Janet Fox THE CHARMED CHILDREN OF ROOKSKILL CASTLEToday I welcome Janet Fox 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.

Janet, what is the title of your book? The pub date and publisher? Genre? Targeted age group?

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, March 2016, Viking. Middle grade, ages 10+

Where is it set?

Mostly Scotland, though it begins in London.

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

When Kat Bateson and her brother and sister are sent to a Scottish castle-turned-school at the start of World War 2, they believe it will be a refuge from the London Blitz bombs. But the castle is creepy; spies may be in hiding; and the Lady who runs the school is not what she seems – and Kat discovers that all the children are in mortal danger.

Link to reviews or blurbs readers can check out to hear all of the great feedback Janet’s book is getting.

Here’s a link to a starred review from Kirkus.

How are you connected to the setting of your story?

I’ve been to Scotland several times, and my mother is first generation American, from England.

mqdefaultWhat inspired you to write this story?

An image of a chatelaine that I saw on the internet inspired the story. I was online – just hanging out – when a friend of mine posted a picture of a piece of jewelry. I stared at it, instantly mesmerized. It was a 17th century German chatelaine with 12 charms, and those charms looked weird. The more I stared the weirder they looked.

At that point, the entire novel came into my head, almost complete – including the setting and time period, and most importantly Kat, my main character. I wrote the first draft really fast – although it went through a long revision process.

Janet Fox Author PhotoWhat was the biggest challenge you had writing your story? How did you overcome it?

The multiple points of view were tricky to handle. I moved things around until I thought they made sense. In the end, I printed out each POV, laid them out in a long hallway, and shifted them until the story was coherent.

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 working on a possible sequel, still set in Scotland, still in Rookskill Castle. It’s a continuation of Kat’s experiences with magic and World War 2.

What else would you like us to know about you or your story?

I feel very connected to Kat, who struggles with reconciling her practical nature with the possibility of magic in the world.

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

C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books! And they directly inspired this book, with their blend of fantasy and history.

You can learn more about Janet Fox and her wonderful books on her webpage or follow her on Facebook, and Twitter.  

Thank you Janet for joining us at World Reads! I’m super excited to read CHARMED! It’s at the top of my pile of nighttime reading books. Congratulations for all the well deserved accolades your book is receiving.


Author School Visits: 12 TIPS

dog-reading-294x214For checklists and the mechanics of conducting a successful author school visit go to your publisher’s web site and search ‘school visits’. Random House, for example, features a site called Set up a Visit that outlines basic information you and the host school should follow.

Because even the best planned events might experience some sort of hiccup I also read numerous posts on the subject from authors who shared their experiences in the trenches of elementary schools. Here are my top eleven tips to minimize some of those hiccups:

Tip # 1

Alexis O’Neill

Before you do anything, sign up for blog posts from School Visit Experts. Alexis O’Neill offers a place for published authors to find and share advice on how to create and deliver quality programs for kids, teachers, and librarians. It’s an awesome blog about author school visits. Even if you’re not yet published, sign up and start learning now!

Tip # 2

In 9 Ways to Get Teachers to Love Your Author Visit O’Neill brings up a valid point about the Q&A session of an author talk. Sometimes it’s hard for the author to hear the kids’ questions, and their questions are often repetitive or off-track. To best prepare, ask teachers for questions ahead of time, and then choose which to answer. Another option is to develop your own questions and build them into your presentation.


Waimea Canyon Middle School – 6th grade

The number one question I always get is: “How did you come up with the story idea for Lara’s Gift?” Instead of waiting for someone to ask this question, I ask the audience: “What do you think is the number one question kids ask me?” The kids become engaged and multiple hands shoot up.And even if you answer this question in your presentation, be patient with the student who asks this question again. Happens to me every time.


Kapaa Elementary School – 5th grade

Here I am in Kauai on a school visit where the hugs were boundless and the leis welcoming. The teacher at this school even arranged and invited the only pair of borzoi living on the island into the classroom to give the kids a chance to meet a real borzoi!

