Meet #kidlit Author Sarah Scheerger and her MG debut OPERATION FROG EFFECT!

Happy Summer, dear #librarian and #teacher pals–and now that you have a moment to breathe –or READ–meet Sarah Scheerger author of two YA novels, an early chapter book, three picture books, and her NEW middle grade novel OPERATION FROG EFFECT.

Friends, you will LOVE sharing this book with your students. And they will love you (even more) when you do! Here’s why:

A heartfelt novel with complex characters who realize that to promote change in the world, they first have to change how they see each other.” John David Anderson, author of MS. BIXBY’S LAST DAY

“Compelling…teachable moments aplenty in the kids’ experiences and camaraderie…enticingly readable…offers multiple discussion possibilities for classes seeking to expand from Andrew Clements.” BULLETIN

“…readers follow the fifth-grade year of Ms. Graham’s class (and their class frog, Kermit!).Her characters are genuine and complex as they grow and change… A thoughtful exploration of the power of the collective voice—growing up is owning up and speaking up.” —KIRKUS  

Meet Sarah Scheerger:

Q 1. Congrats on your MG debut, Sarah! Tell us–Are you a “pantser” or a plotter” –?  

Sarah Scheerger: Omigosh. I want to be a plotter in the worst way. I do (try to) plot. I could save so much time if I was a better plotter. But alas… I’m a pantser. I usually have a general idea of where I want to go, but it’s really the characters that lead me there. I can go in circles plotting and plotting and then wind up changing it all anyway.

Q 2. Does this approach differ when you are writing YA novels (ARE YOU STILL THERE? / THE OPPOSITE OF LOVE)? Picture books (MITZVAH PIZZAH )? Early readers (THE BOULDER BROTHERS)?

MITZVAH PIZZA
(Kar-Ben Publishing / May 2019)

Sarah Scheerger: This approach is true across the board. I do really try to plot… so I suppose I’m not 100% a pantser. But my best writing happens when I forget myself and just get absorbed in a character’s reality. This happens during a writing process but not during a plotting process (for me).

An early sketch of some of the characters by Gina Perry, who also did all of Blake’s graphic novel panels.

Q 3. Which of the following quotes from OPERATION FROG EFFECT best describes your path as an author? Explain why.

 a. “…a small change in one thing can lead to big changes in other things…”   –Mrs. Graham

 b. “I’m lucky.”   –from one of Blake’s cartoons

  c. “I like writing. Because I’m quiet, people think I don’t have much to say, but the opposite is true. I have so much to say. ”  –Aviva

  d. “I can read and mop at the same time.” –Kai

   e. “Anything and everything we do–positive or negative, big or small–can influence other people and the world.”  –Mrs. Graham

  f. “Sometimes it’s easier to speak the truth through a ball point pen…” –Sharon

 Sarah Scheerger: Okay—I love this question! I think the one that best describes my path as an author, is “c.” I am shy. In fact, I wrote my first couple books under my first and middle name—because initially I wasn’t planning to tell my friends and family that I’d started writing. That’s pretty darn shy! But truly, I have so much to say.

I will add that “d” describes my sons. They get ready for school (brush teeth, eat breakfast) with a book in their hands… I have to keep saying “put down that book!” I’m glad they love reading so much.

The other quote I’d like to reference is “e”. This doesn’t represent my writing life so much, but it does represent my work as a school-based counselor. I love talking to kids about putting positivity into the world, and choosing the kind of person they want to be.

BTW I highly recommend the audio book of OPERATION FROG EFFECT, told by nine different, amazing, voice over actors, plus a commentary by the author.

Meet the cast.
Click HERE for FREE links.

Q 4. You’ve mentioned that OPERATION FROG EFFECT was inspired, in part, by a teacher you had in school, Mr. Nubling. How does it feel to see the many ways your book is inspiring today’s teachers and their students?

