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Merci Suárez Can’t Dance

Alzheimer’s Awareness Month and Kids: A Few Ideas to Get Moving on Solutions

By #LetsStayConnected, The Writing Life
It’s November – time to plan turkey day with our families. But it’s also Alzheimer’s Awareness month, and I want to give some space here to kids and families who are in the midst of it. First, here’s a pretty comprehensive article from the National Institute on Health on the topic if you're working with kids in this situation. It's available in Spanish, too, important since 15% of Hispanics ages 65 and older are diagnosed with the disease. The Merci Suárez trilogy is, of course, set in the world of a girl coping with middle school life as well as with her grandfather’s accelerating illness. I’ve done my best to capture all of it as honestly as possible in the pages. Still, when I book-talk the story with readers, I almost always lean heavily into Merci’s hijinks with friends and foes, in other words, the funny parts. But lurking in the background is Lolo’s illness. It's palpable, page to page, and I know that in the book, as in life, the reality of a person's decline is at times overwhelming.   I hope you’ll take a little time this month to reflect on the people in our communities who are facing this as-yet incurable illness as well as the 11 million people – including kids - who love and support them. They're in your class, at your church, on your soccer team, living on your block. The kids in these families need relief. They need moments of levity. And they...
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Take 2: Revisions

By Random howls into the world, The Writing Life
I still have sand stuck in the hinges of my sunglasses, and I'm feeling a little blue. Last week, my family and I escaped to the beach for a much-anticipated vacation on Emerald Isle. As everyone headed back to school, we made the trek to North Carolina where I spent my time shelling, reading, and biking. But now I'm back, and it's time to face copyeditor revisions on what will be the final Merci Suárez book. Sunset over the marshThe view from my back deckMy daughter, Cristina, and me at the Bogue Pier Prev 1of6 Next I find myself coming to the task with the same mix of emotions I had about coming back home. I think it has to do with grieving a magical time - as that is what the "Merciverse" has been for me. By the time Merci Suárez Plays It Cool publishes next fall, I will have been writing the Suárez family and the world of Seaward Pines Academy, in one form or another, for six years. The characters and their journeys have become so real to me. It's no wonder that I'm sad about ending their story. It's hard to let go of old friends, even imaginary ones. It's always exciting to get to this stage, of course. It's when the book starts to feel real somehow. I wrote for a little under a year. Then, Kate (my editor) and I worked on the manuscript all of May and June, trading ideas for Merci's new...
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5 things I’ve Learned About DIY Book Marketing

By The Writing Life, Trailers, writing advice
One of the biggest misconceptions I once had as an author was that most of my book promotion would be handled by someone else. What I’ve learned over the years is that some part of the task of marketing my work will fall on me, regardless of where I am in my career. This has been especially true during the Covid pandemic when we’ve all had to pivot to the virtual space. How do we promote interest in our books now? How do we continue to create community with our readers long distance? And how can we do it without feeling like we've become sales people? My assistant, Kerri Poore, and I have been giving this a lot of thought. We’ve been working together since 2019, when she helped oversee the redesign of this website. And this summer, we decided together to take a closer look at social media connections, specifically at Instagram. Working in the do-it-yourself design site Canva, Kerri has designed a few fun items that support my new IGTV series, One-Minute Writing Tips, that many of you have been enjoying. (Check it out for your own practice or your students’ work.) She also created little homemade micro ads for Merci Suárez Can’t Dance. None of this is Madison-Avenue ready, but I think that’s the point. We wanted to create good looking materials that really do come from us and that don't feel overly processed. So what have we learned? Here are five things we thought we should...
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Beyond Books: Creative ways an author can support you