Tip # 3

In 4 Ways to Make Librarians Love Your School Visit, Toni Buzzeo gives great advice: Understand and design presentations to respond to local curriculum. When you are in a school, you are temporarily in the position of an educator. Because every school hour is precious in this age of standards-driven education, and because in all but five states (see map), those standards (entitled the Common Core State Standards) are national, it is easier now, than ever before, to incorporate them into your presentations. Start here and then solicit help from teachers you know to refine your presentations. Remember that the more you add value in your presentation and help teachers accomplish their goals as educators the more likely you’ll be invited back.

Tip # 4


Credit: Catherine Linka

If you are working with a bookseller to set up a school visit, Catherine Linka, author of 7 Ways to Make Indie Booksellers Love You recommends that you be absolutely clear from the first conversation with a bookseller if you need to charge for a school visit. “It is fine with us [Flintridge Bookstore] if this is how you make your living, but do not expect us to get the business for you. We will, however, be happy to supply books after you have made the deal. If you can afford to do free school visits, it will be a treat for us to call our customers and set those up.”

Tip # 5

26539_OBrien_Coming to school poster_March_Page_1

Credit: Laura Purdie Silas

Laura Purdie Salas gives great advice in From 5 Things I’ve Learned about School Visits: send posters and free books once the author school visit contract is signed. She had some mini-posters printed with a bunch of her book covers and an announcement that “Laura Purdie Salas is coming to school on ________!” On the back of the posters she printed tips to help adults prepare for her visit. She sends 3-4 posters plus 2-3 of her trade hardcover books in advance. She says, “The cost is well worth the extra excitement the materials generate.” I took her advice and created my own poster.

Tip # 6

O’Neill stresses the importance of connecting with your audience by Telling Stories about Yourself. Whether you are speaking to an adult audience or to kids, remember to weave in a story or two about yourself – ones that listeners can connect with. Dig for funny or poignant nuggets from your growing up years, disappointments/heartbreaks, celebrations (disastrous or otherwise), unexpected kindnesses from others, family vacations (or lack thereof), school (conflicts or triumphs).

Tip # 7

bookplate.1What do you do if the bookseller at your school event doesn’t bring enough books? O’Neill offers a great solution in From Economical Bookplate Solutions: send them a signed bookplate for every book sold that goes unsigned. It’s disappointing – to you and to readers — when schools or bookstores run out of your books during your appearance. Being able to autograph and personalize a book can mean the difference between a sale and no sale.


Tip # 8

It is worth repeating what Dan Gutman says in The Perfect Author Visit in that a successful school visit usually comes down to how much preparation the librarian, teachers, PTA, and principal put into it. Here are some suggestions from Gutman that you can share with your host school:

Tell students the author is coming at least a month in advance. Put the author’s books on display in the school library. Put a display of book covers up in the hallway.

Have classes read the books and write book reports or think up questions to ask the author.

Throw a contest and have the winners receive autographed books.

Have an art class make posters, banners, and bookmarks welcoming the author.

Have a writing class write reviews of the author’s books.

Arrange for the students on the school paper to interview the author.

Call the local newspapers. Maybe they’ll send a photographer to cover the event. If they don’t, take pictures yourself and submit them.

If the author writes about a specific subject, create a theme day around it at school.

Talk it up. The more excited you are, the more excited the kids will be. And when the kids are excited, any message the author gives them will really hit home.

Tip # 9

Camille Powell

Librarian Camille Powell

Camille Powell, a.k.a. Miss BookMoot gives lovely insight on author visits from a librarian’s perspective in Advice for Authors on School Visits. The section that hit home most with me was “what to talk about”:

 Often, kids know how a manuscript becomes a book. It is interesting and even MORE fascinating if you tell the story of something exciting, horrible, difficult that happened during the process.

Students have been taught how to use a library or how to do research . Share something interesting that happened or that surprised you while you did your research. Where did you go to do your research? Got pictures?

Talking about revision is interesting IF you can relate your challenges in the writing process. If you are sharing a manuscript page bleeding with corrections and suggestions, make sure they can see the details on the page with a visual (a slide or overhead.)

Illustrate and explain a specific editing change. If you are lucky you will be presenting in the school library but be prepared for a gymnasium or lunch room-sized venue. Think of those kids at the very back. Can they see and appreciate what you are sharing?

Writers of historical fiction sometimes share artifacts or facts from the time period they write about. Share some true stories from that time too. Something drew you to writing about that event or time period, what was it?