Sarah Scheerger: That’s kind of an author’s dream, honestly. Often it’s teachers very similar to Mr. Nubling who get excited about creative ways to extend use of the book and foster discussion. This inspires me too. I would have loved it if Mr. Nubling could somehow know he inspired a book. For any teachers who might be reading this post—Operation Frog Effect has tons of Social Emotional Learning tie ins, and is also a good way to teach about “voice”

Teachers:Click here for lesson plans & reproducibles.

Q 5. I love how the friendships in Mrs. Graham’s class grow, and they stand up for each other. Was there ever a time when you wanted to stand up for someone but you were too shy? OR a time when another student stood up for you, or you wish they had?

Sarah Scheerger: Yes. I remember vividly sitting in class in fifth grade and hearing other students gossip about and tease a male student in my class. I felt completely helpless. I hated what they were doing and yet I did not feel I could do anything about it. At that time in my life I was so shy that I don’t think I even considered standing up for him. I regret that to this day. (The good news is that he wound up being an extraordinarily successful person. I think in his case the hardships sparked personal growth. But I still feel guilty for not doing more for him when we were kids.)

Q 6. If you had a magic snow globe that could grant one wish, what would your Snow Globe Wish be?

Sarah Scheerger: Ohhh… I’m all for wishes! But is it like a birthday wish or a penny-in-the-pond wish—if I say it out loud does it make it less likely to come true? I’ll give you a hint. . . I’m the type that often wishes for big scale things, sometimes world-wide things. . .

There you go! You’ll have to guess from there.

Thanks Sarah! Sounds like your world-wide wish might be the same as the main character of my upcoming picture book SNOW GLOBE WISHES (Sleeping Bear, Illus. Claire Shorrock, pre-orders have begun…) But I’m not telling what her wish is just yet either…

Meanwhile, to learn more about Sarah Scheerger’s books go to SarahLynnBooks.com and follow her on Twitter @SarahScheerger & Facebook SarahLynnScheergerBooks.

Wishing you Frogtastic Reading!

Debut Picture Book Makes a Splash!

Happy Summer Reading to all! Lauren Kerstein’s ROSIE THE DRAGON AND CHARLIE MAKE WAVES will make a splash with young readers.

(Illus. Nate Wragg / Two Lions / June 2019)

With pool rules and swimming skills, this debut picture book is a PERFECT summer read.

“…young dragon lovers and fans of mischief…will revel in this silly romp.” KIRKUS

” This book was so silly and cute! We loved Charlie and the great care that he took of Rosie, and made sure Rosie behaved at the pool, and had snacks, and that she was careful with the other kids. And that they had a fun day at the pool! The illustrations were so fun, very vibrant, and eye catching. This is one of those kids books that I don’t mind reading over, and over again. ” —ThePagesInBetween

Lauren is READY.
Are you?

Click image below to view the trailer:

Let’s dive in to learn more about Lauren, her process, that sweet duo of Rosie and Charlie, and #kidlit advice for not-yet-published authors:

Q. Which swimming skill best describes your writing process for this book?

a. learning to float

b. flutter kicks

c. treading water

d. diving into the deep end

e. swimming the Individual Medley (IM)

Lauren: Swimming the IM seems fitting since you have to swim a different stroke for each leg of the race. I needed to switch the structure of the narrative arc, and my approach to this manuscript many times. I also added actual swimming skills (per my agent, Deborah Warren’s brilliant suggestion) which changed the manuscript in the most wonderful ways! By the time Rosie and Charlie splashed to shelves, I felt like I had swum the IM.

Q. They say most books are a tiny bit autobiographical. Are you more like Rosie or Charlie?

           Lauren: I am definitely more like Charlie. I am a list-making, graphic-organizer creating, spreadsheet-designing kind of gal!

Q. Did you ever have (or wish you had) an unusual pet like Rosie?

           Lauren: I used to collect the long worm-like things that fall off oak trees and put them in my baby pool. (I just looked them up and they are called catkins (or more technically aments)). I pretended they were seahorses. As a child, I always wanted a seahorse as a pet! Now, I would just love to see one in its natural habitat.

