I have been looking forward to this announcement for MONTHS! The SCBWI Midsouth Region has just announced our first ever Region-sponsored mentoring program.

We have some amazing mentors for this year! Between the six of them, our mentors have published nearly 220 books. They’ve won too many awards to count. They are New York Times bestsellers, Newbery Honor winners, and we might see one or two of them up on the big screen soon!

Even more amazing? They are taking time out of their busy publishing lives to reach out and give a hand up to some of the pre-published authors in the Midsouth! They’ll critique, guide, laugh, cry, and cheer as they join their mentees on the journey to publication.

Where else can you sign up for nine months of star-studded literary greatness?

So, sharpen your pencils, polish your drafts, and get ready to apply to the first ever SCBWI Midsouth mentoring program!

Applications will be accepted October 30, 2019 through November 30, 2019.

Fall Writing Frenzy

Oh my gosh! It was so fun to take a break from everything and write something fun for fall.

Kaitlyn Leann Sanchez at Math is Everywhere is hosting another fun writing contest – just in time for fall! (If you’re inspired to join the fun, you still have a few hours to join in.)

This month’s challenge: Pick one of the fall-themed pictures on Kaitlyn’s website, and write something appropriate for kidlit, 200 words or less.

Here’s the photo I’ve picked:

fall photo

And… here’s the story (coming in at 197 words).

Hickory Dickory Fall

Hickory dickory dee.

A squirrel ran up a tree.

She threw acorns round

All over the ground.

Hickory dickory dee.

Hickory dickory daff.

A chipmunk started to laugh.

“Kate, come out and play

You’ve been working all day.”

Hickory dickory daff.

Hickory dickory duts.

The squirrel collected her nuts.

“When leaves turn to gold

It starts to get cold.”

Hickory dickory duts.

Hickory dickory dip.

Two mice played games with Chip.

They played hide and seek

And splashed in the creek.

Hickory dickory dip.

Hickory dickory day.

Chip begged his friend to play.

“I can’t play with you.

I have more work to do.”

Hickory dickory day.

Hickory dickory date.

Chip pointed and laughed at Kate.

“We’re not friends any more

Now that she’s such a bore.”

Hickory dickory date.

Hickory dickory dite.

The snow fell down one night

Chip shivered and shook

And crept out for a look

Hickory dickory dite.

Hickory dickory dried.

Chip sat in the snow and cried.

“I’ve been searching all day

But the food’s gone away.”

Hickory dickory dried.

Hickory dickory dend.

Kate hugged her dearest friend.

“There’s enough food for two,

And I’ll share it with you.”

Hickory dickory dend.



Sometimes life is like a box of Lucky Charms…  or at least, like a Ziplock bag of Lucky Charms marshmallows.

This fall, Candace Ganger takes us on a journey of grief, of hope, of friendship, and of letting go, in Six Goodbyes We Never Said. Six Goodbyes follows two teens who have lost their parents:  Naima Rodriguez, whose Marine father won’t be returning from his last tour; and Dew Brickman, who is still grieving the death of his parents.

From the publisher:

Naima Rodriguez doesn’t want your patronizing sympathy as she grieves her father, her hero—a fallen Marine. She’ll hate you forever if you ask her to open up and remember him “as he was,” though that’s all her loving family wants her to do in order to manage her complex OCD and GAD. She’d rather everyone back the-eff off while she separates her Lucky Charms marshmallows into six, always six, Ziploc bags, while she avoids friends and people and living the life her father so desperately wanted for her.

Dew respectfully requests a little more time to process the sudden loss of his parents. It’s causing an avalanche of secret anxieties, so he counts on his trusty voice recorder to convey the things he can’t otherwise say aloud. He could really use a friend to navigate a life swimming with pain and loss and all the lovely moments in between. And then he meets Naima and everything’s changed—just not in the way he, or she, expects.

Candace Ganger’s Six Goodbyes We Never Said is no love story. If you ask Naima, it’s not even a like story. But it is a story about love and fear and how sometimes you need a little help to be brave enough to say goodbye.

Ms. Ganger shares a little more about Naima and Dew in her Author’s Note:

I think it should be known that, while Six Goodbyes is a work of fiction, I share the many characteristics, fears, and pains, in both the delicacy of Dew, and the confused ferocity in Naima. Please let this brief note serve as a trigger warning in regards to mental illness; self-care is of the utmost importance. And while I hope Six Goodbyes provides insight for those who don’t empathize, or comfort for those that do, I also understand everyone reacts differently.

