Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Melanie Crowder on Setting in A NEARER MOON

When I saw the cover for Melanie Crowder's A NEARER MOON, I jumped at the chance to read and share it with Project Mayhem. In person, the book is even more beautiful than the image appears on your screen - there's a shimmer to the gorgeous illustration, which wraps around the entire cover. Inside, the book is every bit as lush and gorgeous as it is on the outside. I found such a deliciously realized setting (along with a heartfelt story and memorably characters) that I had to bring Melanie Crowder in to answer some questions about crafting setting in MG.

The setting in A NEARER MOON is essentially a character in the book, and an extremely important one at that. The plot and the central conflict are inextricably tied into the setting. At what stage in your development of this book's idea did the setting start forming?

At the very start!

I’m a really visual person, so my stories almost always begin with an image. This time, I could see a thin girl on a shallow boat, poling through still water. All around her was a jungle, and a mist of sorts that told me there was magic in that swamp.

That’s it—that’s all I had! No plot. No character motivation. No idea why she was there, or where she was going. But the setting I knew, and the rest fell into place as I began writing.

Does the setting develop as you create the plot and characters, or do you brainstorm specifically on setting?  Does that development happen in your head, or do you make a map or a Pinterest board or some other visual reference?

What I do is research. I seek out travel photographs and indexes of flora and fauna from the ecosystem I’m inspired by. Even though my setting is made up, I am pulling details from our world. I think that serves to ground the story so that when I add in the culture I created in my mind and the magic I imagined, they feel believable.

The coolest part was researching homes around the world that float or are held up on stilts above the water. Try it—search online for images of houses on stilts. Fascinating, isn’t it? How could I not be inspired?

A NEARER MOON is your first fantasy. How did the process of crafting a setting differ when writing a fantasy, versus a contemporary or historical? 

It’s so fun!

The great thing about fantasy is you’re not only inventing the world that exists during the time in which your story is set, but you’re also creating that world’s history and traditions. The world I created had two civilizations living side by side: humans and sprites. So I got to write the setting from two very different perspectives, and I got to layer in the history of both civilizations, and the imprint each had on the land they inhabited. 

With contemporary or historical, you have to be true to history and reality. With fantasy, you have the freedom to make the choices that are true to your story.

You've written for both MG & YA audiences. Do you think there's anything that distinguishes a great MG setting from a setting for any other age level? What do MG readers respond to in a setting?

The thing I love most about middle grade readers is their willingness to believe that magic is real and possible and right there around the corner if you only look hard enough. You know—the Tinkerbell effect!

My readers believe in the creature at the bottom of the swamp, so when I describe the murky layers of silty water below the boat, they shiver with delight because, of course a terrifying swamp creature lives down there!

Your cover is amazing, with a strong focus on the book's all-important setting. Can you tell us a little bit about the cover process? Does it match what you imagined in your head as you were writing?

Yes! The cover is fantastic! I am so grateful to the team at Atheneum for placing this story inside such a lovely package. The cover shimmers when you hold it in your hands—it’s magical!

My editor came to me with two options for cover artists they were considering. It’s so fun—you get to look through their online portfolio and imagine what, with that artist’s style and techniques and tastes, he or she might imagine for your story. It’s so fun!

That said, the covers for my books are never quite what I would have imagined, and that’s a good thing. What I have in my head when the book exists solely in my own mind is different from what the book is to a reader who comes to the story with an open heart and mind. The cover is a reflection of that fresh impression, that first read. It’s something that I, with all my attachments and connections to the story, could never imagine. Bringing a book into the world truly is a team effort, and I am so grateful for my team!

Finally, any tips for other writers as they craft their own settings for MG audiences?

I’ll leave you all with a challenge:

Think about your setting, and how you can infuse those qualities into the very sentences that you write. If your setting is lush, how can you mirror that in your prose? If your setting is harsh, how can you mirror that in your prose?

My first middle grade book was about a dry, barren landscape, so the prose style was sparse to match it. A NEARER MOON is set in a swamp, and explores the interconnectedness of actions and emotions through time, so I used a lot of repetition in my writing; I picture the repetitive prose style as ripples extending out from a pebble dropped into still water.

It’s all connected—setting, plot, character, prose style. The more you can make the setting a part of the other three, the more your setting will feel intentional and essential to your story.

Good luck!

