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Thursday, April 29, 2010

A way to see more JUSTIN illustrations

Matt Cordell, the amazingly talented illustrator of JUSTIN CASE, posted a bunch of illustrations on his blog.

Go to http://matthewcordell.blogspot.com/2010/04/justin-case-out-today.html

if you are jonesing for more than I can post (because, of course, he's got the art!)

Okay, I am going to fall asleep on the keyboard if I don't go to bed now, because I am about to conk out regardless of location.

Rachel Vail

Librarians Rock. Readers, too.

Yesterday I got to spend the day at the New Jersey Library Association's annual meeting. It was so much fun! Have I mentioned lately that I love librarians? I gave a speech at the lunch, after sitting on the dais to eat (it was eating show, lovely for all involved, I'm sure) next to a terrific librarian name Melissa (who once won a prize as "shyest girl" but here she was, giving funny and smooth speeches -- hope for all the shy people among us!) On my other side were the two editors of the Wimpy Kid books -- the first book in the series had won a kids' choice award but Jeff Kinney, the author, was holed up in his home finishing the fifth book. So he sent his smart, funny editors to read a letter of thanks (and keep me company while show-eating, of course). Also there, on the other side of the podium, were more fabulous librarians, Brian Selznick's sister and mom who came to accept his award, and Jay Asher, who had flown in from California to accept his award and share some hilarious/heartbreaking emails from readers.

I was really happy to meet Jay and get a signed copy of his book Thirteen Reasons Why, which I have been wanting to read so much! Then today I just read some big news -- Jay's book will pop back up on this week's NYT Bestseller List! Probably because of the copy I bought! I feel so proud! Look what I made happen.

Anyway, I was the keynote speaker, so after lunch (during which, my mom will be so pleased to hear, I did not spill on myself even once!) I stood up and talked for a while. I will tell more about what I said at some point if you want, but for now I will just say that the great state of New Jersey is planning to cut funding for libraries by 74%. You read that right. Not 7.4% but 74%. I know the economy is in shambles and belts will be worn tighter all around. But this seems crazy to me. So I talked about reading, and libraries, and librarians -- how vital they are, and why. It was a really fun day. I got to meet so many passionate, funny, generous people, and also show off my eating skills at the same time! Woot!

This picture was just emailed to me a little while ago by a proud mom (thanks!), watching her son fall headfirst into a book. The book is JUSTIN CASE: School, Drool, and Other Daily Disasters - and the look in his eyes might just be the best review I've ever gotten.

In other news, did you know today is Poem In Your Pocket Day?

Here are two, in honor of it.

The first is from Piet Hein, the great Danish poet, and it's the one I kept in my pocket, on my wall, and ultimately in my head throughout the writing of JUSTIN:

To be brave
Is to behave
Bravely when your heart is faint
So you can be really brave
Only when you really ain't

And this one is from JUSTIN CASE. It is the haiku written by Justin's little sister, Elizabeth, who is in kindergarten:

Dog poop is stinky
But it is good for the soil
Just watch where you step!

Do you have a poem in your pocket? Or a photo of a reader? Send them to me!

Rachel Vail

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

JUSTIN's Pub Day!

Seems like I should spend the day in a pub for Pub Day, doesn't it? I had that idea, that I should round up some good fun friends and toast to Justin in some cozy pub all afternoon... but I actually have some, well, writing to do, first. Also 117 push-ups and 117 sit-ups, of course.

But I started celebrating this past weekend (that's me dancing with my son, in his cool dude tux)!

Okay, that was an unrelated celebration. Details, details. But I did get my nails polished.

And I am celebrating today, here at home in my sweats and cozy socks (but my nails still polished/only slightly chipped), because today is JUSTIN day! If you read the book and you post a review on BN.com or Amazon.com, please email me and let me know! And thank you SO MUCH to all who have already written to me about buying the book today. You guys rock.