Dew’s social anxiety is something I, and many others, struggle with. We carry on with our days and pretend it’s not as hard as it feels inside. Others can’t quite see how much it hurts but we so wish they could. Naima is the most visceral interpretation of all of my diagnosed disorders combined. Her obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and related tics, her intrusive thoughts, her utterly devastating and isolating depression, her generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), which makes her so closed off from the world, and her post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from losing the biggest portion of identity—those are all pieces of me. Very big pieces. They don’t define me, but it would be misleading if I didn’t admit they sometimes, mostly do. I’m imperfectly complicated like Naima. And though I’ve written extensively on both my mental illnesses and living biracial, between two worlds—never enough of one or the other; always only half of something and never whole or satiated—I often still feel misunderstood. Hopefully Dew and Naima’s stories will provide a little insight as to what it’s like inside their heads, and inside mine.

Both Dew and Naima want to hold on to the roots that have grounded them in their familiar, safe spaces. But once their metaphorical trees are cut, and all the leaves shielding them from their pains have fallen and faded away, not even photosynthesis could bring them back to life. Those roots, Naima and Dew feel, will die off, and everything they had in their lives before will, too. There are many of you out there who feel the exact same way, but I assure you, Dew and Naima will find their way—they will grow new roots that flourish—and you, my darlings, will, too.

Thank you for reading, and may Six Goodbyes serve as permission to speak your truths—the good and the painful.

Here’s to another six airplanes for you to wish upon.

Many thanks to the publisher for sharing Six Goodbyes We Never Said with me. Six Goodbyes is available for purchase tomorrow.

Ciara & Kaitlyn’s Spring Fling Contest!

This month, we’re ringing in Spring with the Spring Fling Writing Contest! Pick a gif, write a Spring-story, keep it under 150 words. Easy, right?

Uh… no…

But definitely fun and a great way to welcome Spring! (There’s still time to enter if you can write fast–deadline is April 19 at 11:59pm CST!)

So, without further ado, here is my Spring Fling story (135 words):

Animal At The Zoo


First day of Spring.

Trip to the zoo!

Oh no—line too long!

Perch like a flamingo,

Wait like an alligator,

Until tickets bought.

Through the gate.

Hop like a kangaroo,

Parade like an elephant,

Greeting the animals.

Little brother’s cranky.

Squawk like a parrot,

Spit like a camel,

Time for lunch.

Spread out the picnic.

Gobble like a turkey,

Eat like a warthog,

Sandwiches gone.

Can we play?

Swing like a monkey,

Slide like a penguin,



Splash like a duck,

Giggle like a hyena,

Spring rainstorm gone.

Afternoon sillies.

Sneak like a jaguar,

Roll like a panda,

Hide like an ostrich.



Hug like a bear,

Squeeze like a boa constrictor,

It’s okay Mom.

Stretch like a giraffe,

Yawn like a lion,

Sleep like a sloth,

Until the next Spring Day.

Some Inspiration for an April Afternoon

I am thrilled to be participating in Julie Hedlund’s 12×12 Challenge again this year. Julie has created an amazing resource and community for writers in all stages of our writing careers. It’s encouraging and uplifting to be a part of this supportive writing community.

Today, on a day that I really needed to hear this, I read the March Featured Author post. I already had great admiration for Baptiste Paul and the books he writes, but this post took his work to a new level for me.

I think all writers hope, dream, long for their work to impact others. Baptiste has seen this happen with his books.

The link to Baptiste’s call to “Never give up” is below:

Also, everyone needs to pick up a copy of Baptiste’s new book, I Am Farmer, from your local indie bookseller!


Some Valen-tiny Writing

I just love Susanna Leonard Hill and her holiday writing contests!

For Valentine’s Day, she’s asked for stories about guilt. And they have to be “tiny” – 214 words or less.


So, here’s my stab at some Valentiny writing (coming in at 202 words):

Jack Frost’s Valentine

“Cards and chocolate, hearts and love. Phooey.” Jack Frost scowled. “This year, we need a Jack Frosty Valentine’s Day!”

Jack blew his frosty breath harder than ever before. A white cloud of frost and cold covered the town.

Children shivered and froze in place. Adults pulled coats tighter, then froze mid-step. Dogs ran toward home, but froze, icicles dripping from their noses.

“Perfect.” Jack sat on his favorite cloud to watch his frozen Valentine’s Day.

Nothing moved.

“Ha!” Jack shouted. “Every year you exchange cards and candy and hugs. Next year you won’t forget the guy who brings winter!”

