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Tuesday, September 2, 2014


Some reviews of UNFRIENDED, coming Sept 25, have appeared! Here's one from VOYA:

5Q 4P M J

Vail, Rachel. Unfriended. Viking/Penguin, 2014. 288p. $16.99. 978-0-670-01307-


Unfriended is the story of middle school popularity and bullying told from multiple

viewpoints. Truly is an eighth grader who is on the shy side. When her former

best friend, Natasha, who dropped her at the beginning of middle school to chase

popularity, invites her to join the “popular table” at lunch, Truly ditches her friend

Hazel the same way. Hazel takes revenge by unleashing an online brouhaha that

affects all the characters, from Brooke, the most popular girl in school, who is

also honestly nice, to Jack, the jock who loves to make gourmet lunches and has

a crush on Truly.

Vail has a great ear for dialogue, and her characters, while not initially

very likeable, are well differentiated and realistic. These teens are not just

interested in advancing in the middle school pecking order; they are also

concerned about academics, their parents’ finances, their siblings being

accepted, and a myriad of other real-world worries. The large number of

alternating voices makes it a bit difficult to differentiate the personalities at first,

but Vail’s use of texts, lists, e-mails, Facebook posts, and first-person narratives

eventually reveals the full picture. As the final third of the book veers into online

bullying, the pace threatens to spin out of control, but Vail leavens the tension

with some appealingly straightforward romance and some shockingly (and sadly)

realistically bad parenting.—Barbara Fecteau.

Monday, August 4, 2014

I am the cheese.

Writing tip of the day:

Be alert.

Take inspiration where you find it.

Sometimes it's smiling tentatively up from your slice of cheese.

Friday, August 1, 2014

writing tip of the day

Here's a good writing tip you should try

and I should have tried


Don't put a plate on the stove

Touching the wok you're cooking in

and then pick it up

or you end up with burns on your pointer and thumb

and can only type 5-6 words

at a time

between ice breaks

which makes it hard

to find your flow

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Rambling around

I'm in San Francisco. Spent the morning wandering in Golden Gate Park. I happened upon a place called the Conservatory of Flowers, which was filled with so much gorgeousness which I would show you pictures of if my cranky iPhone would let me email myself photos, or download them onto my laptop, or ANYTHING. Oh well. For now just trust me. If you are in SF, you should make a stop there.

One of the highlights of my visit: while there I overheard a couple maybe in their eighties talking.
Man: Honey, is this a colitis?
Woman: That's a coleus, dear. Colitis is, remember?
Man: Oh. Right.

Then I wandered a lot more and made my way back to the hotel to see Germany demolish Brazil in the World Cup. I only watched the first 25 minutes, but Germany had scored 5 goals already. When I was on a soccer team in high school, we played a game like that once where my team was the Brazil of this example and it was HORRIBLE. And we didn't even care about soccer, which I am going to bet a majority of the guys out there today actually do. Most of them, probably. So it's probably way worse for them than it even was for the ragtag bunch of us who just wanted to get a high school letter and hang with our friends after school and it was the first year of girls' soccer so there were no cuts. Most of our games were, in fact, perhaps not surprisingly, a lot like that game today (not in level of play but in lopsidedness) but only one was called on the mercy rule. Turns out there's a mercy rule. If one team scores like 100 goals and the other team hasn't touched the ball yet, they just end the game. Maybe the ref just made that up right then and there. (I didn't think of that possiblity until JUST NOW.) We didn't object. We were ready to go home anyway. It was exhausting, watching all those girls on the other team run around kicking the ball to each other so much. People weren't crying at our thing, though. Brazilians had looked so happy just half an hour before I had to turn off the TV.

After that I had lunch with an old friend who is one of those people you can pick up with after years, and within minutes be telling each other stories and laughing like you'd stayed up way too late with her as usual last weekend. What a great bit of life, friends like that are.

Now I'm back in my hotel room, looking at poems to help my younger son put together a poetry piece for speech team. This probably won't work for him but it sure hit me square in the nose -- hope you'll like it too.

The Writer

by Richard Wilbur

In her room at the prow of the house
Where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,
My daughter is writing a story.
I pause in the stairwell, hearing
From her shut door a commotion of typewriter-keys
Like a chain hauled over a gunwale.
Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:
I wish her a lucky passage.
But now it is she who pauses,
As if to reject my thought and its easy figure.
A stillness greatens, in which
The whole house seems to be thinking,
And then she is at it again with a bunched clamor
Of strokes, and again is silent.
I remember the dazed starling
Which was trapped in that very room, two years ago;
How we stole in, lifted a sash
And retreated, not to affright it;
And how for a helpless hour, through the crack of the door,
We watched the sleek, wild, dark
And iridescent creature
Batter against the brilliance, drop like a glove
To the hard floor, or the desk-top,
And wait then, humped and bloody,
For the wits to try it again; and how our spirits
Rose when, suddenly sure,
It lifted off from a chair-back,
Beating a smooth course for the right window
And clearing the sill of the world.
It is always a matter, my darling,
Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish
What I wished you before, but harder.

