A not-to-be-missed Conversation with Poet & Children’s Author Brynne Barnes –on BLACK GIRL RISING, trust, the music of language, and the voices that stay with us.

BLACK GIRL RISING by Brynne Barnes, Illus. Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, Chronicle Books.

I am so honored and thrilled to have poet and author (+ professor, song writer, and inspirational speaker) Brynne Barnes join us on the blog today.

If you have yet to discover and savor her newest release, BLACK GIRL RISING, do yourself a favor:


We’ll wait.

(Books of Wonder has signed copies. OR see the Chronicle Books Pay It Forward option below.)

OR read this excerpt…

You are a thousand curls

unfurling in your hair.

You are a thousand fists

standing proudly in air.


You are the song of swallows,

lifting sun as they sing—

breaking light with their beaks,

breaking sky with their wings . . .

Excerpt by Brynne Barnes, BLACK GIRL RISING, Illus. Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, Chronicle Books
Interior art by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh from BLACK GIRL RISING by Brynne Barnes, Chronicle Books.


Click the above to HEAR Brynne Barnes’ wonderful reading of BLACK GIRL RISING on this audio mp3!

3 Questions with Brynne Barnes

Q 1. Can you tell us about the journey of BLACK GIRL RISING? Did it start as a poem, or did you always see it as a picture book?  

Brynne Barnes: The interesting thing is that I never quite know what I’m writing when I’m writing it.  It’s that element of surprise that keeps the process really fresh for me and very exciting. Writing is a grand act of faith, really — to trust whatever comes through when you put pen to paper. 

Trust the Process

This book started as a poem, and I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a stand alone poem for an older audience, or if it was going to be a picture book.  It wasn’t until I was halfway into writing the manuscript that I realized this needed to be a picture book because it was the best vehicle for the message. And this wasn’t something that I could know in the very beginning. It wasn’t even something that I decided. At a certain point in the writing process, I just knew what it was, what it was meant to be. 

A Journey in Identity

Q 2.  What or who was the inspiration for BLACK GIRL RISING? 

Brynne Barnes: This is truly my love letter to Black girls and Black girlhood. I know that the journey is unique for each one of us; however, there are similarities that are just inherent to our experience and the human experience.

This book is really about a journey in identity: accepting yourself for who you truly are and getting to know exactly who that is. It is a choice who we become, and that choice is ours. One thing that I’ve learned as an English professor is how seeing the world through others’ eyes reveal something sacred about the human experience that is shared. Every person can certainly read these words and sense that this message told through the lens of the Black, female experience strikes the chords of a universal, human experience.

Interior art by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh from BLACK GIRL RISING by Brynne Barnes, Chronicle Books.

Q 3.     What was the most surprising discovery you made –about your process, or the incredible people featured in the book, as BLACK GIRL RISING, went from idea to published book?  

Brynne Barnes: When I was 9 or 10, I discovered poetry. I started reading Maya Angelou and Nikki Giovanni and Langston Hughes and many other poets on the shelves in my parents’ house, some of which I could understand and some of which I could not. But there was something about the music of the language that pulled me to it.  I knew there was something magical about poetry. And when I read the words of Angelou and Giovanni and Hughes, I felt as though they had written it for me. It felt as if their poems were just for me — like they knew me.  And that’s the feeling that I wanted to give to other people, and so I started writing. Now, that was at the very beginning of me becoming a writer. 

“…when we write, we’re not writing alone, or as one.”

Decades later, as I am writing this book, and these lines started going through my mind, I was a bit surprised at first to see them show up on the page after all these years. But then, it made sense. After all, my writing started here, with them and their voices and their works. So when I saw these things show up, I thought, “Oh, you’re here.  You’re all here.  You’re still here.”  And I think that’s how it goes. Literature – it belongs to all of us.  It shapes us.  And so, when we write, we’re not writing alone, or as one. We’re writing as 10,000+ voices throughout time that we have read — that have stayed with us. These writers that I mentioned in this book, they’re like my poetic family.  And they’re always with me — because I read them.

Pay it forward!

Chronicle Books is working with Diverstories to stock Little Free Diverse Libraries: From now until September 30th, Chronicle will donate one copy of BLACK GIRL RISING for every copy sold via the Chronicle website, (up to 75 copies).

“This enduring anthem for Black girls celebrates their power, potential, and brilliance—for themselves and for the world.” —Chronicle Books

Endless thanks to Brynne Barnes for sharing her thoughts today.

To learn more about Brynne and her books, check out her website: brynnebarnes.com.