Thanks so much, Melanie! You can find Melanie at her website or on Twitter.

Here's a bit more about A NEARER MOON, which you can find here and here and here:

Along a lively river, in a village raised on stilts, lives a girl named Luna. All her life she has heard tales of the time before the dam appeared, when sprites danced in the currents and no one got the mysterious wasting illness from a mouthful of river water. These are just stories, though—no sensible person would believe in such things.

Beneath the waves is someone who might disagree. Perdita is a young water sprite, delighting in the wet splash and sparkle, and sad about the day her people will finally finish building their door to another world, in search of a place that humans have not yet discovered.

But when Luna’s little sister falls ill with the river sickness, everyone knows she has only three weeks to live. Luna is determined to find a cure for her beloved sister, no matter what it takes. Even if that means believing in magic…

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Technical Difficulties: Do Not Standby, by Kell Andrews

There's never a good time for technical difficulties to crop up. One of those not-good times is when drafting a new novel.

This doesn't happen that often for me. I am not the most prolific writer, generally requiring the most perfect circumstances to feed my muse, which of course, rarely happens. So when I finally got on a creative roll  and my Macbook starting spontaneous deleting passages and opening new windows, I despaired.

I know what's wrong with my Macbook because I've had it fixed before -- a swollen battery putting pressure on the trackpad, causing phantom cursor movements. But this computer is past its expiration, and I don't want to pay to fix it again, and I don't yet have the funds set aside for a new Macbook.

So what do I do? Trust me, I've tried everything, and this is what works (sort-of).

Plan A. Bang Macbook. 

This is effective some of the time, the impact nudging the battery back in place. Plus I feel better after I knock something around.

Plan B. Massage the back of the Macbook. 

I think this also puts the battery back in place, but it might just put the Macbook in a better mood -- the Good Cop to Plan A's Bad Cop.

Plan C. Drafting on my Kindle Fire with a Bluetooth keyboard. 

A Kindle Fire is really an Android tablet, and this one is poetically appropriate -- ashes to ashes, Kindle to Kindle. Most books end up there eventually.

So far a combo of these strategies is working. I write on the Kindle, and transfer my working sessions into Scrivener on my Macbook, when it's working OK through my efforts at Plan A and B.

At first I used OfficeSuite for Android. Then I lost a whole morning's work due to lack of backup function in OfficeSuite and my own poor work habits. In addition to not being prolific, I'm also not very resilient. So I tried to recover the document, and when I couldn't, I could either move forward or not, so I rewrote it. My document did not recover, but I did.

Now I'm using an Evernote app for Android, which backs up itself and makes it easy to transfer scenes between Kindle and Macbook. It's actually not bad -- I am not as distracted by other things when I'm using my Kindle. My focus is better. And I'm halfway done with drafting -- 37,000 words.

The halfway part is where it gets easy, right? Right??? Like rolling down a hill (tell me I'm right, please).

But if it doesn't, I have gotten myself to the place where the perfect circumstances for writing don't matter. I could use my Bluetooth keyboard and write on Evernote on my iPhone if I had to. I could write with a pen and notebook. I could write in a box with a fox on a train in the rain, preferably while rolling down a hill.

What's your worse technical failure? Does technology matter to you when writing, or are you platform agnostic?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Guest Post by Lisa Lewis Tyre: BEHIND EVERY PUBLISHED AUTHOR...

Members of the Middle Grade Mafia Critique Group (Right to left: Lisa Lewis Tyre; Kevin A. Springer; Debbie D'Aurelio; Alison Hertz)
Behind Every Published Author….

Writers are often asked to do a reading of their book at signings. While I might pick a funny scene from the first chapter, that’s not my favorite part. No, my favorite section is the Acknowledgments page, because that’s where I got to thank my critique partners.

For years I harbored a secret dream of becoming a writer, but it wasn’t until I found a couple of friends and formed a critique group, that I actually started writing with any regularity. I’m convinced that my upcoming novel, LAST IN A LONG LINE OF REBELS, would have never have seen the light of day with my writing partners.

My critique partners have been integral to my success as a writer.

What makes a top-notch critique group? Here are 3 things I’ve found that seem to make all the difference.

1. Consistency

A great critique group should be able to meet on a regular basis. I’m a member of The Middle Grade Mafia, and we meet twice a month at a local cafĂ©. We have between six and ten people at every meeting, and we meet for two hours. And I better have something to share. My group knows that I’m on deadline and have full authority to give me serious stink eye if I show up too often without pages.