By Community work, The Writing Life
As authors, we're often asked to support a variety of causes, usually related to reading and literacy. I'm always happy to do it, if I can. Frequently, this means providing signed copies of my books. But it's fun when you can bust out of the model. Here are two examples of unique ways to support your favorite book organization. Recently, I supported the Richmond Young Writers whose mission is to spark youth voices through creative writing. For their annual auction, I donated naming a character in the final installment of my Merci Suárez series. That's why, book three will have a sixth grade soccer dynamo named Robin Farmer in the pages. In real life, Robin, who had the winning bid, is a Richmond author, who has been a huge supporter of the literary arts in Richmond, where we both live. I'm thrilled to be able to do this. Talking about Merci Suárez Changes Gears at Takoma Education Campus in Washington, DC On Wednesday night, I will host a zoom story time with a family all the way across the country, in California. This creative idea came from a children's literacy organization with which I often partner - An Open Book Foundation. This team works hard to connect "authors, illustrators, and their books with Washington, DC-area students to build equitable access and nurture a lifelong love of reading." Check out this short video celebration of their 10 years with a sample of their work and a few words from me. Mia...
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Hot Fun in the Summertime

By Appearances, The Writing Life
Hot fun in the summertime* means I will dig into manuscript edits for the third, and final, book in the Merci Suárez series this week. I can’t even believe I am typing that sentence. What an incredible journey. Wish me luck – and please, if you haven’t done so, please leave a review of Merci Suárez Can’t Dance on Amazon, Goodreads, or any other places you review books. I also have two exciting events this Thursday, June 17, both public, that will honor amazing women. First, at 2 p.m. EST, I will record a conversation about the Pura Belpré award as part of the lead-up to the American Library Association’s 2021 virtual conference, where this year's closing speaker is former President Barack Obama. I'll let you know when it goes live. The Pura Belpré award is 25 years old this year, and celebrations of both the librarian and the award abound. You can check out a fantastic collection of essays written by current and former medal and honor winners in the May issue of The Horn Book Magazine. My own essay, "What the Pura Belpré Award Means to Me" is a call to arms about what I'd like to see come next for this award, and for Latinx children’s and YA lit, in general. The fun keeps going at 6 p.m. EST on June 17 as the She Persisted series continues its tour. Through the virtual magic of Loyalty Bookstores in DC, I will join Chelsea Clinton and the ever-fabulous Rita...
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Take My Master Class in Writing Characters

By Appearances, Writing Workshops
Blackwings: My very favorite writing and editing pencils I'll be teaching a master class this week for SCBWI on managing a big cast in your work-in-progress. If you're an SCBWI member, I'd love to see you there. (Become a member, if you're not! It's well worth the investment!) Registration is open today for the event that happens on Thursday, June 3rd, 4 - 5pm EST. It's all part of seven weeks of digital workshops which SCBWI has been hosting for its members this year. We've all been trying to find ways to keep our skills sharp during the pandemic, and I so appreciate the array of topics and approaches that have been offered up, everything from tackling the visual realm in picture books, to social media, and creating atmosphere in your novel. It's a little daunting to think of running a master class for writers, to be frank. I don't think anyone is a master of writing. I think we all continually learn and grow our tool box to varying degrees of success. My own approach will be to unpack for you how I found my characters for both picture books and the Merci Suárez novels. I'll provide rough sketches, my thinking boards, and an analysis of who made the cut into my work and who didn't. I'll have some exercises for you to try with your own work-in-progress, too. An hour goes fast, but we'll cover some good ground. Hope to see you there, fellow members.
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I ❤️ NY: Queens, NY

By #LetsStayConnected, Appearances
The Queensborough Public Library turns 125 years old this year, and that means it’s a party. Hanging out at Kissena Park, age 10 I, of course, remember our public library. Flushing, where I lived, had the Main Street branch and the smaller McGoldrick branch, conveniently located near the Prospect movie theatre and a Jack-in-the Box burger joint, respectively. Back when I was a kid in New York, though, being from Queens wasn’t exactly something you bragged about. The shiny, more educated people lived in the city, it seemed, while the rest of us mere mortals, like my mother, who worked in a transistor factory, were out in the boroughs. Our building was at the end of the number 7 line, plus a short ride on the Q 12 bus. I went to school at P.S. 22 on Sanford Avenue, survived JHS 189, and later came back to study and graduate from Queens College. All to say, the Queens connection runs deep inside me, even though I’ve lived outside of New York for 30 years now. When I think about home, Queens is the first place my heart goes. I wish I hadn’t believed the snooty hype against Queens when I was a kid. Turns out a lot of folks, who would eventually find their way in the arts, were growing up there, too. Cyndi Lauper, Jerry Seinfeld, LL Cool J, not to mention kidlit icons like Jacqueline Woodson, Mitali Perkins, and my own BFF, R.J. Palacio. Check out for yourself...
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Happy Book Birthday, Merci Suárez!

