It gives me huge pleasure to welcome fellow VCFA alumna and Beyond the Margin critique partner, Ann Jacobus to World Reads, a blog that features interviews with authors who’ve written a story set outside of the United States for children or young adults. I’ve been fortunate to watch this story evolve and grow and the best way I can sum it up is by describing ROMANCING THE DARK IN THE CITY OF LIGHT as an “ANNA KARENINA meets THE BOOK THIEF in a Parisian setting” story. Read on to learn more about Ann and her debut novel.

From Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Griffin/Macmillan

Release date: October 6, 2015

This is a dark and edgy upper YA thriller so for readers 14 and up.

Where is it set?

My YA novel is set in what most people will agree is one of the most beautiful cities in the world—Paris, France. Some scenes take place in parts of the city that most tourists don’t see. And the setting is filtered through the point of view of a character who is depressed and suicidal.

In 70 words or less, provide a succinct plot description of your story.

Troubled, eighteen-year-old American Summer Barnes has one more chance to graduate from a high school in Paris. There she meets an awesome guy named Moony who’s totally upbeat about life, and her. She needs his friendship desperately, but he can’t put up with her bad choices much longer. Hot, mysterious Kurt, on the other hand, is all about self-destructive fun. He wants Summer to understand that life, and death, are easy choices.

Links to reviews or blurbs you wish to share: Publishers Weekly

Marc Olivier Le Blanc photography, Pictures by San Francisco Photographer, advertising and editorial.

Marc Olivier Le Blanc photography, Pictures by San Francisco Photographer, advertising and editorial.

How are you connected to the setting of your story?

I lived in Paris for ten years with my family. I also studied and traveled in France as a teen and as an undergraduate.

Lucky you, Ann! What inspired you to write this story?

The germ of the idea for this story came from a scary incident in the Métro, where someone ended up on the tracks in front of our train. I was with my young daughter and we quickly left. We never found out exactly what happened. But I couldn’t forget it and that’s where my imagination and the writer’s eternal question of “what if?” took over.

What was the biggest challenge you had writing your story? How did you overcome it?

My protagonist is depressed and ultimately suicidal. It was more challenging than I imagined living in her head for long periods of time (like, years). But the only way around it was through. This was a story I wanted to tell, and even when I gave up on it, I always returned to it.

What kind of story can we expect next from you? Is it set outside of the United States? If so, where? And what is it about?

I am working on a companion book that picks up a year after RTDCOL ends, with Summer living with her aunt and working on a suicide crisis line in San Francisco. Some other characters from the RTDCOL show up, too. She’s very ANTI-suicide now.

We can’t wait for the next book, Ann! What else would you like us to know about you or your story?

I’ve lived outside the US for over two decades of my life and wish everyone could have the chance to travel, or better yet, to live outside their native country for at least a year. I’m convinced it could do wonders for world peace. My family and I lived in the Kingdom of Bahrain in the Arabian Gulf for four years. So one of Summer’s love interests is from the Gulf. We also lived in the Czech Republic for two years, and then for ten in Paris. We loved each experience and are grateful to have had these opportunities.

51byDWCA2WL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? And why? 

I remember reading the timeless The Witch of Blackbird Pond at a tender age, and being outraged at the injustices heaped upon poor Kit Tyler. She was forced to leave her tropical island home in Barbados and live in cold, harsh, hard-core Puritan 1687 New England. And they thought she was a witch to boot.

Where can readers go to learn more information?

Web page




If you like thrillers, memorable characters, and a good read, be sure to order your copy today at your nearest bookstore!! Thank you Ann, for joining us at World Reads and a big congratulations!

Thank you for having me, Annemarie!


Kid’s World with Anjuli Turner: Medieval Peasant, Jenny Arc Fell

IMG_4751My daughter, Anjuli is studying about the Medieval era at school. Last week her 7th grade class reenacted a Medieval Banquet with trading, jousting, fortune telling, archery, and many other fun activities from that time period.

The kids and teachers came dressed as ladies, jesters, peasants, nobles, knights, monks, friars, clerics, scribes, merchants, and peddlers, as well as, of course, an honorary king and queen. There was even a priest performing marriages! Anjuli, the bride, partook and looks far from full of bliss tying the marital knot.


IMG_4723Instead of primping for the marriage ceremony, Anjuli chose to joust with a fellow peasant prior to taking her vows.

She walked away with her limbs in tact and a mere few stitches!