Meanwhile, as promised, here is a Kid Review of the Day:

It’s the beginning of 3rd grade and Justin K. is feeling worried. Worried so much in fact, that a class bully has named him Justin Case. Worried about his new teacher, worried about burglars like Bad Boy, and worried about his 2nd best friend Noah’s extremely large head, which he might be sitting behind!

This is an excellent book about conquering your worries, with funniness along the way. It captures 3rd grade as if it were reality; with bullies, odd friendships, and food that jiggles. I guarantee that after reading this book, you will never hear the words “just in case” the same again.

By Gabe, grade 5

Keep emailing me those reviews and photos of yourself with the book, or just making a worried face! I love them - and will post them!!!

Rachel Vail

Monday, April 26, 2010

JUSTIN hits stores!


While I was wandering around on this unreasonably gloomy and cold Monday in New York City, I wandered into a local Barnes & Noble and what did I see? JUSTIN! One day early! Right there on the shelf between books named Drizzle and Sports Camp -- which seems so perfect for Justin, somehow.

So, I saw Justin and gasped (frightening a lovely woman who was browsing beside me; sorry!) The skies at that exact moment instantly brightened, and the birds started singing!

Well, actually, no.

But still, I felt very excited.

And in celebration, here is the first edition of our Review of the Day from Kids... send me yours and we'll publish it here!

Justin Case is an amazing book about a young third-grader’s problems and worries. He may constantly worry about things that most people wouldn’t even think about, but it’s his vivid imagination that enthralls readers inside separate, fantasy worlds in Justin’s imagination alongside the real one. The fantasy world has its own worries, but in the end, it’s what helps him survive third grade. Having to work his way past obstacles like Ms. Termini (his teacher), Xavier Schwartz and Johnny Skiski (the class bullies, whom he “no thank yous”), Montana C. (whom he also no thank yous), constant sport practicing, the dreaded “rope climb,” Qwertyuiop (his dog, Qwerty for short), and the Superstar Competition, he is faced with a life of worries. However, he never knows where he can find friends in unexpected places.

Justin Case is a book that kids slightly older than Justin will enjoy. This way, kids can feel more humor because they can think, “No, Justin! That’s a bad idea!” or “Don’t do that, Justin!” because they have more life experience than him so that they know what might result from it. Readers are faced with powerful humor because of Justin’s countless semi-phobias.

In this book, friendships shift, new ones form, and Justin begins to discover who he truly is. All in all, Justin Case is a great book.

By John David, grade 5

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Justin Scared o' Praise

The fabulous illustrator of JUSTIN CASE, Matt Cordell, pointed out that

Justin is becoming quite the rock star! Not sure he would be comfortable with all of this attention.

So, while his adorable daughter ate her lunch of Elmo Crackers, clementines and yogurt (all without aid of a spoon), Matt doodled Justin, reacting to all the attention he's beginning to get.

And he is so generous he shared it with me, right away. I had to go get my own yogurt, Elmo crackers and clementines however. As will you. (Unless you live next door to Matt. Or me. Then we will share.)

But meanwhile/otherwise, you too can enjoy this not-in-the-book glimpse of the kind of day Justin is having today.

Rachel Vail

Happy Earth Day!

What are you doing to celebrate Earth Day today?

I took a nice long walk.

Now I am going to eat some chocolate chips straight from the bag.

I think that is very fitting because:

a. I am saving resources by not adding lots of other ingredients and using the oven to make cookies

b. What says Earth Day more than chocolate?

c. um, I am craving chocolate chips straight from the bag

Fine, okay, it's c.

And maybe later I will write a haiku about nature, to combine Earth Day and Poetry Month.

But probably I will just stop at the chocolate chip part of the celebration. There are limits, people.

Rachel Vail

PS Hooray! Less than one week until it comes to a bookstore near you, I just found out that JUSTIN CASE was chosen to be on the Summer 2010 Kid's Indie Next List --- "Inspired Recommendations for Kids from Indie Booksellers"!!!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


I'm thinking a lot today about bullies, bullying, and how it feels to be bullied. It's all over the news, of course. And it's in the books I am writing now, too.

