Summer Reading: Cutting the Line, by Kristen C. Strocchia


Most likely we’ve all heard the advice that great writers are great readers. Know your craft, which we do by reading authors who’ve succeeded there. So, like many will-be authors, I keep a To Read list and a stack of Read Next books handy. And especially during the summer, which, as a teacher, is my time of the year to assume the full time author role.

But there are always authors that cut my line. Ones that it doesn’t matter where I am in my list or stack, because when they publish something new, I’m going to put down every book I’m interested in or curious about to read. These authors captivate and inspire me. These are authors that I have fallen in love with.

Here are a few of my favorite line cutters for your guilty pleasure:

  • Sharon Cameron: immersive period details, romantic tension, and suspenseful intrigue.
  • Alley Carter: appropriate teen romance, laugh out loud humor moments, and suspenseful intrigue.
  • Megan Whalen Turner: expert world building with hints of multiculturalism, nonstop intrigue, suspense (are you seeing a pattern here?), and heart-grabbing characters.
  • Pam Muñoz Ryan: poignant Hispanic cultural stories (something I’m a sucker for), heartfelt characters, and powerful life changes.

Please share your recommendations for me in the comments below. (Who doesn’t want a new author to love?)

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The Journey Will Be Worth It, by Laura Marinakos

avenue-2215317_1280I have long been a fan of picture books, and if possible, I would spend a significant amount of time reading them. Instead, I find myself grasping at those few minutes of the day where I can cuddle with my girls and giggle over a good story. (A time I cherish greatly.)

This summer, as I continue my journey toward writing, and of course re-writing, I find myself searching for the latest and greatest picture books available. I know that in reading them, I will, in turn, strengthen my craft. There are many books which I could speak to—we all know the talent out there is tremendous! However, there is one picture book I recently read, which has stuck with me.pigloo 2

And that is Pigloo, by Anne Marie Pace.

Pigloo is a story about a pig named Pigloo, who is intent on traveling to the North Pole and back—before lunch. This delightful and engaging story represents the eagerness, patience, and determination that go along with setting a goal and going after it.

Much like in writing, I find myself shifting between the eagerness to write a great picture book, and the determination to make it happen. Pigloo, eager to visit the North Pole, lets nothing stand in his way—even if it means patiently waiting for it to snow first! Yet in carefully planning out his steps for the trip (i.e. gathering the appropriate attire and packing enough snacks—or “stores” in explorer lingo), Pigloo eventually finds that although the journey seems immense (or in his case, the Hill), his determination to succeed wins in the end.

So much of this story resonates with me as a writer, and really, with many aspects of my life. We all find ourselves at some point planning out the steps it will take for us to get from A to B—whatever A to B means to us. In the world of book making, it may mean going from writing a book, to publishing one, or perhaps even just from starting a book to completing that first draft. Whatever it is, we need to have a plan in place, which we can look to, and rely on, even if it changes occasionally. (Oh, and by the way, if it does change, that’s okay!) And no plan is the “right” one either; it’s just the plan that works for us at that time. You can hopefully find comfort in that.

Oh, and this whole thing about patience—yeah, well, we all know how difficult that can be. No one ever said the journey to writing or illustrating a great book was quick! So it’s fairly certain we will need to hold onto that virtue throughout our creative endeavors. But hey, what’s that old saying?—“Nothing worth having comes easy.” Keep that in mind while you’re working on your plan, and know that the steps to get there may seem massive, but the journey will be worth it in the end. (At least, this is what I tell myself.) 🙂

Laura Marinakos joined SCBWI in February of 2017, and finds being part of such an incredible community both motivating and inspiring. She is a lover of children’s literature, writing, and coffee. Laura studied children’s literature while going for her Master’s at Penn State, and recently took Susanna Leonard Hill’s course, “Making Picture Book Magic,” which she found wonderful! Writing is not new to Laura, as she has spent the last ten years working in Marketing related jobs, where a primary part of her roles have included writing, editing, and proofreading. Laura is enjoying her new journey toward hopefully one day publishing a great picture book. Right now, however, she is just having fun with the whole process! Laura lives in Eastern PA with her husband, two girls (ages 1 and 3), and stepson (age 16).