Tip # 10

Author Kimberly Norman

Author Kimberly Norman

Be sure to contact author, Kimberly Norman. She’ll be happy to add your name by state to her list of authors interested in doing school visits. Kimberly also offers great advice on ensuring a successful author-kid encounter. All she asks is that you provide her link to your webpage and/or mention what she’s doing in a blog post to help spread the word so more kids can meet authors that inspire the love of reading. Thanks for setting this up Kimberly Norman! Kimberly also shared with me some information about a group she belongs to on Facebook called Create Engaging School Visits. Be sure to check them out too!

TIP # 11

Author Kate Messner

Author Kate Messner

Participate in Read Aloud Day and Skype with an Author! Every February Scholastic spreads the word about authors working with schools through Skype to promote reading. Author Kate Messner created a webpage where you can sign up and list your name and availability. I signed up for the first time this year and locked in two author Skype visits at two different schools. Kate’s site must get a lot of traffic from schools because I signed up a few days in advance of the designated Read Aloud day. Thanks Kate for taking the initiative to bring schools and authors together.

Tip # 12

Authors know how important an opening is to hook readers. The same goes for school presentations. Be sure to read O’Neill’s article on Great Beginnings which features examples of how authors like you have started their talks.

Author Rick Riordan

Author Rick Riordan

And finally, if you ever feel like you’re “trying to fill a reservoir with an eye-dropper” as you plan one school visit after another wondering if your hard work will ever pay off, read My Overnight Success by Rick Riordan for inspiration. You will carry a deeper appreciation of what it took Riordan to get where he is today, as well as be humbled by the doubt he felt along the way.

A BIG thanks to the generous authors and writers that make up the children’s book writing community. To those authors cited in this blog post, hugs all around for taking the time to share your experience.



Q & A with Stephanie Hemphill: SISTERS OF GLASS

Stephanie Hemphill SISTERS OF GLASS Book CoverToday I welcome Stephanie Hemphill 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. A good friend of mine gifted me Stephanie’s book, SISTERS OF GLASS (Knopf, 2012) for readers 10 and above. I loved it so much for its descriptive language and story I reached out to Stephanie to join us on World Reads.


Where is SISTERS OF GLASS set?

Murano, Italy

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

Maria is the younger daughter of an esteemed family of glassblowers on Murano. Her father’s dying wish is for Maria to marry into the nobility even though her rightful elder sister Giovanna is better suited. Both girls prefer Giovanna to marry, but they can’t circumvent their father’s wishes. Maria dreams of becoming a glassblower. The family business begins to fail, so a young glassblower, Luca, arrives and further complicates matters.

Links to reviews or blurbs :

Poetry for Children

Kirkus Reviews

Horn Book

Starred review from Booklist:

A romantic tale of destiny, fidelity, and true love is perfectly placed in fourteenth-century Murano, Italy (of glassmaking renown), and just as judiciously told through verse. Giovanna and Maria are daughters of a brilliant glassmaker. Upon his death, he declares that Maria, the younger daughter born the week he made a tremendous discovery, is to marry a nobleman. Vanna, the older and more marriageable both by tradition and nature, retreats from her warm relationship with Maria into bitterness and anger. Maria is disdainful of her training to be a society woman and yearns instead to spend her time with her art, or in the family’s furnaces with Luca, an employee whose skill with glass is the marvel that leads Maria, who once aspired to be a glassblower, to fall in love with him. How the sisters navigate their divide, reconcile, and begin to work with one another to create livable futures from the hands they have been dealt outshines their respective love stories without minimizing them. Though the verse is anything but sparse, nothing is wasted in the telling of this lyrical tale. In a landscape, time, and plot rich with descriptive opportunity, Hemphill’s verse selects and illuminates the best bits, intensifying them like light through glass.

— Heather Booth

Stephanie Hemphill Author PhotoHow are you connected to the setting of your story?

I’m not sure that I have a direct connection in terms of heritage to the setting of my story, but Renaissance history and specifically the Italian Renaissance has been a long time fascination of mine. And of all the places that I have traveled, Venice is the city that I love the most.

What inspired you to write this story?