People ask me all the time if things are very different now for kids than when I grew up. I've actually been asked that since my first book came out, and at first it was pretty funny because I was only 24, and had written that book while living in the home I had grown up in, with my mom cooking dinner for me and my dad playing the piano in the living room... not only were things similar, things were THE SAME.

Of course, the feelings of growing up and the hormonal storms, peer pressure, moral and emotional and physical growth -- all that has existed for a long time.

People are talking a lot, in many different contexts lately, about the feeling of loss and regret for the good old days before the turn of the century. Things have changed, we say. Things aren't like they used to be. Some of us are scared or angry, shouting or even just lamenting that things used to be better, safer, sweeter, easier. But it's probably a good thing to remember we have always felt that way.

John Steinbeck wrote about that feeling, captured it gorgeously in one of the most perfect chapters ever written, chapter 12 of East of Eden. He was talking about the turn of the last century of course. But the feelings are the same -- boys will still throw themselves down in the field crying and cursing and older men, forgetting, wanting to forget the "acid emotion eating at the spleen" will still think "What's that damned kid lying out there in the grass for? He'll catch a cold." "And "the strawberries don't taste as they used to."

Sound familiar? Maybe we don't realize how repetitive we are.

My grandmothers struggled with a lot of the issues and questions I did, and my kids do. But some things really are different.

One huge difference today is the 24/7 connection with friends -- and non-friends. The impact of that is hard to overstate. When I went to a party in sixth grade and had an argument with a friend or put my foot in my mouth or felt insulted, there was a whole weekend stretching ahead during which I could recover some balance. I would spend time with my family, or reading... I would have time away. Even every night was a break from the social whirl. I might talk on the phone with a friend or two, but it was necessarily really limited.

Now? You can't get away. Teens are already texting, IMing, BBMing on the way home from school or a get-together, and straight through until they are back together (and maybe even straight through that, too). When I was a teen, nobody had a camera at a party. If you made a jerk of yourself, whatever. Maybe people would remember but the story would always morph and be forgotten eventually. Now? Almost everybody has a camera (it's in their phone.) If you do something stupid, it will be on facebook within the hour, or the minute. I have heard teens moaning, it's too much! But breaking away is no simple matter. Being connected is the norm, now.

When I went to sleepaway camp, I felt like a year of social life happened in the 8 weeks I was there, because we never got away from one another, and there was no adult mediation (I probably didn't think the word mediation at the time -- or maybe, nerd that I was, I did). But that full-on, full-time connection is the way of the world for teens now.

It's exhausting even when things are good.

When things are bad, it can be brutal.

What can adults do to, well, mediate? To ease the drama and the tension? Anything? Parents or teens or kids -- what do you think? What do and can teens do to help one another, or themselves? How about kids? Do you have any tips you can share, either from hard-won experience or just hopeful thinking? Because it seems to me that for all the connecting we do, sometimes the pain is suffered in isolation, and in silence. Maybe we can use the beast of connection to forge something positive and empowering?

I read this incredibly heartbreaking piece yesterday in Jezebel by a woman who was bullied in sixth grade. I can't stop thinking about it. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this, too.

Another JUSTIN review, another JUSTIN sneak peek!

(shouldn't the words sneak and peek be spelled alike? I am just saying. English is so screwy. I wrote "sneak peak" first, that means a whole different thing. Is it any wonder some of us can't spell?)

Anyway. What are you up to today? I am drinking tea and writing. Hmmm, deja vu much?

But the big news du jour (I am feeling so very French. Maybe I need a croissant.) JUSTIN was reviewed in School Library Journal! Here's what they have to say:

VAIL, Rachel. Justin Case: School, Drool, and Other Daily Disasters. illus. by Matthew Cordell. 256p. Feiwel & Friends. May 2010. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-312-53290-1. LC number unavailable.