Jack watched the town. Even frozen, the children were smiling. The snowballs in their hands were like presents offered to Jack.

Jack squirmed on his cloud. His stomach felt tight. He squeezed his hands together and hung his head. A tear rolled down his cheek.

“I can’t let the kids miss sharing their love with each other,” Jack said. “I have to fix this.”

More tears dripped down his face. Each tear warmed what it touched, thawing the town.

Snowballs flew. Kids finished rolling a giant ball for a snowman.

Jack looked at the smiles on their faces. “Happy Valentine’s Day,” he said.

A New Year!

My goodness. What a whirlwind of a year! And now we’re already one month into 2019!

I most often like to talk about children’s books here, but every once in a while I share a glimpse into my world. This is one of those posts. It’s also a book review (of a sort).

In early 2018, I joined a group of folks who decided to do a virtual book group. We started off the year working together through The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I lasted only a few weeks. Not because I wasn’t enjoying the book (in fact, I’ve recently started over again). But because it was creating too much havoc.


For those who haven’t heard of this book, it is a twelve-week course aimed at guiding participants to greater creativity. It’s not easy. The exercises push hard each week, forcing some deep analysis and exploration of subconscious doubts and beliefs.

It’s also revitalizing.

And it’s not just for authors. Or artists. Or musicians, dancers, or filmmakers. Ms. Cameron describes lawyers and CEOs and investors who have been through her course and excelled at their non-creative careers by letting their creative sides grow. We can all benefit.

So, here I am a year later, after Julia Cameron shook up my entire life, my career, my family. I barely recognize this new Liz when compared with the Liz of January 2018!

I can’t wait to see what the creative recovery journey will bring this time around. (My goal is to make it through to the end!) I highly encourage this book.

The Artist’s Way is just one of many books Julia Cameron has written. She also has a course available at Julia Cameron Live, she has live events, and she has appeared on many podcasts.

Have you read any great books lately?


Take a story about a bat. Add in pictures of the adorable bat with chubby cheeks and bright eyes. Make the bat talk in silly almost-English. And voila! You have a book that both my six-year-old girl and eleven-year-old boy demand to hear at every spare moment!


Daniel just moved into a home that he hates. He is far from his friends, and his room is in the attic. The first night in the new home, he slips on a mysterious puddle at the top of the stairs in his room. Then he is woken up by a strange voice calling for “buttermelons.” He is sure the house is haunted.

The next day, Daniel discovers the source of the water and the voice. It is a small, furry, brown bat, who is crying because he’s lost and far from home. The bat comes out of hiding when Daniel takes a jelly roll up to his attic room—the bat exclaims, “yours gots red smoosh-fruit!” He eats the jelly, burps loudly, then excuses himself: “Scu-zzi.”

The bat is a fruit bat—which Daniel learns are sometimes known as megabats, and dubs the bat with the new name. Megabat comes from the land of “Papaya Premium” and desperately wants to return. So Daniel teams up with the girl next door to send Megabat back to his home.

My kids loved every minute of this book! They often repeated Megabat’s words, which they considered hilarious. My son tried to anticipate Daniel’s next steps throughout the book, and was pleased if he was right.

The characters were perfect for young readers to embrace. Daniel partners with his next-door neighbor, Talia, to find ways to send Megabat home. Daniel and Talia make a great team and work well together as they search for solutions. Talia has a brother, Jamie, who is unlikable right to the end. Daniel and Talia have to avoid Jamie as they help Megabat.

Author Anna Humphrey is also the author of the Clara Humble series, as well as other books for middle grade and young adult readers. You can find more about her at her website. Megabat is a great early middle grade or long chapter book!

I received an advance reader copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review.

Have you read any great books lately?

The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee—GIVEAWAY!

F-A-N-T-A-S-T-I-C… fantastic. The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee is fantastic.

Spelling Bee

There were no spelling bees in my school or in my area growing up. I never stood on a stage in front of an audience and had my mind go blank when asked to spell a word. But I was (and am) a brilliant speller, like India Wimple. I feel like I missed out on an opportunity to show off (or stare blankly into the microphone).

Fortunately for India Wimple, Australia holds the Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee. Unfortunately for India Wimple, she has extreme S-T-A-G-E  F-R-I-G-H-T!

India knows she would never do well at the Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee. She watches it on TV every time it takes place, and can spell every word that is asked. But she freezes when she’s in front of a crowd.

India’s family believes India would win the Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee. They are sure she can overcome her fears. So they recruit members of their small town of Yungabilla to help India in creative ways.