As with many of my books the idea of writing about glassblowing was suggested to me by someone else, in this case an editor. I then did a little research to see if I felt I could invest in the subject and add something unique to the larger discussion about the topic, which in this case was fictitious late 15th century glassblowing families. I discovered through research that a real person named Maria Barovier was one of the few women glassmakers of the time and one of the few known women ever permitted to have her own furnace. I personally had been brewing a story about sisters around in my head. So when I discovered that because glassmaking was such a revered art one daughter of a glassmaker was allowed to marry into the nobility I mashed up the three ideas and found my way into a story.

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

With historical fiction I find that I am always challenged by a desire to be historically accurate and yet not entirely abandon poetry. I often have to sacrifice images or ideas because they are anachronistic or too modern. I enjoy writing strong young women but they cannot be completely outside of the norms of their time period and yet I want a contemporary reader to relate to Maria and Giovanna. I compromise and revise and revise and revise.

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 did follow up SISTERS OF GLASS with a book set outside of the United States about Mary Shelley and her creation of Frankenstein and love affair with Percy Shelley called HIDEOUS LOVE. She and Percy and her half sister, Claire, travel throughout Europe in the novel, from England to France to Italy to Switzerland where Mary finds the inspiration to write Frankenstein and they meet Lord Byron. It’s a twisted tale of travel, inspiration, literature, love and loss.

The book I’m currently working on and will be out in Winter 2018 is a contemporary prose novel about girls in a school for the educationally exceptional called The Prime.

What else would you like us to know about you or your story?

I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to Venice and the adjacent island of Murano before I began writing and that certainly enriched SISTERS OF GLASS. It’s not always possible for me to travel to the location of my book, especially when the novel is set outside of the United States, but I know the visceral details and my own experiences help the story when I do. Venice is both breath-taking and unique. It’s not too difficult to imagine what it was like in the late 15th century when you’re there because all travel is by foot or boat (or bicycle), no motorized vehicles are permitted in the city. The windy cobblestone streets, bridges and cathedrals date back to the fifteenth century and even earlier. And the glassblowing houses on Murano use many of the same techniques that were employed in 1490.

18Can you remember the first book that made an impact on you? And why?

I think as a young child the first books I loved until the pages fell out, the ones I could recite before I could read without text or pictures, were Dr. Seuss. Perhaps in some way I was destined to become a poet because of Geisel’s early influence.

The first book I can remember being read aloud that had no pictures was Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I could not have been more than four or five, and I looked forward to bedtime and my father reading a new chapter. It was way better than television.

The first chapter book I read over and over on my own was Charlotte’s Web. It still makes me cry even though I know what’s coming, and that’s because of the characters. I read books over and over because I love the characters. They exist beyond the page for me in my mind and my soul, and I think Charlotte’s Web was the first book that showed me that.

Readers can learn more or connect with Stephanie Hemphill on Facebook.

Thank you Stephanie Hemphill for joining us at World Reads! I LOVED SISTERS OF GLASS and highly recommend it for any reader interested in verse novels, strong female characters, poetic imagery, and engaging storytelling.



Q & A with Anastasia Edel: PUTIN’S PLAYGROUND

Screen Shot 2015-12-23 at 10.00.27 AMToday I welcome my dear friend and author, Anastasia Edel to World Reads, a blog that features interviews with authors who’ve written about a subject/book set outside of the United States for children and young adults. And while Anastasia’s new book, PUTIN’S PLAYGROUND is not specific to children and young adult readers, the language is certainly accessible to all readers young and old. In fact, I’d recommend PUTIN’S PLAYGROUND to anyone curious about or traveling to Russia. And it is definitely a must-read for those who need to get up to speed on what’s happening in Russia who don’t have time to invest reading countless history, political, and cultural books. Edel does all of the hard work for us and presents relevant content for her readers with clarity and vision. 

Screen Shot 2016-01-21 at 9.16.10 PMPUTIN’S PLAYGROUND is a political, cultural and historical analysis of modern Russia. Written for readers with general interest in Russia and world affairs, the book explores the tumultuous relationship between the Russian state and its people, and traces Russia’s history from its inception through Putin’s controversial rule. In a series of short, punchy essays, Putin’s Playground examines various facets of Russian life and culture―from literature to oligarchs including Peter the Great to punk protesters Pussy Riot.