Gr 2-4Honest and full of heart, Justin Case is a story for an oft-ignored segment of kids: the sensitive, introverted, and observant. Those youngsters will see themselves in third grader Justin Krzeszewski, a full-blown worrywart with good intentions. He wants to be a good student. He wants to make friends. It’s just that sometimes things don’t work out, often with humorous results. Through his journal entries during the course of the year, readers see his changing friendships, embarrassments, a “be careful what you wish for” new pet, and the dreaded gym-class rope. His voice is authentic, and touches of playdates and “screen time” will ring true with today’s youngsters. The format will remind many readers of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” (Abrams), but with fewer illustrations and a more reflective tone than Jeff Kinney’s series. Cordell’s intermittent doodles pair nicely with the personal quality of the text. Readers who are looking for plot-driven excitement will have to look elsewhere. Justin Case is about the feelings that kids experience as they navigate the roller coaster of family and school life. This is subtly satisfying storytelling. No miraculous character overhauls–just a boy growing up and, hopefully, becoming a bit braver.–Travis Jonker, Dorr Elementary School, MI

And, on that note, your daily dose of Justin:

April 20, Tuesday

For Earth Day Thursday, we have to write haikus. Haikus are about nature. A haiku that is not about nature is what a senryu is, it turns out, and that is apparently not what we are writing.

Mittens are not "nature" so anybody who wrote a nice haiku about a mitten that got lost actually wrote a senryu and had to start over, even though it was my best poem ever.

This is my stinky haiku:

Dandelions rock

They polka-dot the green grass

For decoration

Tune in tomorrow for what happens when he turns that haiku in to Ms. Termini...

And send me your own stinky haikus (or even non-stinkers) and I will choose a couple to post.


(Maybe I will at least go get a baguette...)


Rachel Vail

PS One week until JUSTIN CASE: School, Drool, and Other Daily Disasters hits bookstores!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Good Reviews, Rough Times

JUSTIN CASE got a great review today in Publisher's Weekly!

They call it "an endearing portrait of a third-grade worrywart" and go on to say that Justin's "mishaps... are universally recognizable and distinguished by observations and details that consistently ring true, from being told to 'shake it off' on the soccer field to the horrible realization that all the 'good kids' were placed in the other class."

I love that they get how horrible that kind of realization can be to a kid, how utterly soul-crushing. Oh, man, being in the wrong class? Did that ever happen to you? Did you ever get the "bad" teacher when all your friends got the good one? This picture is of the teacher Justin got, the bad one, the scary one, the one whose name is Ms. Termini (say it out loud and you will see what bad news that is.) How dreadful was it to find out you were placed in the class with the mean teacher and all the bad kids?

And did anybody ever tell you to shake it off when you were trying your absolute best not to cry? Or tell you that whatever it is that you are utterly crushed by or outraged about is "not the end of the world"? Wow, you could really feel justified in hitting somebody with a pot, for a statement like that.

But adults say crap like that to kids all the time. We say no, we minimize, we tell them their pain is no big deal -- just wait until they have a job and a mortgage to deal with. We don't want the children we love to feel sad or bad or hurt or angry, so we tell them NO. No feeling that, it's nothing -- and don't always realize how degrading, demeaning, and dismissive we sound.

So, thanks, Publisher's Weekly, for highlighting one of those things we grown-ups sometimes treat too callously, and need to remind ourselves not to. It's not easy, but we have to realize that when our kids complain, it's not always our job to solve their problems or teach them how to solve them themselves -- even to shove some perspective into their limited sights -- but to just sit there and listen, as we'd want the people who love us to do when we feel temporarily bludgeoned by the world.

Meanwhile, I have also gotten some reviews from kids (who've read advance reader copies) that are really awesome -- well-written, full of insights and humor and compelling commentary.

I am thinking I will start to share those with you, in the coming days. In fact, maybe I will start posting a Review of the Day soon. If you read JUSTIN CASE and write a review, send it to me by email. I will pick a Review of the Day to post, and the reviewer will receive a FREE signed bookplate, with, of course, a SUPERSTAR on it... more details to come.