As part of her studies of the Medieval era, her English teacher assigned students a creative writing prompt that required each of them to think about what life might have been like at that time. Anjuli chose to write from the peasant point of view and created the fictional character, Lilli of Nottingham.

Courtesy of George Clausen

Be sure to read Anjuli’s story below with an old British accent for the full effect.

Drum roll …

A Day in the Life of a Medieval Peasant

by Anjuli Turner

Being at the bottom of the social pyramid isn’t all that bad. No, frankly, it is terrible, miserable shall I say. Working sunrise to sunset is simply exhausting!

I am twelve years old and the eldest child of my family. I have two little brothers. They are both six with not a lot of responsibility, which only adds to my never-ending list of challenging chores.

Yes, my brothers are young but why shan’t they each have at least one of my chores? If only I had a wee bit more time to write in my journal each day, especially with the summer months and longer days fast approaching.


bread village16 June 1422

Nottingham, England

Summer is really such a perfect time of the year. All of the divine, beauteous flowers start budding into fruits, the very ones we shall savor over the cold, winter months. And the smell of freshly baked bread from Mother’s oven makes my tummy growl with hunger! I also love …


“Lilli, come hither and help prepare for supper!” My mother shouts.

“Coming!” I holler back, as I stash my journal in a secret hiding place in the privy and push away my thoughts of summer until perchance the next free moment.

tudor brooch (cz)While setting the table, I hear my parents talking amongst each other in hushed voices. They sound pitchkettled and worried, something about past due taxes. Mother reluctantly hands my father her favorite brooch, the one that belonged to her great-grandmother.

“Don’t be such a quidnunc!” Mother barks at me. “Fetch your brothers and be sure they wash their hands.”

Once my family is settled at the table, for not a soul wishes to kiss the hare’s foot and mayhap starve waiting for morrow’s next meal. As Mother offers a prayer, we patiently bow our heads and fold our hands together.

Let us give thanks to the beneficent and merciful God, the Father of our Lord, God and Savior, Jesus Christ, for He has covered us, helped us, guarded us, accepted us unto Him, spared us, supported us, and brought us to this hour. Let us also ask Him, the Lord our God, the Almighty, to guard us in all peace this holy day and all the days of our life.

“Grammarcy,” we say in unison.

We have hardly picked up our forks to start eating when Mother asks, “Boys, did you scythe the hay?”

george clausen twins“Yepperdoodle!” Both say in a hufty-tufty tone with chests puffed out like roosters.

I giggle a bit. We all know my brothers dilly-dallied the day away and played hide-and-seek in the woods instead. Still my brothers are dear even if a tad lazy.

Mother raises her eyebrows at them, but the rest of her face is blooming smiles. My brothers are off the hook yet again. Where is the justice?

“And you, Lilli, did you plow the fields, trample the grapes, shear the sheep, herd the pigs, and gather up firewood?” Mother asks.

“With not a moment wasted,” I answer.

“Good girl, then you won’t have a problem scything the hay in the morrow,” she says.

My brothers hoot and keak like hens.

“BUT MOTHER!” I protest.

one_last_look___sheep_painting_4ef0dc18f40cf033205cbb9f536343dc“No buts, Lilli! This is not a question, it’s an order!”

“Prithee, dear Father, surely you have something to say about this?” I plead.

He is wordless! Sometimes he has such a nose of wax!

“This is woodness!” I wolf down the last bite of bellytimber and excuse myself from the table. I don’t wait for Mother’s permission and storm off.

In my escape I let my parents know just how upset I am by slamming the door behind me. I make a mad dash to the apple fields. When I reach my favorite tree, I flop to the ground and lie there gazing up at the dusky sky through the branches and green leaves.

And thither under the tree, I start to dream about another life.

lady clausenWind-sucker thoughts creep into my heart and imaginings of a new world emerge. I hardly recognize myself dressed in an elegant, velvet dress clutching a bubble-bow filled with gold coins in one hand and carrying a small lap dog in the other. I am even wearing a matching hat with many feathers and lace-covered gloves. My face is washed and powdered. The dirt underneath my nails is a thing of the past along with my calloused, often bruised hands. I am no longer slouching, but standing especially tall in brand new boots made of leather instead of the usual felt worn by a simple peasant girl. And the blisters that once lived on my feet are also long gone. Words like plow, grapes, sheep, pigs, firewood, and most certainly hay will one day be forgotten, for I dream of becoming a Lady and the fairest flower of the field.