Q. Congratulations on your debut picture book. Any advice for beginning, not-yet-published #kidlit writers?  

            Lauren: Thank you! There are two things I wish I understood better right from the beginning of my journey.
            One– Writing is not a solo endeavor. Critique partners, paid critiques (through conferences or other offerings), and beta readers are just as important to the process as solo BIC time. (Or in my case SAYD- Stand at Your Desk) moments.

            Two– Focus on developing your craft right away. Craft books, workshops (such as Erin Dealey’s workshop about character development 🙂 * Disclaimer–I did NOT pay Lauren to say this.), classes, and conferences are extraordinarily important. Reading mentor texts is critical as well. You have to know the rules inside and out if you want to break them. You have to know what works and what doesn’t. You need more than just a good idea. You need to hone your craft so that your manuscripts are as strong as possible.

Q. Do you have any #kidlit heroes? Did you use any picture books as mentor texts?

Lauren: I have so many #kidlit heroes. I think my biggest heroes are authors who are able to incorporate lots of humor, or conversely, writers who are able to truly capture emotional resonance. For example, I love Mo Willems’ humor so much! I also love Ame Dyckman’s humor! I am in awe of the emotional resonance in THE REMEMBER BALLOONS (Jessie Oliveras) and MY DAD’S DREAM FOR ME (Beaty/Collier).

I read tons and tons of mentor texts. There are mentor texts I read over and over again like MOTHER BRUCE (Higgins), STRICTLY NO ELEPHANTS (Mantchev), and anything Mo Willems. I also have mentor texts I read with a specific purpose (i.e., to analyze arc, emotional resonance, and humor). Mentor texts are a critical part of the writing process!

Q. If you had a magic snow globe that would grant you a wish, what would your Snow Globe Wish be?

Lauren: My Snow Globe Wish would be that everyone might experience the beauty of random acts of kindness every single day. (Is that too corny?)

Full disclosure: Not corny at all. In fact, it fits right in with my upcoming holiday book. (Yes, that last question was sneaky but Lauren Kerstein, you might be psychic…) My jacket flap bio says: 

You can learn all about Erin Dealey and her books at erindealey.com. She believes in magical snow globe mornings and the power of kindness. As her mother used to say, “Actions speak louder than words.” Her snow globe wish is that this book might inspire many acts of kindness in our world.

But TODAY, let’s celebrate ROSIE THE DRAGON AND CHARLIE MAKE WAVES. Spread the word, take a pic at the pool with it and tweet it to us. To learn more about Lauren, see LaurenKerstein.net and/or follow her on Twitter: @LaurenKerstein & Insta: @laurenkerstein.

Coming soon: Meet Sarah Scheerger, mg debut author of OPERATION FROG EFFECT –who made the switch from writing YAs and picture books too!

Digging Up the Truth –an interview with #AudreyHepburn biographer, Robert Matzen

I am so in awe of Robert Matzen’s latest biography, DUTCH GIRL: Audrey Hepburn and World War II (on shelves next month: April 15th / GoodKnight), I reached out and asked for an interview.

Matzen’s answers are as riveting as the book, itself. See for yourself:

“…a long lost brother.”

Q. I was touched by DUTCH GIRL’s genuine, heartfelt Foreword by Audrey’s son, Luca Dotti. What was it like connecting with him?

Matzen: I had refrained from contacting with either Sean Hepburn Ferrer or Luca Dotti during the research and writing of the narrative because I wanted to be free of any family influence. It’s the same process I followed with Carole Lombard (Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3) and Jim Stewart (Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe)–let the facts take me where they take me and then let the family in on it. So after the last trip to the Netherlands, when I had come up with the first rough draft, I emailed them both. Luca responded right away to say he’d been trying to find me for months! He’s the family historian and had heard about my work from his contacts in Arnhem. Well, from there it’s as if I had found a lost brother. We realized from the first instant that we were on the same wavelength, with similar beliefs and creative impulses, which led to some great conversations. When he reviewed the manuscript and made corrections and additions, it felt pretty tremendous, not only because it was validating for me as a writer, but because Audrey’s son had become my creative partner.

“…how was I going to get at the truth?”

Q. Without divulging any spoilers, what was one of the biggest “ah-hah” moments in your research/discoveries? How did it come about?