By Appearances, Awards and news
Happy book birthday to Merci Suárez Can't Dance!  It's a busy week recording podcasts that will air later in the month, as well as taping a segment for the Bay Area Book Festival with the fabulous Olugbemisola Rhuday Perkovich (Two Naomis, It Does't Take a Genius,) where we'll be interviewed by young writers from Cinnamon Girl, Inc. But, here is where you can find me this week, celebrating books and writing with some of my favorite friends. Wed April 7, 7:15 PM EST in conversation with R.J Palacio via Parnassus Books Fri, April 9: LA Libreria event with Pam Muñoz Ryan via LA Librería Sat, April 10 4 PM ET/ 3 PM CT in conversation with Linda Sue Park via Brazos Bookstore ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Full details on book tour on Events page. You might like a playlist for Merci Suárez Can't Dance
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Free Books: Flash Pre-Order Promotion for Merci Suárez Can’t Dance

By Giveaways, middle grade
Soooooo, the cat is out of the bag thanks to my friend Colby Sharp who made the announcement last night during our conversation on his YouTube channel. My wonderful publisher, Candlewick Press, is doing an exciting preorder incentive for Merci Suárez Can't Dance!" If you pre-order your copy at any retailer, Candlewick will send you a FREE hardback copy of the first Merci adventure, Merci Suárez Changes Gears. Wow! I'm so delighted. So, now - if you haven't gotten around to reading the first book yet, you have the perfect chance to do it. And if you loved the first book, here's a chance to get a copy to share as you continue on the Suárez journey. It's fast and easy. All you have to do is pre-order Merci Suárez Can't Dance at any retailer and then fill in this form. Candlewick will take care of the rest while supplies last. Happy reading!
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Submit a Question for the Merci Suárez Can’t Dance Book Tour

By #LetsStayConnected, Appearances
My assistant Kerri told me today:  "It smells of hope outside, and I want every bit of it." Oh, spring, how we’ve missed you! The weather is finally warming up, and in the weeks leading up to the publication of my latest book, so is my schedule! As promised, here are the details for my virtual book tour to launch Merci Suárez Can’t Dance (on sale April 6,) which comes to you with the help of some beloved indies and conferences from coast to coast.   Virtual visits are tricky in the age of Zoom. First, there's the issue of screen fatigue. Trickier still is that anyone can sign in from anywhere, so while the audience reach is exponentially bigger, the pressure is on presenters to make sure each visit is dynamically different for the fan base at each store. As you’ll see, with the exception of a solo, school-focused visit at Politics & Prose in DC, I’ve decided on the “in-conversation" model with some of the most exciting veteran authors working today. I'm so thrilled to have a chance to think aloud with them and to bring our work – and our relationship – to you. You can scroll through the gallery below to see some of the exciting books we'll talk about. Prev 1of5 Next But here’s where you come in. I’m wondering if you’d like to help me tailor our talks at each stop on the tour by shaping the topics we broach. What would you like...
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A Playlist for Merci Suárez Can’t Dance

By Discussion materials, middle grade
A present for you! Here's a bilingual playlist I pulled together in honor of Merci Suárez Can't Dance, which will be in bookstores on April 6. If you attended the recent Candlewick Press 2021 preview event at ALA in January, you already received this in your virtual goodie bag. But for those of you who weren't at ALA this winter, here's a way to get in the mood for the book's release. All pre-orders at the site of your choice are appreciated, of course. I'll have finals details for you soon about the virtual indie store book tour coming in April, where I'll be talking all things Merci with some of my most admired friends in publishing. If you want a sneak peek at the dates and special guests we know so far, come over to the Events page. Remember, though, more are coming. So on to the music. You might not find all of these songs kid-friendly for students in elementary school, so listen first and pick your favorites. Why did each song make the list? Read on. Maybe readers will make their own list? I'd love to know what they'd put on their own playlist. Enjoy! Songlist X/ Artist:  Jonas Brothers, featuring Karol G I’m sure this was on the DJ’s playlist at the Heart Ball. You can find a performance of this on You Tube that features some great dance moves that Merci would struggle with, for sure! Con Calma/ Artist:  Daddy Yankee The twins and Lolo love to...
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Celebrate with Your Favorite Authors on World Read Aloud Day