 If you don’t have time to meet every two weeks, don’t worry. I’ve had other groups that only met once a month and they were very effective, just hold your meetings consistently.

2.  Professionalism

Critique members should take writing seriously. When you have something to read, they should be able to listen, and give constructive feedback. By constructive, I mean honest, no BS, even if it hurts, analysis. And when one of you is ready to submit, everyone in the group should take the time to really go through your sub with a fine-toothed comb. That may sound like a given, but keep in mind that these people will probably have read your manuscript several times by the time you’re ready to send it out, and you want people who will happily read it AGAIN.

When my latest group formed, we had one published book and one agent between us. Now we have four published books, three agents, two novels out on submission, several finished novels, full out with agents, and much more.

3. Leadership

It’s impossible to have a good critique group without a good leader. My current critique group is led by the awesome, Debbie D’Aurelio. She does a great job of organizing us all. She keeps us on track, sends out reminders, brings contests and book signings to our attention, etc. and in the very rare case that we add someone who doesn’t work out, well, she has to be the bad guy and let them know.

Now that you know what makes a good critique group, let’s talk about where to find them!

1. Your Circle of Friends

Tell the people in your life that you want to form a critique group. That’s how I found my first one – the wife of a friend heard I liked to write, then she invited a client, and voila – my first group. We all wrote different things, but we loved getting together and reading what each other had done. Because I didn’t know them well, it was terrifying, but it also made me do my very best. Ask around. You might be surprised by how many people in your church, neighborhood, etc. also want to write.

2. Professional Associations

I became a member of SCBWI and added my name to the list of people looking for a critique groups. Several months passed before I got an email, but it did eventually come. Now I’m in a fabulous critique group with great people. Write romances? The RWA has a critique partner match up, too. Science Fiction or Fantasy – then you’ll want to try the SFWA!

3. Online Groups

Don’t have a lot of time in your schedule to meet, or live too far away from the closest group? Try an online group instead. Below are just a few, but a Google search will reveal dozens more.

Ladies Who Critique  – “Ladies Who Critique is a critique partner matching site for writers of all levels – published, unpublished, aspiring, hobbyists, even closet writers or complete newbies.”

Agent Query Connect  – Agent Query is a great resource and has a forum just for people looking for critique partners.

CP Seek – “A community for writers to find others to bounce ideas off of and find new critique partners or beta readers. Have a look around, and then join up. Registration is free!”

My dream of becoming a published author is about to come true, and I want the same for everyone with a similar wish. Find a great critique group and get writing. Good luck!

About Lisa Lewis Tyre's LAST IN A LONG LINE OF REBELS (from Goodreads blurb):

Debut novelist Lisa Lewis Tyre vibrantly brings a small town and its outspoken characters to life, as she explores race and other community issues from both the Civil War and the present day.

Lou might be only twelve, but she’s never been one to take things sitting down. So when her Civil War-era house is about to be condemned, she’s determined to save it—either by getting it deemed a historic landmark or by finding the stash of gold rumored to be hidden nearby during the war. As Lou digs into the past, her eyes are opened when she finds that her ancestors ran the gamut of slave owners, renegades, thieves and abolitionists. Meanwhile, some incidents in her town show her that many Civil War era prejudices still survive and that the past can keep repeating itself if we let it. Digging into her past shows Lou that it’s never too late to fight injustice, and she starts to see the real value of understanding and exploring her roots.
twitter: @lisalewistyre
Instagram: @lisalewistyre


Monday, September 21, 2015

When Setting Is the Star, Five Recommendations by Robert Lettrick

It goes without saying, setting is an extremely important component of storytelling. Some of our favorite books were made even more memorable because of the vividly painted worlds they took place in. As authors we should work at developing unique, fully-realized settings that linger with the reader long after their vacation has ended. But this blog is about books in which the setting isn't just one component, it's the star. I'm talking about places like Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, Wonderland, Narnia and Oz. Some very successful novels were built from the setting up. It's a different way to approach a book, and as my examples show, the end result can be something quite special. 

I won’t touch on world building here as that topic has already been covered in Project Mayhem, and I encourage you to search for those entries and give them a read. They're very insightful. Instead, I’d like to use this opportunity to recommend some of my favorite middle grade books where setting is king. 