Q & A with Linda Covella: YAKIMALI’S GIFT

Linda Covella YAKIMALI'S GIFT COVERToday I welcome Linda Covella to World Reads, a blog that features interviews with authors who’ve written a story set outside of the United States for children or young adults. What is the title of your book? The pub date and publisher? Genre? Targeted age group?

Yakimali’s Gift. July 2014 Clean Reads Books, Historical Romance 12+

Where is it set?

1775-1776 New Spain (Mexico)

In 70 words or less, provide a succinct plot description of your story.

Romance and self-discovery await 15-year-old Fernanda, of Spanish and Pima Indian ancestry, when she embarks on a 1775 colonization expedition from Mexico to California. The truths she discovers will change the way she sees her ancestry, her family, and herself.


Links to reviews or blurbs:

How are you connected to the setting of your story?

While researching the novel, I spent time in Arizona (at the time of the story, this was Mexico, New Spain). I visited cities, museums, and historical sites along the trail the colonists had followed on the expedition. The National Park Service has named the 1,210 mile route “The Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail.”

When I visited the area, I had already done some research and had begun the novel, so it was a thrill to see many of the places I had read and written about. Being there also gave me a better feeling for the terrain; visiting museums and sites gave me a better understanding of how the people lived in 1775 Mexico.

I grew up in Southern California, and though I’m not of Hispanic descent, I’ve always loved the Mexican culture. So writing that part of the story—the customs, language, etc.—was fairly easy, interesting, and fun.

What inspired you to write this story?

I was researching another book and came across the story of the Anza expedition, which brought some of the first Spanish and Mexican colonists to California. I was very surprised (shocked, actually) that I’d never heard of it, especially since I’d grown up in California. In school we’d only been taught about the settlers who came west from the Eastern U.S. I felt this was a part of U.S. and California history that needed to be told.

Also, I discovered that over half of the colonists on the expedition were women and children. Several of the women were in advanced stages of pregnancy. Most of my sources for research were from the male perspective. I wanted to know more about the women and children: who were they? Why did they choose to go on this arduous journey? What were they leaving behind, and what did they hope for their future? This is what inspired me to write the story from the perspective of 15-year-old Fernanda.

What was the biggest challenge you had writing your story? How did you overcome it?

The biggest challenge was finding enough sources from that place and period of history. It took months of research: digging up reference material, talking to authors, scholars, and descendants of colonists on the expedition. I also had to dig to find information on the Pima, Papago, and Yuma Indians from that period.

I love doing research, and it was all fun and exciting, each new discovery a thrill. I ended up with quite an extensive bibliography, which you can view on my website at

What kind of story can we expect next from you? Is it set outside of the United States? If so, where? And what is it about?

For now, I will be staying within the U.S. The sequel to Yakimali’s Gift, which I’m still researching, will take place in Southern California. At the time of the story, though, it will still be part of New Spain.

My middle-grade ghost story, The Castle Blues Quake, takes place in modern-day Santa Cruz where I live. The sequel to that, The Ghosts of Pebble Brook Lodge, will be out soon and takes place in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Linda Covella AUTHOR PHOTOWhat else would you like us to know about you or your story?

I’ve always loved reading historical fiction, so Yakimali’s Gift was pure enjoyment for me to write. I’m proud to say I’ve received some recognition for it from different sources.

The book has earned the Seal of Approval from Literary Classics who wrote in their review that Yakimali’s Gift is “well researched and beautifully told…a literary treasure.” It’s also a finalist for the RONE (Reward of Novel Excellence) Award in the Young Adult, General category, and their review said the story “shines light on a little-known part of history and invites the reader to experience it first-hand.” The Historical Novel Society’s review said “Covella’s extensive research into the culture and society of the Spanish-settled New World is worked seamlessly into a very human story.”

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? And why?

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. My mother, who was a school librarian, introduced me to this book, and I loved it. I related to the girl Francie because of her imagination and her love of reading. I think I also just liked the story itself, Francie’s and her family’s struggles with a poverty-stricken life, and their ability to find hope and happiness through it all.

Where can readers go to learn more information?

Web page



Thank you Linda Covella for joining us at World Reads! YAKIMALI’S GIFT is available for $1.99 from September 23rd until the 27th.

Thank you, Annemarie, for having me on your World Reads blog. I love reading stories that take place in other parts of the world, so I’ll be sure to check out the titles on your site!