And follow her on social media:

Twitter: @BrynneBarnes

Instagram: brynnebarnes


“Lyrical, timely, and marvelously illustrated, this work extols the beauty, bravery, and possibilities of young black girls. The author explores strong role models, female and male, from the past to inspire readers to envision the prospects of a glorious future. . . . [T]he rich vocabulary, flowing narrative, and specific word emphasis encourage[s] exuberant read-alouds.”

School Library Journal 

“Black Girl Rising is modern ballad steeped in metaphor, music, and magic. From its gold-dusted jacket to its melodic verses, this is the song Black girls need now.”

Carole Boston Weatherford, 
Newbery Honor winning, NYT bestselling author

Want MORE? Here’s an interview by JoAnn Yao with Brynne Barnes for We Need Diverse Books.

Next up on the blog:

DRESSING UP THE STARS by Jeanne Walker Harvey, Illus. Diana Toledano, Beach Lane Books.

We’re excited to celebrate the Book birthday of DRESSING UP THE STARS: The Story of Movie Costume Designer Edith Head with #kidlit author Jeanne Walker Harvey–and we have questions!

8 Qs with Sibert honoree Patricia Newman = Happy Book Birthday to A RIVER’S GIFTS: The Mighty Elwha River Reborn 

Happy Release Day to Sibert honoree Patricia Newman’s

gorgeous new nonfiction picture book,

A RIVER’S GIFTS: The Mighty Elwha River Reborn,

Illus. Natasha Donovan, Millbrook / Lerner.

Full Disclosure: I may be a bit biased about this wonderful book, since my dear friend Patti is the author and our critique group has seen this book grow from the beginning concept…

But don’t take my word for it:

ALA Booklist Starred review: “award winner”! Plus Kirkus Star…

Featured in KIRKUS’ “150 Most Anticipated Books for Fall.”

“Writing in stirring verse, Newman explains that in what is now Washington state, the Elwha River flowed north to the sea…”

Starred Kirkus Review
Click here to view trailer.

8 Questions for Patricia Newman

Author’s Purpose

Q 1. Welcome to the blog, Patti! Because Author’s Purpose is a key part of this important project, let’s start here: What do you want readers to take away from A River’s Gifts?

Patricia Newman: Connection. Most of us don’t live as close to nature as the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe and as a result we forget its benefits. But they exist whether we see them or not. With A River’s Gifts I want to inspire readers to see and understand how nature impacts our lives. I also hope that this environmental success story inspires them to act on behalf of nature.

Listen to Patricia Newman’s Live from the 25 podcast, recorded at ALA, to learn more about how her books support her goals of increasing environmental awareness and action in the next generation.


Q 2. What was the most surprising fact or discovery you’ve made as your book, A RIVER’S GIFTS, went from idea to published book?

Patricia Newman: Before the Elwha and Glines Canyon Dams on the Elwha River could be destroyed, the lakes above the dams were drained. As the lakes drained, cedar stumps emerged. These cedars were chopped down when the dams were constructed in the early 1900s. Witnesses said their sap still smelled sweet—one hundred years later! I wish I had been there to smell that sap.

Interior art by Natasha Donovan, from A RIVER’S GIFTS, written by Patricia Newman (Millbrook/ Lerner)


Q 3. How long does it take you to write such an incredible, in-depth book like A RIVER’S GIFTS?

Patricia Newman: I discovered the idea for A River’s Gifts in September 2018 (with some help from my husband). I submitted an overview of the book with an outline to my editor in February 2019. By July, I had an offer. Two months later I visited Port Angeles, WA, the city at the mouth of the Elwha River, to interview several experts and to see the river for myself. I sweated over the manuscript for four months before finally submitting it to my editor in January 2020. My editor and I worked on a few minor revisions, then let illustrator Natasha Donovan do her thing. We had a final version ready for the printer in early 2022.

Bonus–> Inside look at Newman’s pre-writing process:

Q 4. The “stirring verse” (Kirkus/ starred review) of A RIVER’S GIFTS is a departure from the prose and voice of your other nonfiction books. How did this come about?

Patricia Newman: Even though A River’s Gifts is shorter than most of my other nonfiction, it has a broader scope than my other titles. The Elwha River has been flowing for thousands of years. To fully understand the importance of this river to the ecosystem, I began the story when the river formed. The lyrical verse just flowed out of me. It always felt right for this story, from the first drips of the idea. To channel the river, I guess I became the river.

Meet the Illustrator

Q 5. We love that illustrator Natasha M. Donovan is Métis and lives in northern Washington, which is where the Elwha River is located. In your words, “Like the Klallam Tribe, the area is in her blood. Her illustrations feel like home.” (source) What surprises did illustrator Natasha bring to the book?