Meanwhile, in celebration of the great PW review du jour, here is Justin himself, today:

April 19, Monday

The bad thing about relay races in gym:
People chanting your nickname, "Justin Case," while you run

The good thing about relay races in gym:
They are not rope climbing, which is our next unit
Winning (which my team did)

Oh, I just read ahead. Tomorrow Justin writes a haiku. I love the haiku unit. I will have to to come back tomorrow and post that one. Did you ever write a haiku? April is National Poetry Month -- send in your haikus this week and I will post some of them along with Justin's...

Rachel Vail

Monday, April 12, 2010

First Ever Reading From Brilliant, and not in running shoes

Getting psyched... I will be reading from BRILLIANT for the first time, as part of an amazing group of authors on Wednesday evening, April 14.

For the past week, I kept thinking, hmm, I feel like I have something coming up for BRILLIANT. What was it??? And then I move on to other pressing concerns like where did I put that chocolate?

But then it hit me, just now, as I was finishing my 102 push-ups and 102 sit-ups (youch, it's starting to get hard, I tell you, and we have a long way to go...) Another benefit of all these crazy Ups in my self-inflicted Just One More workout (see earlier blog entries) is that while I am doing them, I remember vital stuff. It's weird -- I really do figure stuff out starting around 75 or so.

Anyway, phew. I am so happy I remembered tonight about Wednesday's Teen Read Event! It would have been horribly embarrassing to remember at 5 PM Wednesday, midway through a jog in Central Park... because with a lineup like this, I would fully have gone anyway, sweaty and gross though I would be. Now I will come clean and prepared.

I hope you can do the same! You don't even have to be prepared! (But clean is always nice.)

We'll be at The Jefferson Market Branch of the NYPL 425 6th Avenue at 10th Street, down in the Village. The reading begins at 6:00pm - 7:30pm. And, it's FREE. How great are libraries?

Check out this awesome crew of writers who'll be reading from their newest books:

Daniel Ehrenhaf - Friend is Not a Verb
David Levithan - Will Grayson, Will Grayson
Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus - Dedication
Sarah Mlynowski - Gimme a Call
Marie Rutkoski - The Celestial Globe
Elizabeth Scott - The Unwritten Rule
Rachel Vail - Brilliant
Adrienne Maria Vrettos - The Exile of Gigi Lane

I don't have any copies of BRILLIANT yet, so I won't be able to give them as prizes or anything -- but I did just get a few copies of GORGEOUS in paperback... maybe I'll bring one of those, in case somebody does something prize-worthy.

You never know.

Maybe I will bring some treats, too, like maybe Hershey's Kisses or gummy somethings, in case many people do prize-worthy things. My mom and dad have always said you never want to be caught short on prizes. (They are pretty awesome that way.)

Now that I know I am going, I am so psyched to be going! Hope you can join us.

Rachel Vail

Friday, April 9, 2010


My wonderful editor, Liz Szabla, sent me the best thing I've received all year: a hot-off-the-presses first copy of

Justin Case: School, Drool, and Other Daily Disasters

It looks fantastic, even better than I'd hoped. I keep picking it up, looking through it at Matt Cordell's adorable drawings, reading bits... I am so excited to get more copies and start sharing them with people. Maybe I should have a contest to give some away -- what do you think? What should the contest be?

Oh, and Liz also emailed another lovely review, this one from The Horn Book, which says that Justin is drop-dead funny !!!

The mail has been so fun this week -- I also received a certificate and a lapel pin from the Junior Library Guild, because JUSTIN was chosen as a Premier Selection! I think I might have to buy a cute jacket, or something with a lapel, to put my pin on! For now I stuck it through the zipper pull-thing on my favorite fleece. But is that really dignified enough for a lapel pin? Actually I think it looks kind of awesome, personally.

Anyway, in celebration of all this news, here is a picture from page 21, when Justin is trying to cope with the power struggle among the stuffties on his bed, and the text of today as seen by Justin on page 174 of the book:

April 9, Friday

I got to stay home again, even though I felt fine. The rule is if you have a fever one day you get to stay home the next, even if you feel great.

Mom and I watched a movie in the morning and then we had chicken noodle soup for lunch.

Then I got to play video games for a full hour plus.