By Appearances, What I'm Reading
It’s World Read Aloud Day this Wednesday, February 3. I hope you’re planning to take some time to read aloud to your favorite kid this week – in person, by Zoom, or in whatever way you can manage. And do the voices – no skimping! I’d be very honored if you chose one of my picture books, in English or Spanish, but any good book will do.   And just in case you're rusty, here are some tips on how to up your reading game from Reading Rockets. The celebration isn't just for the picture book set. To honor World Read Aloud Day – and give you some ideas for your bookshelves ­­‑ a few book friends and I will be on Kate Messner’s site this week doing five-minute readings of titles due out in 2021. I'll be previewing Merci Suárez Can't Dance, coming soon on April 6. The whole thing runs just under an hour, I think. So, follow #WorldReadAloudDay on twitter and bookmark this link to Kate's site on Wednesday when the video posts. Thanks, Kate, for the gracious invitation! Also keeping me busy this week is a school visit with students through Brooklyn Public Library  – virtually – of course. (In person visits? Fuggedaboudit for a while.) I'll also be marking the start of Black History month. I'm always on the fence about these designated months, like Hispanic Heritage Month and Women's History month. We should be reading inclusively all year long and encouraging those habits in young...
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A Two-for-One ARC Giveaway

By Appearances, Giveaways, middle grade
It feels good when someone says they’re happy to see you, doesn't it? That’s true in my social life, and it’s true in my book life, too. That’s why I’m so happy to have my upcoming novel, Merci Suárez Can’t Dance on Kirkus’s list of Most Anticipated Books of 2021. It officially pubs on April 6. Here’s the thing. The days leading up to bringing a new book into the world are always nerve-wracking, no matter how long you’ve been writing. Will your readers like it? Is it on par with your other books? Is a critic out there going to grind it into dust? Those questions have been on my mind even more than usual for Merci Suárez Can’t Dance, mostly because it’s a sequel to Newbery-winning Merci Suárez Changes Gears. A while back, Travis Jonker did a 20-year survey of Newbery titles for School Library Journal to see how many had sequels or prequels. It turns out, plenty of authors have written sequels to their Newbery winners, but I wonder if any of them worried like I did as they were drafting. The first problem I ran into was my writing process, which has always been largely intuitive. Typically, I start with a character and a rough idea for a conflict, and then I draft my way into the story until a plot starts to take shape. This time, though, I saw that I would finally need some sort of outline to help keep track of what happened in...
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Summer Book Life: What’s up this week

By The Writing Life, Writing Workshops
This week I’ve been in a virtual residency at Hamline University, where I’m part of the MFA faculty for their low-residency program in writing children’s and teens literature. The days are long and exhausting, but also so very creatively nourishing right now. It’s a blessing to be immersed in imagination, whether by helping students work on their skills in workshop or by listening to lectures and follow-up conversations with our faculty and visiting authors, like Tracey Baptiste.  Anyway, we’re unpacking theme this summer, doing deep dives into all the ways that theme takes shape across genres, age groups, and individual styles. It's been wonderful so far. Tomorrow – Thursday July 16 – I’ll also be part of a virtual gathering with SCBWI called Sticks and Stones and the Stories We Tell.  Ten authors and illustrators – all well-known to you – will be sharing our personal encounters with racism in the publishing industry and how we responded in both our work and in our lives.  Should be good. It’s open for everyone, so I hope you’ll tune in. In book news – Merci Suárez Changes Gears is part of B&N’s summer reading program. If there’s a young reader in your life who’s looking for something to read, please point them to this list and maybe earn a free book! Meanwhile, Merci Suárez Can’t Dance, the sequel, has moved into production. I finished responding to the copyeditor comments last week and just got a sneak peek at the cover by Joe...
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