PUTIN’S PLAYGROUND has already earned wonderful reviews:

“Anastasia Edel provides a beautifully written and richly illustrated introduction to Russian cultural and political history. Russia: Putin’s Playground is equally lively and insightful, a guide to Russia’s future as much as its past, a perfect primer to a country too often misunderstood in America.” ― Anthony Marra, New York Times bestselling author of The Tsar of Love and Techno and A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

This book is perfect for anyone with a growing concern about Russia, but without the knowledge to make informed opinions about the interests of the Russian state and the foreign policy decisions of its leader, Vladimir Putin. This book rightly explains the Russian foreign policy psyche via its history and culture, and explains with nuance as to why Russia and the West, especially the United States, have disagreements on many geopolitical issues.―Dr. Ryan Maness, PhD, Visiting Fellow of Security and Resilience Studies in the Department of Political Science at Northeastern University and co-author of Russia’s Coercive Diplomacy

Excellent introduction to political and historical Russia. Up to date, accurate, and visually arresting. This would be my recommendation for anyone wanting to catch up on and understand modern Russia. ―Dr. Brandon Valeriano, PhD, Senior Lecturer in Political Science and Global Security at the University of Glasgow and co-author of Russia’s Coercive Diplomacy

Smart, balanced, concise, Putin’s Playground includes a history of Russia and an overview of its cultural and intellectual history. Plus, Putin! If you or someone you know has any interest in Russia, get this book! Dan Lyons, former editor at Newsweek and Forbes, co-producer of HBO’s Silicon Valley, and author of Disrupted: My Misadventure in the Start-up Bubble.

A boy walks past the Russian Buk-1M missile system at the Air defense battle masters competition as part of the International Army Games 2015 in the port town of Yeysk, Russia, August 9, 2015. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev

A boy walks past the Russian Buk-1M missile system at the Air defense battle masters competition as part of the International Army Games 2015 in the port town of Yeysk, Russia, August 9, 2015. REUTERS/Maxim Zmeyev

How are you connected to the subject matter of PUTIN’S PLAYGROUND?

I grew up in a small town in the south of Russia. Putin’s Playground used to be my playground also.

Why did you write PUTIN’S PLAYGROUND?”

I knew about Callisto Media’s “Lightning Guides” series and found the approach—short beautiful books that connect curious readers to big ideas—really intriguing. When they offered me to write a book about Russia, I saw it as an opportunity to create a concise, honest, and educating portrait of the country I was born in. There’re a lot of people who genuinely want to understand Russia, but not all of them have the time to read specialized historical and political literature. The reality of media headlines, on the other hand, is often clichéd and distorted. The idea that I could create something as informed and accurate as academic literature but also accessible, fresh and fun to read, genuinely inspired me. As I wrote it, I often thought of my children, who were born in America: I wanted them to understand the essential facts about Russia, and about what being Russian means. Lastly, as someone who hopes for a better Russia, I wanted to bring to the public eye the names of those Russians who resist the oppression of the state, despite the threat to their lives.

LGRussia_9781942411628_005_iartWhat was the biggest challenge you had writing PUTIN’S PLAYGROUND? How did you overcome it?

Because Putin’s Playground is part of the series, it had to fit into a certain format. The biggest challenge for me was the word limit. How do you fit everything you know about a country—and if you grew up in it, studied its history, its literature, its language, you do know a lot—into twenty thousand words? What do you omit and what do you take out? What helped me tremendously was that, on our family vacation, my husband (who happens to be a trained historian) came up with an idea of viewing Russia as a stage with just three actors: the State, the People, and the Dissenters. It is a very elegant framework, if you think of it: everyone who inhabits Russia fits into one of those three categories. Applying that framework allowed me to avoid the linear, “chronicling” approach, which would have made for a long and tedious read, and concentrate on the critical forces at play in the Russian society. As for the sentences, only the essential words went in. When you have stringent word limits, you are forced to say only what truly matters.

LGRussia_9781942411628_003_iartWhich section of PUTIN’S PLAYGROUND was the easiest to write and why?