Matzen: My temptation was to paint Audrey’s mother Ella as a villain. She had been on the record as pro-Nazi. She had met Hitler, and ran around with a Nazi boyfriend. She was also a stage mother through Audrey’s ballet career. Immediately at war’s end she had covered her tracks about that Nazi past, as did so many, which made it impossible for me 70 years later to determine her true sympathies. Man did I sweat that for quite a while–how was I going to get at the truth. Then came the aha moment when I realized that she must have done a 180 in 1942–if you read the book you will know exactly when and why–and the reason I know she flipped was because two unimpeachable sources trusted her: My Dutch researcher Maddie van Leenders had located Count van Limburg Stirum’s diary in which he talked about Ella, and I had stumbled upon the all-important Dr. Visser ‘t Hooft. They’re the two male heroes in the book and very smart men. Both put their trust in Ella van Heemstra, which meant that heading into 1942, she had turned on the Nazis and was A-OK after all.

“Total, true inner beauty to match what was visible, plus incredible strength and courage.”

Q. How did your perspective of Audrey change as you worked on this book?

Matzen: I wasn’t a fan of Audrey Hepburn’s. Like everyone else I recognized the timeless beauty in that face, and admired her work for UNICEF, and that’s as far as it went. The only picture I ever saw of hers on the big screen was Robin & Marian. I’d never seen Roman Holiday, or The Nun’s Story. I still haven’t forced my way through War & Peace. To me you can’t be a big fan of somebody and try to chronicle their lives because how are you going to be objective? But over the three years getting to know her, walking in her footsteps and learning what I learned, I became not a fan of hers, but an admirer. I understand her so very well, and to me there’s nothing not to like, and a great many things to marvel at. Total, true inner beauty to match what was visible, plus incredible strength and courage.

Q. Which of the following Hepburn film titles best describes the path (or your writing process) of this phenomenal project?

a. Roman Holiday ——— d. Charade

b. War and Peace ——— e. My Fair Lady

c. Two for the Road ——— f. Other:_________

Matzen: Other: Secret People, a crazy, dark melodrama that was Audrey’s big break, really. She was about 20 when she made it but still a teenager at heart. There’s intrigue and angst, which mirrors the research phase, struggling for sources, building alliances, seeking support, digging through Nazi documents–talk about groping through dark alleys hoping to come out alive at the other end. And of course writing about the SS, SD, the war, particularly that war, is dark stuff, just like Secret People.

Q. Besides WWII and Hollywood, are there any qualities or common ground that you feel –or you’ve discovered–Carole Lombard, Jimmy Stewart, and Audrey Hepburn share?

Matzen: They’re three smart people, one an extrovert (CL) and the other two passionate introverts, but I’ll tell you one thing they had in common that’s pretty great: Each had a killer sense of humor. Imagine the three of them alone in a room at the same time–if that ever happens on the Other Side, hijinx will ensue.

“Audrey Hepburn was up to her elbows in blood.”

Q. What “take-aways” would you like your readers to get from reading DUTCH GIRL?

Matzen: I’d like people to look at Audrey Hepburn with new respect and understanding, knowing now exactly why she was a hero. One of her biographers said basically, “She was only 14 or 15 in the war so she couldn’t have been in the Resistance.” Well guess what. That war made you grow up fast and the Resistance relied on young people down to kids as young as 9 or 10 as I document. Here’s the kind of war it was: Dr. Visser ‘t Hooft had dog tags made for his children–in case they were killed in the bombing or ground combat, he wanted to be able to tell whose body was whose so he had metal tags made for them to wear around their necks, each with a name stamped on it. The idea caught on and all the children of Velp had dog tags. There’s no surviving documentation that Audrey had dog tags, but I bet she did. They lived in one of the most beautiful villages in the Netherlands, a big-money place where people retired after making a fortune in the Dutch East Indies, but in 1944 and 1945, the war hit full force and oh brother did 15 year olds participate in it. Audrey Hepburn was up to her elbows in blood. Princess Ann went to war.