These plans work! India’s P-R-A-C-T-I-C-E help her advance through the early rounds of the Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee. Before she knows it, the Wimple family is piling into their van and traveling to Sydney for the finals.

In Sydney, India must battle her stage fright; face a bossy, spoiled competitor; conquer her shyness and be open to friendship; and set aside her worries about family troubles.

This is an E-X-C-E-L-L-E-N-T book for young readers—either to read aloud or for children to read to themselves. Kids will find it hard to put this book down. They will cheer for India, worry about India’s brother, and root for the spoiled competitor’s defeat.

I highly recommend this book, and am excited to be able to offer a copy to one lucky W-I-N-N-E-R! Click here to enter to win a copy of The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee.

Author Deborah Abela has written a number of children’s books. You can find them all at her website: She also offers Teacher’s Resources for many of her books, including The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee. I love Deb’s biography on her website—she sounds absolutely D-E-L-I-G-H-T-F-U-L:

Deb was born very short and had funny ears, but that didn’t stop her being a very smily baby. When she grew up, she was still short, a bit clumsy and not very brave, which may explain why she writes books about spies, ghosts, soccer legends and children living in a flooded city, battling sea monsters and sneaker waves.

Deb’s family never had a lot of money, but every week her mum would buy a Little Golden Book at the supermarket for 40 cents, until slowly Deb had her own library of books. Some of her favourite books at school were The Lorax and Professor Branestawm.

Deb was always an adventurous kid and lived in her head a lot. It was there she went on brave adventures as she swung from the swings in the park pretending she was dangling from planes. She once even jumped off the garage roof thinking if she ran fast enough she could make it all the way to the pool. It wasn’t a happy ending.

She loved school, especially English and drama. She was in the debating team, on various sports teams where she tried her hardest not to get trampled and even became school captain. After becoming a teacher, Deb went to Africa in search of adventure and found herself caught in a desert sandstorm, harassed by monkeys and thrown in jail … twice!

After three years she came home, went back to uni to study Communications and became the writer/producer of a national kids’ TV show called Cheez TV, where she wrote about everything from llamas to bunny jumping and how astronauts go to the toilet in outer space. Hmm …

Enjoy The Stupendously Spectacular Spelling Bee! Many thanks to Ms. Abela and Jabberwocky for providing a copy of the book for my review, as well as for providing a book for the G-I-V-E-A-W-A-Y. CLICK HERE to enter!

Have you read any great books lately?

Squishy Taylor and the Bonus Sisters

I’ve discovered an amazing new chapter book character: Squishy Taylor. Yep, her name really is Squishy, and she’ll capture your heart!

Squishy Taylor

Squishy got her name when she was very little and would squeeze between her parents when they hugged. She would wriggle in and yell, “Squish me! Squish me!” She has been “Squishy” ever since.

Squishy’s parents are divorced now. Her dad has remarried and has a new baby. When her Mom moves to Geneva, Squishy moves in with her Dad and her “bonus” family. (Stepfamilies get a “bad rap” in fairy tales, so Squishy’s Dad has decided her new family is a “bonus family.”) But her new family doesn’t feel much like a bonus to Squishy.

Squishy’s two new stepsisters don’t talk to her. In fact, the three are engaged in a step-sibling war. The stepsisters shoot glares at Squishy. Squishy responds by sabotaging one of the girls’ backpacks.

When she heads out on an errand for her Dad, Squishy discovers a runaway hiding in her apartment building’s garage. The runaway, who calls himself John Smith, is living in a storage closet. Squishy decides to take care of John.

Squishy thinks she is stealthy when she sneaks food down to John, but she is quickly caught by one of the stepsisters. As the two girls work together to look after John, Squishy discovers that her stepsisters aren’t as bad as they seem.

The story of Squishy and John Smith is a lot of fun. Even more enjoyable is watching the relationship grow between Squishy and her bonus sisters. Before her Dad and “bonus” mother know it, Squishy and her bonus sisters are working as a team to get revenge on one of their neighbors.

I can’t believe I haven’t met Squishy Taylor before—she has been around long enough to have eight books AND her own website! That’s right, Squishy is online at! On the website, you can find information about all of her books, participate in the Squishy Taylor Competition, and find teaching guides for two of Squishy’s books (including Squishy Taylor and the Bonus Sisters).

I am looking forward to seeing what other adventures Squishy and her bonus sisters have already had, and those that are still unwritten! Many thanks to Ms. Wild and Capstone for giving me an advance reader copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review. I’m so glad they introduced me to this wonderful young girl!

Have you read any great books lately?