All together it added up to more screen time than I usually get in a week.

Sometimes a person needs a day off, Mom said.

She might be the smartest woman in the world.

Have you have a real day off lately? What did you do with it? What would you do if you could do anything you wanted all day?

I am kind of having a day off today, myself, because I am up at the lake, with no responsibility for or company of anybody but myself (and my characters.) What I am doing with my day: Writing. Went for a run. 99 sit-ups, 99 push-ups. Writing again. Later maybe I will sing a little, eat some chocolate, and then write some more.

I want to finish the draft of the current book before Justin comes out on April 27, which is not three months away (how relaxing that would be) but 18 days! Okay, back to work.

Rachel Vail

Friday, April 2, 2010

And now for some Avery girls news...

GORGEOUS is available starting today for print-disabled readers! My friend Neil just emailed me the following info about it:

Print-disabled readers can now download it as a digital talking book.

Any US citizen who is not able to read print (due to a visual or physical impairment) can get free talking book or braille library service. Materials can be downloaded or delivered via the U.S. mail, and for the audio materials the player is free to borrow for as long as they're a library patron.

If they haven't already, they should go tohttp://www.loc.gov/nls/find.html and find the library that services their area.

Gorgeous will be out in paperback at the end of this month!

Then, on May 25, get ready for Brilliant, the third and final book in the Avery trilogy. I just got this nice review that will appear in Booklist this week:


Vail, Rachel (Author)

Jun 2010. 256 p. HarperTeen, hardcover, $16.99. (9780060890490).

In this concluding volume of the Avery Sisters trilogy, oldest sister Quinn gives her side of her family’s

financial crisis. Sixteen-year-old, type A Quinn is known as the intellectual, responsible one in her family.

But she questions herself when her executive mom is accused of financial impropriety and loses her job,

forcing everyone to tighten their belts. If her perfect mom could mess up, what hope is there for Quinn?

She starts acting more like middle-sister Allison: partying, drinking, and kissing random boys. But it only

makes her feel worse. Can she leave the labels behind and embrace both sides of her personality? Quinn’s

introspective search for self is realistically complex and exceptionally well drawn, and teen readers will

sympathize with her urge to break free of the good-girl box her family has put her in. Like Quinn, this

timely series defies the label of chick lit as Vail sensitively and accurately explores topics of individuality,

social class, and what it means to come of age during a national recession.

— Jennifer Hubert

JUSTIN gets a Super Star!!!

JUSTIN CASE: School, Drool, and Other Daily Disasters just got a star!

Here is an excerpt from the starred review that will appear in Kirkus on April 15, 2010:

Vail employs easy, direct language in a rhythm and syntax that captures the essence of a charming, lovable and very believable boy. Readers transitioning to longer fiction will groan, sympathize and laugh out loud in delight. Absolutely marvelous.

Hooray for Justin!

In celebration, here is what today is like for Justin himself, taken from the book:

April 2, Friday

Mom and Dad think we can't hear them when they are fighting but we can.
Elizabeth came into my room way after lights-out when we were supposed to be sleeping and Mom and Dad were going over their papers. They were working on their taxes and they kept not finding the receipt or the bill or the paper they needed.
Elizabeth tiptoed into my room, climbed up my ladder, and scrunched into the bottom corner of my bed. I asked her what was wrong.
She asked, "Why are they fighting?"
I said, "They aren't fighting, really. They are just worried about taxes. It happens every year."
"Taxes?" Elizabeth asked.
"Yeah, I explained, sitting up and feeling very wise. "It's money you have to pay the government so we can have wars and schools and bridges, stuff like that."

"No, Justin," Elizabeth said. "Taxes is the kind of car you take in New York City if you don't have your own car. It is also called a cabbage."

"Well," I said, trying not to laugh at her because of how wise I am, "why would they fight about that?"
"Exactly," Elizabeth said. "Can I have a sleep-over here?"

I let her. I even let her sleep on the Pillow of Honor. (Just her head.)

Hope you have a good day, and that you don't spend it on taxes or cabbages.

Rachel Vail

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