Matzen with three of the Velpenaren–Ben van Griethuysen, Annemarth Visser ‘t Hooft, and Rosemarie Kamphuisen in Velp, June 2017. In Matzen’s words: “They, and a few other of the Dutch, have become family in the last two years.”

Q. What tips do you have for aspiring biographers?

Matzen: Two things: 1) In the field of biography, don’t trust what’s already been written about a person. I found so many errors in scholarship of Audrey resulting from one author trusting another author and repeating bad information. It’s really shocking in some cases. Always go back to primary sources as much as possible. Rudy Behlmer took me to the woodshed about that and I’ve never forgotten it. In the Errol & Olivia rough draft I stated that Lili Damita had been married to Michael Curtiz in Europe and Rudy flipped out. Where did I get that? he demanded. We were in the Smoke House in Burbank, sitting there, and I swallowed hard, looked him in the eye, and said I saw it on the internet. Word to the wise: Never say “I saw it on the internet” to Hollywood Historian Rudy Behlmer. He was as pissed as I was embarrassed and ever since that day at the Smoke House, I am careful. I’ve learned to deconstruct my subject and rebuild him or her from the ground up using primary sources. 2) My advice for anybody writing a book about anything is, write a thousand words a day. If you do that for 100 days, you have a book. Don’t worry if they’re good words or bad words, just corral all those words and worry about putting your brand on them later.

Q. What’s next? How do you follow a book like this?

Matzen: You know what, Erin? I have no idea. I have been working since 2011 pretty steadily on what has become my “Hollywood in World War II Trilogy” and it’s the strangest thing not to be working on something. I’m certain that I don’t want to settle on just any old thing as my next subject, which is a trap biographers can fall into. The publisher insists on an author keeping his name relevant. I want the next thing to come up and grab me. Back after Fireball I started to round up research on Basil Rathbone because Rathbone has never been done. I went out to Hollywood and poked around the places he lived and went to the Herrick Library nosing around trying to get myself into a Rathbone frame of mind, but it didn’t feel right. Baz and I just didn’t hit it off for whatever reason, so I let it go. Then my friend John McElwee–Greenbriar Picture Shows John McElwee–announced what I should do next: Jimmy Stewart in the war. We were sitting in a restaurant and he said that and I remember thinking, I can’t do that! Stewart refused to talk about the war, so where would the facts come from? But a few days later, after I’d slept on it, the idea snuck up and grabbed me. I thought, just because nobody’s ever done it doesn’t mean it can’t be done. I relished the challenge of it and off I went chasing through the War Dept. records with Ann Trevor, my DC researcher. So now I’ll leave it to the cosmos to tell me what’s next. Some good story that’s never been told. Hopefully a WWII story because it’s the biggest, most dramatic thing that’s ever happened to the world. My wife sure wants to know what’s next because when I don’t have a book to work on I get restless and cranky.

Endless gratitude to Robert Matzen for sharing his insights and discoveries with us. For more about Matzen and his work, see RobertMatzen.com (I am hooked on his blog.), and follow him on Twitter at @RobertMatzen.

DUTCH GIRL: Audrey Hepburn and World War II is available for pre-order here. Check out my FIVE-STAR review of DUTCH GIRL.


“I’ll leave it to the cosmos to tell me what’s next.”

I can’t wait to read what the cosmos has in mind for Matzen’s next book.

Can you?

DUTCH GIRL: #AudreyHepburn and WWII by Robert Matzen — book review

Audrey Hepburn fans, are you ready for this?

I hereby give DUTCH GIRL –Audrey Hepburn and World War II

by bestselling biographer Robert Matzen five stars.

Disclaimer: I received this wonderful arc of DUTCH GIRL from the publicist. On a whim, I contacted Mr. Matzen, as I have read every Audrey bio from Barry Paris (“Hepburn’s definitive biographer,” as Matzen puts it, and I fully agree.), Spoto, Maychick, –the list goes on, including her sons’ books: AUDREY HEPBURN, AN ELEGANT SPIRIT (Sean Ferrer) and AUDREY AT HOME: MEMORIES OF MY MOTHER’S KITCHEN (Luca Dotti). In fact, I even read Cornelius Ryan’s A BRIDGE TOO FAR, about the WWII Battle of Arnhem, in an attempt to “unite the dots” as Dotti writes in his heartfelt Foreword of Matzen’s book.