“The Russian People.” Because this is where I personally fit in. Being outside of the daily Russian context (I spent roughly the same amount of time living in Russia and in the West) lent a perspective to my observations, allowing for a more objective self-portrait, or so I hope. Besides, Russian people are fun to write about—I mean, which other nation has fights over categorical imperative on bus stations? Responds to the giant meteorite explosion above their heads with a melancholic shrug and a short curse word? Fishes with dynamite, uses arms for windshield wipers, and chases a bottle of vodka with just half a pickle?

DE8A55 'The Decembrist Revolt at the Senate Square on December 14, 1825', late 19th century. Artist: Dmitry Kardovsky

‘The Decembrist Revolt at the Senate Square on December 14, 1825’, late 19th century. Artist: Dmitry Kardovsky

What do you want readers to take away or learn from your book?

Russia is a place governed by highly idiosyncratic principles, many of which run contrary to the Western value canon. Specifically, in Russia individual freedom is always secondary to the interests of the state. In that arrangement, no sacrifice is too big, and no disagreement too small.

What was the most surprising thing you learned while writing or publishing PUTIN’S PLAYGROUND?

The day after signing the contract with the publisher, the ambitiousness of my undertaking had at last dawned on me. I looked at my outline, then at the books in my bookcase, checked local library resources, googled haphazardly—and sunk into deep despair. It appeared to me, with all clarity, that I was trying to embrace the un-embracable (a lovely Russian expression). When I could take it no longer, I did what every normal person in my situation would do: I went to a bookstore and asked the store clerk to show me all the books they have on Russia. That, I believed at the moment, would save me.

But on the corner shelf labeled “History,” I found books on American Revolution, Civil Rights movement, fall of Rome, history of Protestantism and, for some reason, novels of Hilary Mantel. No mention of Russia.

I was seriously considering calling it quits when I noticed a bunch of small, illustrated volumes: “China.” “Cuba.” “Vietnam.” I prayed for the next to be “Russia.” My prayers were not granted. Thinking of the words I would use to tell my publisher why I couldn’t do it, I suddenly noticed a small lightning symbol on the spines of the small volumes that had caught my attention. It was the same as on the publishing contract on my desk. The reason “Russia” wasn’t on the shelf, was because it hadn’t been written yet. I was writing that book for Callisto’s “Lightning Guides.” It was a very strange, almost transcendent experience, after which I stopped agonizing, went home and started writing. “If you call yourself a mushroom,” goes a Russian saying, “get into the basket.”

Screen Shot 2015-11-09 at 1.50.01 PMDo you have any predictions for Russia and its future? 

When a country is governed by individuals rather than by institutions, predictions are hard to make. Because individuals are unpredictable. As a general rule, given the high concentration of power in Russia, there’s always a chance that small changes at the top will cause asymmetrically large shifts in the country’s course. Right now Russia has entered a period of reaction, and no one knows how long it would last. During this period, it is essential for the West not to leave Russia (and those who stand up to the state’s oppression) to their own devices. If, armed by its nuclear missiles, Russia will hurtle into the abyss, no one will benefit.

What kind of story can we expect next from you?

I recently finished a novel, “Past Perfect.” It is a novel of dislocation, desires and people’s quest for meaning. The novel is now looking for the right publisher. Meanwhile, I am working on a semi-autobiographic collection of short stories, “Intersections,” set between Russia and the West. A couple of those stories are forthcoming in literary magazines in the US.

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What else would you like us to know about you or PUTIN’S PLAYGROUND?

I never thought that I would write a political book. One of the consequences of exile, even if it’s voluntary, is silence, and I don’t mean the type connected to language proficiency. Rather, it’s a silence of a guest who doesn’t want to risk offending her host, be it by ignorance, or by applying an inappropriate cultural measurement.

Affaires russe are a different matter. Despite considering America my true home, Russia is the country that has shaped me, the country whose cultural fabric I carry in my bones. On things Russian, not only I can take a stand—I can also back it up; I just have deeper pockets of cultural references. In this respect, writing “Putin’s Playground” felt like breaking a long-standing covenant of silence. An unexpected gift.

51VjV1cS1oLCan you remember the first book that made an impact on you? And why?