Kid’s World with Aubrey Turner: MAUS by Art Spiegelman

UnknownThere are some advantages to being a mom and writer for young readers. If you have teenagers like I do, you might find yourself reading the same books that your kids are reading. Sometimes they might even become your go-to-reading-list-source. That’s how I discovered MAUS: A SURVIVOR’S TALE. My oldest daughter selected it to read from a list of Holocaust related books for an English assignment.


300px-Maus_volume_2_page_50_panels_3-4In short, MAUS is a graphic novel by American cartoonist Art Spiegelman. More specifically, it’s an interview between Spiegelman and his father, Vladek, about his experience as a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor. When it comes to genre, MAUS wears a lot of hats. MAUS is a memoir, a biography, fiction, history, and an autobiography. Spiegelman’s choice  to depict his cast of characters and their respective race by a different animal is brilliant. Can you guess from the cover which animal depicts the Jews? And the Germans?


170px-Art_Spiegelman_(2007)MAUS is also the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize. That’s why I snatched it from my daughter’s desk and read it in one sitting. Spiegelman captures his father’s story in such a realistic way giving readers the kind of details writers appreciate. I felt like I was planted at the Spiegelman family table in New York during the interview process gaining insight on the Jewish experience through the eyes of a survivor.

I give MAUS a big thumbs up and am pleased to see it included on my daughter’s school reading list.

For more information about Art Spiegelman and the making of MAUS, click here.


IMG_3762Given the subject matter of MAUS, I’m eager to find out what my daughter understands and what kind of questions she asks me after reading it. It’s not like I sit her down to watch documentaries on Hitler like my father did when I was her age. Even so, despite my dad’s frame-by-frame commentary of what Hitler had done, my dad still couldn’t make me understand why anyone would want to eliminate an entire race of people. It just didn’t make any sense to me then or now. So I’m even more eager to learn which writing prompt my daughter selects for her English writing assignment and what she says in it.

Update: Aubrey selected Writing Prompt #6.  Write a letter to one of the characters or the author of the book. Give your reactions to specific events that took place, ask logical questions, etc. (1 page).

Drum roll please …

September 19, 2015

Dear Mr. Spiegelman,

Hi, my name is Aubrey Turner. I’m an eighth-grade student at Piedmont Middle School, which is located in Piedmont, California near San Francisco. I just read MAUS, the book about your father and am amazed that he survived all that he did. For example, when he lived in the prisoner of war camp and had to “move mountains” when he wasn’t used to doing manual labor. So many more terrible things happened to your father and his Jewish friends that I have a hard time understanding why. On more pages than I care to admit I had to ask my mom a question. And still I really don’t understand. For example, why did the Germans hang those four Jewish people and leave them there for a week?

And why were there coupons? And what was the big deal that they had to die because of them?

And why did Tosha have to poison your older brother? That was so sad.

Why did your mom give up on her life and commit suicide after all that she went through to live? That doesn’t make sense to me either.

At first I didn’t understand what pages 5 and 6 about friends had to do with the Holocaust or even why the non-Jewish Poles were depicted as pigs. But when I got to the end I see that your father really learned the hard way who he could trust and who were his real friends. So many non-Jewish Poles promised to help the Jewish people, took their money, and then turned them in to the Germans afterward. I can see why you made these people into pigs, but what about the non-Jewish Poles who helped your father and mother hide? Why were they pigs? They seemed more like a very protective Great Dane to me.

Any why did your father marry Mala? He doesn’t seem happy with her. And she doesn’t seem happy with him.

And why did your father burn your mother’s journals. She wanted you to read them and it was the only thing left of her. I’d really like to hear her story. It’s too bad her journals are gone. I can understand why you called your dad a murderer because in a way your mom died all over again for you. But you only have your dad left and probably shouldn’t have called him such a bad name. His life was hard and maybe it was too painful for him to relive his life through your mother’s journals. Or maybe calling him a murderer is the fiction part of your story? To make your ending stronger?

IMG_1275I’m glad you included a map of Poland on the back cover. The mouse and poison icons gave me a better idea of where the concentration camps were located. Since there was a camp near your father’s hometown of Sosnowiec, it’s really remarkable that your father didn’t get stuck there.

I can see why you chose to represent the Jewish people as mice and the Germans as cats. A mouse really doesn’t have a chance against a cat, unless it’s cunning or can find a hole to hide into which is what many Jewish survivors had to do to stay alive.

Congratulations on winning a Pulitzer Prize! Your mom would be proud of you!!!!!!!!

