as true without argument, but older readers and adults will sometimes be frustrated by the fact that they don’t understand fully how the systems work. Add to that the reality that those older gatekeepers are the ones putting the book into young readers’ hands, and it’s easy to find myself walking a tightrope, afraid I might fall off either side at any moment.

Q; What makes this book a perfect fit for middle grade classrooms?
A: Geography has always been a fascination of mine. I loved it as a kid when we started diving into what life looks like in other countries. My grandfather always had stacks and stacks of National Geographic magazine around his house, and he would give me all the maps from the inside.

It’s easy to use The Hotel Between and The Key of Lost Things as a jumping off point to talk about the various places in our ever-shrinking world. Those middle grade years are where students start to really grasp that there’s an outside world that they’re not a part of yet.

Kids these days are interacting more and more with students overseas through the Internet, video games, etc.. But developmentally, abstract thinking is still brewing in its infancy. Students need concrete examples of the world that they’re rapidly becoming a part of in order to start forming their rubric for those borderless interactions that are coming at them so quickly. Examples of visiting these other places, and meeting people from all over the world, can lay out patterns that eases the need for abstract extrapolation when they end up in a video game matchmaking lobby with someone from a country they’ve never visited, or encounter a person of an unfamiliar ethnic origin wearing what they might consider “unusual” clothing at the store, or have a person from the far side of the globe comment on their social media post.

Understanding that the global community is not as different from us than we might think is incredibly important, and giving these students the opportunity to imagine themselves in these different places and interacting positively with people of all cultures will go a long way toward helping them become good global and digital citizens.
Q: What’s the best thing about being a writer?
A; I get to work with my cat.

But really, I love what the written word does to a reader’s brain. We become more like the people whose eyes we see through every time we read narrative fiction. We understand humanity better with every perspective we experience. It’s phenomenal to me that I get to nudge others toward goodness and empowerment and balance every time I sit down to write. What a humbling privilege that is, and what a harrowing responsibility.

Q: Future projects you are working on?
A: I can’t say too much about my books in the oven, but I’m currently working on both a new YA standalone and a new MG adventure series that I’m so very excited about and can’t wait to share!!

Q: What else would you like us know?
A: The paperback release of THE HOTEL BETWEEN is coming August 6, and then it’s one short month before the hardback of THE KEY OF LOST THINGS hits shelves! I can’t wait for y’all to see what trouble Cam and Cass get into!

Also, don’t forget to connect with me on Twitter and Instagram (@authoreasley). I’m scheduling school visits for the fall season too, so be sure to check out https://www.seaneasley.com/educators and leave me a message so we can start talking about scheduling an author talk!
Thank you for stopping by!


IMWAY~June 17

Good morning readers! If you are on summer break, I hope you are having fun soaking up all the sun, doing all the things or not, and reading ALL THE BOOKS. If you are still in school, the end is coming! Hold on because we know how hard you are working and how much of a break you need! 

Here's what the ladies and I are reading this week:

Happy Reading!


2018-2019 Top 5th Grade Picks

*All of the images are from Amazon