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Attention, Dj’s! It’s The Summer 2017 EPA SCBWI Playlist! by Lindsay Bandy

record_player_03Music and inspiration are inseparable for me. Words, sounds, emotion, movement, color, memory, image, rhyme, phrasing, voice, mood….ah yes, my love for music is second only to my love of writing. For every project I’m working on, I have a *secrety* Spotify playlist that relates in one way or another to my theme, mood, characters, or conflict. I highly recommend this, because it’s fun! Imagine your book as a movie and you’re creating the soundtrack. Or imagine your main character or antagonist coming onto the stage to their very own theme song.

When I do Cafe Chats here on the blog, I like to ask my interviewees “What’s YOUR writing/illustrating theme song?” Not your book’s, or your character’s, or your villain’s, but YOURS, because the truth is, struggling through the crazy world of writing, illustrating, getting an agent, getting a contract, marketing, sales, competition, writer’s block, and rejection is one big glob of emotion. We go up, we go down, through major keys and minor keys and key changes. Sometimes we’re upbeat, other times achey-brakey, and maybe once in a while we go a little goth. We fall in love, we get dumped, we fall in love again. We hope, we lose, we persevere, we keep hoping. We fight, most often with ourselves. And then, there are those shiny moments when it all comes together. And for all of this, we need….a theme song. Wait, no…. how about a whole playlist?!?

So let’s do this! Put the songs that inspire you, uplift you, or even accompany your descent into a pint of Ben & Jerry’s in the comments. I’ll comb through the Cafe Chats and your comments to compile them all into a playlist we can share!

Here are a few of mine (hey, don’t judge…)

-Carry On by F.U.N.

-Shake it Out by Florence and the Machine

-The Climb by Miley Cyrus

-Roar by Katy Perry

Share yours in the comments and let’s create a killer playlist to get us through the ups and downs of the summer together!



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Summer Reading: Blog Edition, by Lori Ann Palma

sunglasses-1149212_1280As our summer reading series continues, we’ve been focusing on books, but there’s nothing wrong with sneaking in some blog reading, too! Whenever I have a few minutes, I like to check out a few of my favorite blogs to keep updated on publishing news, books on trend, and writing craft.

Here are my top five blogs for summer reading:

Go Teen Writers: While Go Teen Writers is an encouraging writing community for teens, they are welcoming to writers of all ages. One of the best features is their insightful posts on writing craft and advice for living the (difficult) writer’s life—I always feel like I come away feeling inspired. The Go Teen Writers team also produces a live video from time to time where they critique work or answer questions, which helps you get to know them beyond their posts.

Writing and Illustrating: Focusing equally on writers and illustrators, Kathy Temean’s Writing and Illustrating blog is a great resource if you’re committed to enter the publishing field. Not only is Kathy Temean a former Illustration Coordinator for SCBWI NJ (our friends just over the Delaware), but her blog is full of posts about new agents seeking clients, interviews with editors and agents, book giveaways, and contests. Another great feature is Illustrator Saturday, where a working illustrator shows their portfolio, shares craft advice, and answers questions about their background and how they got started in the business. I can’t recommend this site enough for illustrators, but also for writers seeking an agent.

InkyGirl: For children’s book writers and illustrators, Debbie Ridpath Ohi’s InkyGirl blog is a fun place to get inspired. The focus is on reading, writing, and illustrating children’s books—but the real star of the site is Ms. Ohi’s comics about being a writer/illustrator. You’ll find yourself nodding your head and laughing at her illustrated frustrations of being a writer/illustrator.

The B&N Teen Blog: The Barnes & Noble blog for young adult readers has some great features. Besides the interviews and lists, they also have guest posts by your favorite authors and a monthly “YA Open Mic” series, where YA authors share personal stories (and sometimes photos) on topics of their choice, providing their loyal readers with a glimpse into who they are beyond their author bio. If you need a site that focuses on new releases and really highlights the authors behind the page, this should be your go-to site.

Adventures in YA Publishing: With this one, I’m a little biased because I’m a contributor, but they also host a wealth of great content, including a weekly list of new releases and giveaways, a ton of author interviews, writing craft articles, and my weekly round-up of links for YA writers, including publishing trend info, contests, and new agent alerts. This site combines YA books with YA news and writing craft, so you get a bit of everything you need.

As you enjoy your summer reading, I hope you’ll check out these sites and discover some new books for your TBR list or an article that inspires you.