Do you know how thrilled I was to get this book?

And I was not disappointed.

DUTCH GIRL is a moving, fascinating, factual account of young Audrey’s life during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands. To those who usually gravitate to novels or Audrey movies, I say take this non-fiction detour.

No, it’s not Breakfast At Tiffany’s –but I will note that Holly Golightly and Audrey are very much alike in their scrappy determination to survive and succeed. No, it is not My Fair Lady, although I would be willing to bet Audrey could relate to Eliza Doolittle’s frustration in re-learning speech patterns to reinvent herself. In a way, the war years depicted in DUTCH GIRL were Audrey’s acting teachers. Most definitely they are key to understanding her passion and determination as UNICEF ambassador.

DUTCH GIRL follows two other Matzen books that delve into WWII connections of classic Hollywood stars: Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe; and Fireball: Carole Lombard and the Mystery of Flight 3 — GoodKnight Books. I am amazed at the compilation of original sources, diaries, and interviews that offer incredible insight into the life of this young girl who became Audrey Hepburn.

“a riveting and gut-wrenching story of a remarkable human being.”

I was part way through the book when we left for vacation and I took it with me because I couldn’t put it down. When I was done, my husband read it. In his words, it’s “a riveting and gut-wrenching story of a remarkable human being.”

In DUTCH GIRL, I not only found those missing pieces left out of previous biographies, I found myself rethinking my perspective on WWII. Gone was the notion that such a war could be boiled down to good vs. bad –although in the case of the world vs. Hitler, this is apt. In Audrey’s world, however, the lines of war were not as clear. Audrey’s experience, like so many others in war, was families torn apart, trapped in fear, chaos, and a deprivation that no one ever asked for–and yet finding a way to keep going. Her experiences are as relevant today as they were over 75 years ago.

So, yes, my friends, I recommend this book.

Brief unsolicited plug: DUTCH GIRL is available for pre-order now and releases next month–on April 15th.

Read it. Share it. Talk about it.

This year, May 5th would have marked Audrey’s 90th birthday. In my mind, I can think of no better tribute to her spirit than the release of Robert Matzen’s DUTCH GIRL.

 

True or false: TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE is full of Writing Prompts

A book review AND teaching idea for busy teachers…

As a former very-busy teacher, like YOU, I know every minute counts in your school day. So here’s how to mine this cool #kidlit book for awesome WRITING PROMPTS or quick writes, for any grades 1-12 (I’m serious here.):

TWO TRUTHS AND A LIE –It’s Alive!  

by Ammi-Joan Paquette and Laurie Ann Thompson

Illus. by Lisa K. Weber

Walden Pond Press / Harper Collins

Starred review ALA Booklist

You may think this crazy-cool MG non-fiction book is too old or young for your class, but THINK AGAIN! Each chapter can be used independently. For upper grades, read the three too-amazing-to-be-true stories about the natural world and have students guess which is the lie. For younger grades, or if you have limited time–ha did I just say that?–I highly recommend you use the side bar in each chapter (with nine Truths and one Lie) as a read-aloud and again challenge students to guess which is the lie.  

Writing Applications: Great for quick writes, Critical Thinking, Persuasive writing, Opinion pieces, or informative/explanatory writing–from 1st grade on up–in which Ss state their opinion and must back it up. People, this is #STEM + #Writing + hooking reluctant readers. 

If you like this suggestion, I’ll be back next month with another one.

#onceateacheralwaysateacher

Writing with upper grades at the International School in Curitiba, Brazil.

True fact: In addition to writing #kidlit, I’m a credentialed, fingerprinted, English/Theater teacher with decades of classroom experience. I love prep (Yeah, I know. Go ahead and judge.), creating engaging lesson plans, the first day of school, motivating students of all ages, and I’m betting you do too.

THANK YOU for all you do!