There’re so many… In the environment of late USSR, with two channel programs and limited outside entertainment opportunities, books have always been my primary companions. I read everything, adventure and science fiction, I read Chekhov, Tolstoy, I read Jack London and Emily Bronte. But perhaps the one book that captivated by imagination was Bulgakov’s “Master and Margarita,” which I read in sixth grade for the first time. It was so different from everything else. I grew up in a place where people went to church secretly, in fact where many churches were converted into warehouses. And “Master and Margarita” had Jeshua and the Devil, and Pontius Pilate, those intense discussions about good and evil, about immortality, betrayal, art, love… Reading Bulgakov’s book meant awakening to life’s astounding complexity, to the passions and struggles hitherto unknown, to the world outside the known universe. That’s what great books do.

What advice can you give to aspiring writers?

Don’t be afraid.

Where can readers buy your book? AMAZONBARNES AND NOBLE, and Indie bound .

What other books would you recommend to readers interested in Russia?

Below are the few of my recent favorites:

Svetlana Alexievich. Voices from Chernobyl

Victor Pelevin (Blue Lantern, Hall of The Singing Caryatids, SNUFF)

Peter Pomerantzev. Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible: The Surreal Heart of the New Russia Paperback

Rihard Pipes “A Concise History of the Russian Revolution”

Varlaam Shalamov “Kolyma Tales”

Alexander Solzhenitzin “One Day of Ivan Denisovich”

Ilya Ilf and Yevgeny Petrov “Twelve Chairs”

Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Brothers Karamazov.

Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 11.31.34 AMPUTIN’S PLAYGROUND is THE perfect read if you want to understand what’s going on in Russia now and how it got to this point. It is also a MUST READ if you are traveling to Russia anytime soon. It’s packed with lots of relevant information in fun, evocative language. I spent many of my working years in Russia when all of the changes first started during the Gorbachev era in the late 1980s and wish I had had PUTIN’S PLAYGROUND along for that journey. So if you or someone you know fancies anything Russian or is traveling to Russia, PUTIN’S PLAYGROUND is an excellent, compact, and well-written resource one could easily read in one sitting or on a flight to Russia.

To contact or learn more about Anastasia Edel, please check out her website.

Thank you Anastasia Edel for joining us at World Reads! I see a bright future for you and look forwarding to reading your fictional work. 

Q & A with Shawn K. Stout: A TINY PIECE OF SKY

Shawn K Stout A TINY PIECE OF SKY BOOK COVERToday I welcome fellow VCFA alumna and dearest friend, Shawn K. Stout to Dog Reads, a blog that features interviews with authors who’ve written a canine story for kids or young adults.

I have been looking forward to Shawn’s A TINY PIECE OF SKY’s launch date of January 19, 2016 for a long time now. Middle grade (ages 9-12; grades 4-7) and historical fiction readers will not be disappointed. See the reviews below for advance praise.

Shawn, who is your key dog character and what kind of dog is he/she? Tell us a little more about him/her.

Bismarck, a German shepherd.

In A Tiny Piece of Sky, Bismarck is the family dog of Hermann and Mildred Baum, and their three daughters, Elizabeth, Joan, and Frankie. Hermann found Bismarck along a road on one of his business trips and brought him home to surprise Mildred. There was something about the dog’s eyes–their almost human quality–that convinced Hermann to save Bismarck. That dog, as Hermann liked to say, was smarter than most people; not only did he listen to every word that was spoken to him, but he seemed to understand. Bismarck was a loyal companion to the Baums and even helped at the family’s restaurant, delivering inventory.


Beck Restaurant

The story of A Tiny Piece of Sky is based on true events, and Bismarck is based on a real dog. My grandparents, Albert and Mildred Beck owned two restaurants in Hagerstown, Maryland in the 1930s, and Bismarck, their German shepherd, would carry bags of potatoes or other items in his teeth through the alleyways between restaurants.

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

World War II is coming in Europe. At least that’s what Frankie Baum heard on the radio. But from her small town in Maryland, in the wilting summer heat of 1939, the war is a world away.

But when some people in town start accusing her father of being a German spy, all of a sudden the war arrives at Frankie’s feet and she can think of nothing else.