What sites do visit the most (besides Eastern Penn Points!)?

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Summer Bucks County Meet & Greet (with Author/Illustrator Barbara DiLorenzo!), by Virginia Law Manning


Please join me for our next Bucks County Meet & Greet on:

Tuesday, June 20th,
From: 10 am to 12 noon
At: Artists of Yardley, 949 Mirror Lake Road, Yardley, PA 19067
*BYO coffee/tea, and please RSVP if you can come*

The Bucks County Meet & Greets are free events, open to SCBWI members. In addition to talking about upcoming events and our writing goals, children’s book author-illustrator Barbara DiLorenzo will be joining us!61d17Il1fmL

Barbara is represented by Rachel Orr of Prospect Agency. Her debut picture book RENATO AND THE LION will be published by Viking Children’s Books on June 20th, the same day of our Meet & Greet! Little Bee Books will publish Barbara’s second picture book QUINCY in February, 2018.

A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, Barbara is an award-winning artist, great friend, and mentor. I’ve taken her children’s book illustration class at The Arts Council of Princeton three times. She is co-president of the Children’s Book Illustrators Group, NYC. Everyone who knows Barbara adores her because she is infinitely supportive and generously shares her knowledge of the children’s book industry.

I hope you will join me and Barbara to celebrate the book birthday of RENATO AND THE LION!!!


Virginia Law Manning
Critique Group Coordinator

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Sneaking in Some Summer Reading, by Lindsay Bandy

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Summer Reading: A Tale of Two Books Named GRIT, by Lori Ann Palma

reading-book-1500650_1280There’s something about summer reading that feels extra special. Maybe it’s that our brains slow down enough to really absorb the words and all those little details we might not otherwise notice during the busy school year. It makes me more selective about what I pick up, since I know summer is a magical time that won’t last very long.

With that in mind, I’m kicking off our Eastern Penn Points June theme of Summer Reading by sharing my thoughts on two of the best books I’ve read lately. One fiction, the other non-fiction, but both titled GRIT.

Grit, by Gillian French
Contemporary YA fiction is my jam, so when I read the jacket of this book—a raw, moving debut about tragic secrets—it got me, hook, line, sinker. True to its title, our protagonist, Darcy Prentiss, has loads of grit. She’s not afraid of the boys who want to intimidate her, of the searing blisters she gets from raking wild blueberries at the Wardwell farm, or jumping into the bottomless quarry because of a dare. As a reader, I enjoyed this book thoroughly, but as a writer, I was drawn in by the gorgeously written, authentic voice. When combined with an incredibly visual setting, this story feel very real. Darcy isn’t just a character in a rural eastern Maine town—I believed I could actually go there and find her at the drive-in. That’s something I always strive for in my writing, and I couldn’t have found a better example than in this novel.

On a personal level, Darcy’s no-fear attitude is exactly what I needed to kick off my summer reading. Writing is tough, and I feel it grows even more difficult in the passing years as traditional publishing becomes more competitive and my own dreams and goals have to shift to compete with other priorities. Darcy reminded me to have grit—to dig in and not let go of whatever it is I want to accomplish.

That very thought brings me to my next title:

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, by Angela Duckworth
Sharing her own experiences along with her research, Angela Duckworth, a pioneering psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, explores the science behind what she calls “grit,” which is a special blend of interest (or passion), practice (or perseverance), purpose, and hope. Grit is the answer to why some people can continually work toward a dream without giving up despite fear, obstacles, failure, and exhaustion. It’s a “hang-in-there” attitude despite challenges that cause so many others to give up on their commitments.

This was a fascinating read if you’d like to understand the underlying science of success. While not usually a measurable value, this book aims to find common elements of personality and choices that make us gritty enough to withstand the inevitable failures that occur while in pursuit of a dream. Duckworth’s findings suggest that inherent talent or genius are not enough to be successful—you have to have a true interest in your work, the passion to keep practicing, and the feeling that the work has meaning to others.

From a writer standpoint, reading this book gave me a sense of validation that my years of hard work have been toward something, as if every hour working on my craft is a drop in a bucket that’s slowly filling up. I’m going to remember this analogy when I feel as if there isn’t much to show for all the time I’ve spent working on my craft.

As we get into the summer days of June, I hope you’ll consider sharing what’s on your summer reading list and how it’s impacted your life.

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