Read Local in New England!

New England’s a great place to be a children’s/YA author. We have a fantastic network of enthusiastic readers, booksellers, educators, librarians and fellow writers; we’re the kind of people who show up for book events even during a winter of 100+ inches of snow.

So what better place than to read local? New England educators, librarians, and readers, take the Read Local Challenge!

The logistics, from wonderful New England author Jen Malone:

The challenge is open to any school, library, homeschool cooperative, or book club and will run throughout the 2015-16 school year. Working off the poster to the right (contact me to request a free copy by mail), groups work together to read the featured titles. Each book featured is written by an author who calls New England home and is appropriate for middle school readers. (Note: some titles are classified as Young Adult. Please contact me with any questions about possible content within a particular title.)

If at least one student in the school/library/group completes a book, mark it off on the poster. In April 2016, groups will send in their tally and we’ll award the top four groups an author visit by one of the four sponsoring authors. If more than four groups achieve the highest possible score of 30/30, we will hold a drawing to select the winning group.

How cool is that? I’m beyond excited to see The Chance You Won’t Return on the list, along with awesome books like MonstrousFish in a TreeBecoming JinnThe Hunger Games, and more.

To get started, click through, get the poster, and start reading local!

Links Galore

All the links I’ve been hoarding:

The Secret Life of a YA Writer in a Traditional MFA Program

This month at Ploughshares, I’m sharing a little of my experience at a traditional MFA program and ending up a YA writer.

I know other YA writers who went through traditional MFA programs and weren’t as happy with their experiences, but I appreciated having the time to focus on craft and technique. And I think it helped that my program was a little more flexible than most–I got to take classes outside of my genre, and also crossed over a lot with the publishing program.

Obviously you don’t need to get an MFA to be a writer or learn/practice craft. There are a million different ways to be a writer and you have to find what works for you.

Click through to read the full post, and enjoy the Lost gif.

Links Galore

Lots of good links to start the week:

College Essay Questions and What Teens Know

When I was applying to colleges, one school’s essay about a specific choice I’d made that had significantly impacted my life or the life of someone else. My response boiled down to: “I’m 17. What choices have I made of any real significance? I can’t even choose what to write about for a college admissions essay–this is the only essay option given. I still hope my biggest choices and changes are yet to come.” So I was pretty interested in this article at the Atlantic, which questions if college application essays expect too much from students:

“There are innumerable sites that offer advice for college applicants, and almost all of them involve admissions experts pleading with students to “be genuine.” But I don’t blame a 17-year-old girl for thinking her authentic answer to “What makes you happy?” won’t get her into college. My honest response—which probably would have involved Ben and Jerry’s and a new episode of Gossip Girl—certainly would not have gotten me into school. It’s not reasonable to tell a 17-year-old kid to “Be yourself!” while asking him to evaluate the meaning of knowledge in the 21st century or to discuss philosophical theories.”

As a college applicant, I felt largely the same. It was hard to be genuine when you knew there was also a right answer–one that doesn’t necessarily involve ice cream and television.

But reading this now, as a YA writer, I want to give teens more credit than that. Maybe it’s not fair to expect them to have the answers of the universe, but they’re not solely made happy by ice cream and Gossip Girl. They know the joy of riding in the car with friends with the windows rolled down; the pain of not really being friends with anyone in your senior class; the very real anxieties and doubts about the future. Teens are smart and thoughtful and do have real, emotional experiences. Why shouldn’t we expect them to think deep thoughts?

I think there’s a middle ground–questions that don’t necessitate major life experiences but still allow teens to think beyond the everyday. Questions that let them be creative and thoughtful about their own lives, even if that means being really mundane. Questions that don’t have a “right” answer.

Do you think college admissions essays are unfair or valid for the average teen?

Be an English Major

Fellow Candlewick YA writer and one of my favorite 2014 debut authors, Sarah Combs, recently sent me this article about why English majors matter. Needless to say, my heart swelled with bookish pride. For example:

“The English major is, first of all, a reader. She’s got a book pup-tented in front of her nose many hours a day; her Kindle glows softly late into the night. But there are readers and there are readers. There are people who read to anesthetize themselves—they read to induce a vivid, continuous, and risk-free daydream. They read for the same reason that people grab a glass of chardonnay—to put a light buzz on. The English major reads because, as rich as the one life he has may be, one life is not enough. He reads not to see the world through the eyes of other people but effectively to become other people. What is it like to be John Milton, Jane Austen, Chinua Achebe? What is it like to be them at their best, at the top of their games?

English majors want the joy of seeing the world through the eyes of people who—let us admit it—are more sensitive, more articulate, shrewder, sharper, more alive than they themselves are. The experience of merging minds and hearts with Proust or James or Austen makes you see that there is more to the world than you had ever imagined. You see that life is bigger, sweeter, more tragic and intense—more alive with meaning than you had thought.”

The whole article is fantastic. Edmundson defends not only the act of reading, as above, but also the act of writing and how deft handling of language allows us to “not merely to represent the world but to interpret it.” Isn’t every other major or career made better by the ability to represent and interpret the world and its ideas? Definitely click through to read the rest.

I’m a former English major and, even though people often make jokes about how unemployable we are and how useless it is to “sit around and read,” I can think of nothing more valuable than understanding language and being sensitive to the human experience. My English major certainly helped me get jobs (with health benefits!) and has made me a more thoughtful person overall.

Also, I gave a little cheer when I saw that the article writer was, in fact, Mark Edmundson, professor at the University of Virginia, my beloved alma mater. (Woohoo, English department!)

Thanks again to Sarah for sharing such an inspiring article! (And guys, you are totally going to want to read her book, Breakfast Served Anytime when it comes out next spring.)