Beck’s Restaurant Bar Staff

Some awesome reviews include:

“At turns hilarious, at turns heartbreaking, Shawn Stout’s story shows us the damage that a whisper campaign can do to a family and a community, and at the same time shows us, each of us, a way to find our hearts. Frankie Baum is a hero from a distant time and yet a hero for all times, the kind of hero who never gets old. I loved this book from the very beginning to the very end.”—Kathi Appelt, author of the National Book Award finalist and Newbery Honor book The Underneath

“Through warm, funny characters Shawn Stout builds a riveting bridge from the past that sheds light on today. Wholly memorable.” – Rita Williams-Garcia, winner of the Coretta Scott King Author Award for P.S. Be Eleven

“Shawn Stout’s Frankie Baum is that rare creation: a character so real, so true, we don’t just feel we know her—we are her. Irrepressible Frankie meets issues like prejudice and loyalty head on, in a story both highly entertaining and deeply thought-provoking. She may be #3 in her family, but she’ll be #1 in the hearts of all who read this book.”—Tricia Springstubb, author of What Happened on Fox Street

“Stout uses an archly chummy direct address at several points, successfully and humorously breaking up tension in this cleareyed look at bad behavior by society….Successfully warmhearted and child-centered.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Through Frankie’s thoughtful insights, Stout addresses injustices such as racism and xenophobia without turning didactic…and the conclusion is a realistic mix of bittersweet and heartwarming.”—Publishers Weekly

“This is a solid, engaging tale of historical fiction.”—Booklist


Beck’s Restaurant Menu

AOB: What inspired you to write this story?

This story is inspired by the lives of my grandparents in the 1930s. My grandfather, Albert A. Beck, the son of German parents, was a restaurant owner and businessman in Hagerstown, Maryland. Amidst the post-WWI anti-German hysteria, he was accused of being a Nazi spy, and there was an organized boycott of his restaurant.

I grew up listening to my mother’s stories about her family’s restaurant, about the rumors of espionage, about the boycott, and about Bismarck, their dog.

Many decades later, after my grandmother died, we were cleaning out her apartment and found letters dated 1939 from local civic organizations, which voiced their support for my grandfather and his restaurant, denouncing the accusations that he was a German spy. I held onto those letters and knew that one day I would write about his story.


The author with her dog, Zed.

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

I’d never before written a story that was based on real people, not to mention family members. For me, the biggest challenge was walking the line between fictionalizing the characters and their situations but at the same time capturing the true spirit of the times and what they experienced.

AOB: What other YA/MG books have you written? Do any of them feature a key dog character? If so, which ones? What are these stories about?

I’ve written two middle grade series, the Not-So-Ordinary Girl series (published by Aladdin/Simon & Schuster) and the Penelope Crumb series (published by Philomel/Penguin Random House).

Unfortunately neither of these series features a dog, which now makes me really wish they did. What was I thinking?


Beck’s Restaurant Staff

AOB: Yes, indeed! What were you thinking? What kind of story can we expect next from you? Is it about a dog? If so, what is it about?

I’m working on a new middle grade novel now, but it’s still too early to say what it’s about. I can tell you that there’s a girl, an unkindness of ravens, and some magic.

AOB: Maybe there’s time to bring in a dog character? What else would you like us to know about you or your story, A TINY PIECE OF SKY?

Let’s see…oh, the letters in the book from the civic organizations that voice support for Hermann Baum in the wake of the boycott of his restaurant. These are the actual letters that were sent to my grandfather—I just changed the names and addresses.


Author Photo by Erin Summerill

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

I think I would have to say A Secret Garden, because it was the first book that I read over and over again, that I wanted to be a part of, and the first book that made me wish I could be a writer.

AOB: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Read a lot. And show up every day to write, whether or not any words come to you, and whether or not they are rubbish. Just show up.

AOB: Click on the links to below to connect or learn more about Shawn K. Stout. Teachers be sure to look for Shawn’s Teacher Guide created by Deb Gonzales.

Web page



Thank you Shawn K. Stout for joining us at Dog Reads and for sharing photos from your family archives! I have placed an order for A TINY PIECE OF SKY and can’t wait to read it. Good luck, Shawn! I always enjoy your writing and wonderful sense of humor. Your books teach me so much about writing humor for kids.

All materials © 2016 Annemarie O'Brien. Web site by Websy Daisy. Illustration © 2013 by Tim Jessell