One of the best novels set on a farm since Charlotte’s Web, Kathleen Van Cleve’s lovely mystery is laced with a timely environmental message. The whimsical plot works well against the author's choice of background, a magical farm where dragonflies write messages in the air and a young girl’s best friend is a sentient rhubarb plant named Harry. I loved this book. It’s a perfect example of a setting acting as a literal living, breathing character. 

From Booklist - Eleven-year-old Polly has no friends at school. Her best friend is Harry, a unique rhubarb plant on her family’s midwestern farm, where it rains miraculously at the same time every Monday, and tourists come to enjoy a giant, amusement-park umbrella ride that her family has built. Polly and Harry communicate: he nods when he agrees with her and swats her with his leaves when he is angry. And Polly can talk with bugs, as well as plants. Her peaceful life on the farm changes, though, when the rain stops suddenly and her brother gets deathly ill. Does she have the power to save both the farm and her sibling?


It’s Lord of the Flies meets Disneyland. It may not be the best-known MG book set at an amusement park, but it’s definitely one of the most entertaining. I enjoyed Ridley Peason’s Kingdom Keeper series (and recommend it), but Bonnie Dobkin’s Neptune’s Children has a dystopian flavor that works especially well in this conventionally cheery setting. Plus I always enjoy a good deadly virus story. *Cough*

From School Library Journal - Terrorists design a virus to take over the world, but something goes wrong. On a vacation at the Isles of Wonder, a theme park similar to Disney World, Josh and his little sister watch as all of the adults die around them, leaving them and thousands of others under age 13 to fend for themselves. With no other choice, the youngsters start working to create their own society, barricading themselves from the outside world and its dangers. Led by the charismatic Milo, a group of the older children become the central government, the Core. Eventually, barricades will not be enough to keep danger out of their utopian world and the community will be threatened in unexpected ways. 


One of my all-time favorite middle grade books. Set years after an unspecified catastrophe, Jeanne DuPrau’s engrossing adventure (it can read at times like horror) takes place in a claustrophobia-inducing setting—an underground city. Expert character development coupled with the threat of an imminent (and permanent) blackout results in an un-put-downable page-turner. The clock ticks loudly in this one. 

Amazon’s review - It is always night in the city of Ember. But there is no moon, no stars. The only light during the regular twelve hours of "day" comes from floodlamps that cast a yellowish glow over the streets of the city. Beyond are the pitch-black Unknown Regions, which no one has ever explored because an understanding of fire and electricity has been lost, and with it the idea of a Moveable Light. "Besides," they tell each other, "there is nowhere but here" Among the many other things the people of Ember have forgotten is their past and a direction for their future. For 250 years they have lived pleasantly, because there has been plenty of everything in the vast storerooms. But now there are more and more empty shelves--and more and more times when the lights flicker and go out, leaving them in terrifying blackness for long minutes. What will happen when the generator finally fails?


Author Diana Wynne Jones chose a setting that's quite proactive because it's constantly on the move. It's the premise and the reward of this highly recommended story. Read it and then watch Hayao Miyazaki’s wonderful Academy Award Nominated film adaptation.

From School Library Journal - Sophie Hatter reads a great deal and soon realizes that as the eldest of three daughters she is doomed to an uninteresting future. She resigns herself to making a living as a hatter and helping her younger sisters prepare to make their fortunes. But adventure seeks her out in the shop where she sits alone, dreaming over her hats. The wicked Witch of the Waste, angered by "competition" in the area, turns her into a old woman, so she seeks refuge inside the strange moving castle of the wizard Howl. Howl, advertised by his apprentice as an eater of souls, lives a mad, frantic life trying to escape the curse the witch has placed on him, find the perfect girl of his dreams and end the contract he and his fire demon have entered. Sophie, against her best instincts and at first unaware of her own powers, falls in love.


Proof that a setting, when well written, can be as ordinary as a railroad boxcar and still deserve a spot in the title. I read the first part of Gertrude Chandler Warner’s classic series when I was the same age as the character Benny Alden, and like Benny, my favorite part of the story was lunch. I recall having a fierce craving for potatoes, stew, turnips, bread and buttered veggies while reading this book. Running away and living in a boxcar seemed like a child-gourmand’s best course of action.