Saturday, June 28, 2014


Do you know SCBWI? It's the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, and if you are in the world of books for kids, you either know SCBWI or should. I'm here in Princeton, NJ at the conference, going to lots of sessions and learning about everything from craft to the business side and just getting started.

The morning opened with an absolutely charming and inspirational keynote from Floyd Cooper. He made art right in front of us using a painted board and an eraser -- it was like magic -- and then just told about his life and his journey as an artist. It was awesome. I'm the only other keynoter; so lucky I have until tomorrow afternoon because he is an impossible act to follow.

At lunch I met lots of other authors, including one named Valentina whose adorable daughter, Letitia, is a JUSTIN CASE fan! Valentina shared this photo:

I love it!
I signed the next 2 JUSTIN CASE books for her.

Okay, break (to catch the wild finale of the Chile Brazil soccer game ) is over. Back to the conference!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Awesome readers

Need a new book to read this summer?

How cute are these guys?

Just sayin...

And if you order JUSTIN or any of my books from my local independent book store, Bank Street Books, you can request that the book be personalized and signed -- I will dash right over and do it immediately. 

In between World Cup games, I mean.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


Just discovered this beautiful, thoughtful and thought-provoking, incisively written review of JUSTIN CASE. I'm honored by the praise, of course, but particularly blown away by the respect and care shown by the reviewer for the characters AND the readers. Thank you so much for your thoughts, Kim Zarin:
's review
Jan 16, 13

bookshelves: middle-grade-fiction
Read in November, 2012

I’m a big fan of Justin Case. I’m guessing the people who love these books best and long for more are the ones who know someone like Justin. Someone for whom life does not come easy, for whom soccer is exhausting on multiple levels, authority figures are objects of frightening power, parents are well-meaning but often don’t get it (Dad, let the kid drop soccer already!), and friendships are more complex than the hardest math problems. If you know someone like Justin, you’ll clutch this book close to your heart. But that’s me talking, an adult, getting all nostalgic and wanting to hug every Justin Case on this planet (only if it didn’t alarm said kids). Let me add that there is real child value here. Despite some comparisons on the Goodreads reviews, the style is not of the Wimpy Kid variety, where the humor is relies on characters fulfilling their roles as types (like the older brother with forbidden magazines and music, which Greg finds, etc.). The humor in JUSTIN CASE lies in the overly analyzed way in which Justin observes his world, often misinterpreting it or blowing things out of proportion. Kids will laugh at Justin’s worried ways…but there is some self-recognition too.

Justin is a planner. He likes a predictable schedule. He likes to know life in advance. Justin learns that he can’t always have the life he planned for. None of us can. You can’t choose your teacher, your dog, or sometimes even your friends. They choose you, and they make you grow. He’d have been fine having only Daisy and Noah as his friends forever, but third grade forced him into a wider circle, and he finds some common ground with kids he would not have touched with a ten foot pole. Once his ideal of friendship is put aside, he can made friends, just like once his ideal of dogs is put aside, he can start caring about Qwerty. Once he sees Qwerty’s need and his fear, or say Gianni’s, Justin can set aside his own fears in his desire to be gentle to those who open up to him.

If I could sum Justin in one word, I don’t think it would be “worried.” It would be vulnerable. “Worried” is too dismissive (as in, “stop worrying”). “Vulnerable” is pure and earnest and full of heart. It comes from the Latin word vulnus, meaning wound. Justin carries wounds with him. His quest is to find healing.

And the magic of these books is that Justin begins to see vulnerability in others. For example, he lives in mortal fear of Xavier Schwartz and Gianni Schicci (notice how the surnames usually are included as a distancing, objectifying technique, as if these action figures are still fresh from the box, whereas his former best friend Daisy remains just Daisy, sweet and lovely, yet not motivated to remain close to him). Unlike Daisy, Xavier and Gianni are rough, rowdy kids. But during the novel, Justin sees a bit deeper into them. Gianni loves stuffed animals as much as Justin does. Xavier calls Justin his friend. Those moments work like scaffolding to hold up Justin and connect him to a world that may have vulnerability too.

The family and social demands on Justin are complex, and this would be a terrific book to read aloud in the classroom or at home, to talk about Justin’s perceptions and the reality of the situations that challenge him so much. It’s a good book to talk through because it’s a book with something to say.