Good luck,


P.S. The photo of me above was taken this past summer in Berlin at the Holocaust Memorial. It also goes by a more appropriate sounding name: Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.










Q & A with Shirley Parentau: DOLLS OF HOPE

Shirley Parenteau DOLLS OF HOPE BOOK COVERToday I welcome Shirley Parenteau to World Reads, a blog that features interviews with authors who’ve written a story set outside of the United States for children or young adults. What is the title of your book? The pub date and publisher? Genre? Targeted age group?


September 22,2015

Candlewick Press

For ages 8 to 12

Where is it set?

Japan (Tokyo, Tsuchuria and a mountain village to the north)

In 70 words or less, provide a succinct plot description of your story.

When disgraced and sent away to a girl’s school to learn proper behavior, eleven-year-old Chiyo helps welcome Friendship Dolls from America. A jealous classmate, determined to see her fail, accuses her of damaging a doll and Chiyo is expelled. Her only hope to restore her good name and the doll she loves is a secret and scary trip to Tokyo to ask help from a master doll artist.

Links to reviews or blurbs you wish to share: Kirkus Reviews 

DOLLS OF HOPE is a Junior Library Guild Fall 2015 selection!

How are you connected to the setting of your story?

My daughter-in-law Miwa is from Japan. When she and my son Scott took their oldest daughter, then three, to Japan to take part in the girl’s day festival called Hinamatsuri, their photographs fascinated me.

What inspired you to write this story?

I researched Hinamatsuri online and discovered Bill Gordon’s amazing link to information on the Friendship Doll exchange of 1926 and ’27. (website listed below) That American children had sent more than 12,000 dolls to children in Japan and received 58 large, exquisitely dressed dolls with tiny accessories in return was a fact lost under the weight of World War II. I knew at once that I wanted to tell the story through the eyes of a girl taking part in the exchange. That first book set in the U.S. was Ship of Dolls (August, 2014). My editor suggested a second book told through a girl in Japan. That book became Dolls of Hope published in September, 2015.

Shirley Parenteau AUTHOR PHOTOWhat was the biggest challenge you had writing your story? How did you overcome it?

At first, I hesitated to write a book set in a country and culture that was not my own. Fortunately, Miwa was willing to help with unfamiliar details. Also, my series of picture books beginning with Bears on Chairs has been warmly welcomed by Japanese readers, so my name is familiar there.

What kind of story can we expect next from you? Is it set outside of the United States? If so, where? And what is it about?

I’m currently working on a middle-grade novel set in San Francisco, although it begins in Canton, China. It’s set in 1905 when a woman named Donaldina Cameron, later called the Angry Angel of Chinatown, was rescuing girls kidnapped by slavers to be resold in San Francisco, the youngest as household slaves. I thought it would be interesting to tell the story through one of the girls.

friendship-dollWhat else would you like us to know about you or your story?

It’s been several years since I first found Bill Gordon’s website on the Friendship Doll exchange. I was writing picture books, so time set aside to research the dolls and to write Ship of Dolls took several years. I had almost finished the book and was considering bringing it to the attention of my editor at Candlewick Press when a friend called to tell me that award winning author Kirby Larson had just published a book called The Friendship Doll. I was sure I had taken too long with mine, but when I read Kirby’s story, I realized our books were very different.

Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? And why?

I grew up in a very small town on the Northern Oregon Coast. I think I read nearly every book in the school library which was a closet sized room with shelves and a window. Occasionally, our mother took my sister and me up our long gravel road to the highway to catch a Greyhound bus to Tillamook, the county seat, where the large library was a wonderful treasure house of stories.

I loved the Nancy Drew series and of course, pictured myself as being as adventurous and resourceful as Nancy.

200px-The_Book_Thief_by_Markus_Zusak_book_coverIn recent years, I found The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak deeply impressing, both in writing style and in characters so real that although I knew what the end would be, I cried when I reached it.

Where can readers go to learn more information?

For a remarkably extensive collection of information on the Friendship Doll Exchange including historic and recent photos, see Bill Gordon’s site.

Web page


Thank you Shirley Parenteau for joining us at World Reads!

If you enjoy historical fiction centered around a strong girl character, be sure to pre-order DOLLS OF HOPE at your nearest bookstore. You will not be disappointed! I read an early version of DOLLS OF HOPE and loved it and still could not put the published version down on second read.

All materials © 2015 Annemarie O'Brien. Web site by Websy Daisy. Illustration © 2013 by Tim Jessell