From Kids Reads - Imagine what it would be like to live in a railroad boxcar with just your brothers and sisters and no adults to help you or take care of you. Meet Henry, Jessie, Violet and Benny Alden --- the orphans known as the Boxcar Children --- who wind up living in an old red boxcar after their parents have died. Eventually the children's wealthy grandfather finds them and gives them a wonderful home, but their adventures don't stop there. They travel to all parts of the country, see exciting places, and become involved in strange and mysterious happenings --- sometimes right in their own backyard!

For other setting-heavy stories check out the following:

Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins (a subterranean world below New York City)
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (a graveyard)
Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley (a magic circus)
The Night at the Museum by Milan Trenc (a museum)

Thursday, September 17, 2015

A Review of Fuzzy Mud + Back-to-School Reads! by Donna Galanti

"Be careful. Your next step may be your last."

In Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar, fifth grader Tamaya Dhilwaddi and seventh grader Marshall Walsh have been walking to and from school since forever. But when a bully challenges Marshall to a fight, he avoids the conflict and takes a shortcut home through forbidden woods. Tamaya, a good girl who always follows the rules, reluctantly follows.

They soon get lost, and walk into big trouble with fuzzy mud that holds a dark secret. Even bigger trouble unravels in the days to come when the government gets involved. A scary new disease, an experiment gone wrong, an eccentric scientist. It all comes together to change their world. Can one little girl make a difference?

Beware the fuzzy mud!


I am a huge fan of Sachar’s Newbery Medal Winner Holes, so was eager to read this book and was lucky to get an advanced reader copy. This book has the flavor of a horror book for kids but without the full-on scary – meaning no nightmares.

This book is much shorter than Holes, and I would have liked to see the horror, mystery, and character development deepened for a more satisfying journey. There was so much more to expand on.

That being said, Sachar packs a lot of story in a short time. You'll fall for Tamaya, the quiet girl with the big heart. While fairly predictable, the story is more about the journey and the cast of characters each facing their own challenges.

Sachar does a good job of getting us up to speed with the science behind the "fuzzy mud" in short bursts that ratchets up the tension and leads us to wonder about the fate of the characters, although the eccentric scientist seems a bit cartoonish. Overall, an entertaining tale! I recommend for kids of all ages (even the grown-up kind).

Check out eight of my back-to-school recommendations for middle-schoolers to "fall" in love with reading - from classic to fantasy to contemporary (including one by a Mayhemmer here!).

#1 SURVIVING BEAR ISLAND (contemporary) by Paul Greci
This thrilling adventure begins after a sea kayaking trip takes a dangerous turn and Tom Parker is stranded on the remote, outer coast of the unpopulated Bear Island in the rough terrains of the Alaskan wilderness. He must put his skills to the test as he fights to reach safety through a wilderness full of bears and other dangers.

This book is a new classic I thought better than Hatchet! Surviving Bear Island is a story you won’t want to put down. I found myself thinking about it when I wasn’t reading it – I had to know what would happen next to Tom. Armed with only a small survival kit and his will to find his father, 12-year-old Tom must put his wilderness survival skills to the test if he wants to live. Each day brings new challenges to find food, make fire, and avoid death by starvation, injury, hypothermia – or bear. Tom may have only himself to count on in this harsh landscape, but he is not alone. His mother’s songs and father’s words of wisdom, come to him as he faces life and death each day. We watch him go from the reluctant hero of his own adventure tale to a young man, strong of heart and spirit. A beautifully written novel of love, loss, faith, and survival that will stay with you long after you’ve cherished the last word.

#2 WONDER (contemporary) by R.J Palacio
August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He’s about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you’ve ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie’s just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face.

R.J. Palacio has created a character to love and admire in 10-year-old Auggie – along with his loyal friends. You will laugh and cry as Auggie navigates a new world that is often cruel and embracing. As the mother of a young boy, I so felt the pain of Auggie’s rejection and unfortunate disfigurement. I wondered how I, or my son, would react in such a situation. A great topic for discussion between me and my son. This book is a “wonder” and so is Auggie.

#3 HOLES (contemporary) by Louis Sachar
Stanley has been unjustly sent to a boys’ detention center, Camp Green Lake, where the boys build character by spending every day digging holes exactly five feet wide and five feet deep. The boys are digging holes because the warden is looking for something. But what could be buried under a dried-up lake?

This is a gem of a book I wish I’d read sooner. My son brought it home and sucked it down in one sitting. It’s super fun how the author, Louis Sachar, masterfully intertwined the story from the past with the current tale and tied it up perfectly at the end. It held hope and joy in the most barren and dark conditions where the faces of evil shone bright. Stanley and his friend Zero are unlikely heroes that tell a tale of true friendship.

#4 THE MAGIC THIEF (fantasy) by Sarah Prineas
In a city that runs on a dwindling supply of magic, a young boy is drawn into a life of wizardry and adventure.

The Magic Thief is a flash-bash of a magic tale with a humble boy, Conn, who simply knows he is destined to be a Wizard – and maybe the only one to save his town from its un-magic demise. Conn’s determined voice shines through with flinty-glinty fun and grit as he navigates his new role as an unlikely apprentice to Nevery (a stern, serious wizard with a hidden good heart). Add some unusual sidekicks (like a bruiser of a body guard who loves to knit, make biscuits and pie), dark villains and creepy, twilight places and you’ve got a mish-mash mosh of adventure with just enough intrigue and wonder – and of course, magic. Looking forward to Conn’s next adventure!

#5 SPARROW ROAD (contemporary) by Sheila O’Connor
It’s the summer before seventh grade, and twelve-year-old Raine O'Rourke’s mother suddenly takes a job that’s hours from home at mysterious Sparrow Road - a creepy, dilapidated mansion that houses an eccentric group of artists and an unexpected secret from Raine’s own life that changes her forever.

I wish I could give this book a “blizzard of stars”. This is the book that made me fall in love with reading middle grade again. Raine has an unexpected summer that at first she resists, but as she transforms, and the people she meets transforms, it changes her life forever. O'Connor creates a colorful scene and set of many characters with sparse, poetic prose. We see and feel all the characters through Raine’s eyes and heart. I flipped back to pages to re-read the scenes that painted my heart with wonder and feeling. It’s a book about searching for something you don’t know. It’s about love, hope, redemption, getting left behind – and doing the leaving yourself when ready.

#6 THE ONE AND ONLY IVAN (magical realism) by Katherine Applegate
Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home through new eyes.

Katherine Applegate blends humor and poignancy to create Ivan’s unforgettable first-person narration in a story of friendship, art, and hope. This story of Ivan the gorilla broke my heart – and then mended it again…over and over. This tale is a testament to the transformative power of friendship and love, and reveals that nothing is impossible if you want it badly enough. We see more deeply the strengths, and weaknesses, in our own humanity from one gorilla than from a cast of humans. And we can celebrate the hope in all of us that remains even in our darkest hour and in a place where the dimmest of lights can power the brightest of change. This simply written yet powerfully poetic story will stay in your heart forever – and so will its hero, Ivan.

#7 THE FALSE PRINCE (fantasy) by Jennifer A. Nielsen
In a discontent kingdom, civil war is brewing. To unify the divided people, Conner, a nobleman of the court, devises a cunning plan to find an impersonator of the king’s long-lost son and install him as a puppet prince.

Couldn’t put this one down! I’m a sucker for a medieval setting of kings and commoners, paupers and princes, castles and dungeons, and championing the underdog. You’ll want to follow the adventures of Sage from orphan to would-be prince laced with intrigue. Nielsen drops clues along the way making you wonder just who this orphan Sage is, and it’s just enough to pack a powerful punch at the end when it all wraps up. And when you think you know what’s going on actually comes true, you’ll be cheering on the good guys and giving the bad guy a good kick along with his most welcome comeuppance. Can’t wait to read the next book in this trilogy.

#8 MY SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN (classic) by Jean Craighead George
Terribly unhappy in his family’s crowded New York City apartment, Sam Gribley runs away to the solitude and danger of the Catskill mountains, where he finds a side of himself he never knew.

This book was written in 1959 but there are still lessons to be learned today of achieving independence, making your dream a reality, finding your own way, and solving problems. Most of all, it shines a light on how we can still appreciate the grand beauty of nature all around us and live in harmony with it. Follow a year with Sam as he makes a home in the old woods of his grandfather and teaches himself to live off nature’s resources, make friends in the wild…and most importantly learn to love his own company. I didn’t want his adventure to end. I like to think of Sam still there living in his tree home as I come whistling up the glen to visit him for a dinner of fresh caught fish and acorn pancakes with homemade jam.

What are some of your favorite back-to-school reads?