Patricia Newman: Natasha is one of those rare illustrators who can draw people and nature well. This land is in her blood. The colors, the smells, the textures, the sounds. When I look at Natasha’s incredible art for A River’s Gifts, I feel the water rushing in spots and burbling in others. I hear the salmon jumping and the river breathing life into the forest. I also loved how she captured the determination of The Strong People, the scientists, and the volunteers involved in the restoration. 

Interior art by Natasha Donovan, from A RIVER’S GIFTS, written by Patricia Newman (Millbrook/ Lerner)

STEM Activities and Curriculum Guides

Q 6. Taking a page from your wonderful #STEM / #STEAM blog series, LitLinks, can you share a connection between STEM and language arts using A RIVER’S GIFTS? Will there be a LitLinks post featuring your book?

Patricia Newman: A River’s Gifts has several connections to STEM and language arts, including the salmon, how a river forms, and how a river habitat works. Educators and homeschooling parents can find activities for each of these concepts in the curriculum guide for A River’s Gifts.

A Chinook Salmon spawning. Photo credit: John Mahan

Regarding LitLinks, look for a unique STEM connection to A River’s Gifts on September 21, just before World Rivers Day. 

Making a Difference

Q 7. What do you tell readers—young and old–who are inspired to make a difference in our world, to help preserve or restore our environment, but don’t know where to start?

Patricia Newman: Start small and start local. Choose something that fits in with your lifestyle, whether it’s packing a zero-waste lunch or eating a plant-based meal one day a week. Do what you can do. We can’t do it all, and the first change is the hardest. Once you begin, you notice other ways you can tread more lightly on our planet, and you will incorporate new habits into your life.

Q 8. Can you tell us about any other projects in the works?

Patricia Newman: There are so many more environmental stories to tell! I’m working on proposals for two of them.

Thank you, Patti, for joining the blog today!

To learn more about Patricia Newman and her books,

go to patriciamnewman.com

and follow her on social media–

FB : patricia.newman

Twitter: @PatriciaNewman

So many wonderful books by Patricia Newman.

Happy Reading!

5 Qs for author Sandra Nickel + #Back-To-School Friendships = Happy Book Birthday BIG BEAR AND LITTLE FISH!

I’m so excited to celebrate Sandra Nickel’s adorable NEW picture book,


illustrated by Il Sung Na, which launches Sept. 6th with Carolrhoda.

BONUS: KidLitTV is premiering the trailer TODAY.

Here’s the link for the BIG BEAR LITTLE FISH premiere,

which will be live at 7 am EST / August 30th.

In my opinion–BIG BEAR AND LITTLE FISH is a perfect read-aloud

for #Back-To-School (or any time!)

and a wonderful conversation-starter about friendship.

You may remember my interview with Sandra last year, about her nonfiction picture book,


How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe

/ Illus. Aimée Sicuro / Abrams. (see post here)

But BIG BEAR AND LITTLE FISH deserve their own Book Birthday celebration, don’t you think?

A delightful tale of unexpected friendship.”

Kirkus Reviews

5 Questions for Sandra Nickel

Q 1. BIG BEAR AND LITTLE FISH is quite a departure from your three previous nonfiction picture books: BREAKING THROUGH THE CLOUDS, THE STUFF BETWEEN THE STARS, and NACHO’S NACHOS.

What was the inspiration for this sweet story of friendship?

Sandra Nickel: Thank you so much, Erin, for celebrating Big Bear and Little Fish with me! It’s always such a delight and pleasure to answer your thoughtful questions!

I wrote Big Bear and Little Fish when I was working on a post-grad in picture books, where I read every single one of Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad stories. I love the way his stories are filled with such heart and humor—and just the right amount of wisdom. By the time I finished reading Lobel’s books, I was in a real time crunch and worried that I wouldn’t be able to finish my required stories for my post-grad program. That’s when something magical happened.

Let the characters tell their story…

I had heard authors talk about characters showing up out of the blue and basically telling their own story. But this had never happened to me. Not until Big Bear and Little Fish.

I was sitting on my sofa, with Frog and Toad and some other friends for inspiration (see my recreated photo above), when I opened my laptop. There were Bear and Fish. Just like that, there they were, a big bear and a little fish. They told me their story, and I immediately fell in love.

Making Friends

Q 2. What insights about friendship might Bear and Fish have for young readers going back to school (or the adults in their lives)?

Sandra Nickel: I hope Bear and Fish help young readers see that we can be friends with people who are different from us—or at least, who we think are different from us. Like many children who meet a brand new person, Bear doesn’t quite know what to do when she first meets Fish. She worries and makes lots of assumptions. But with the help of Fish, Bear learns that although she and Fish are different, they are also the same. And that is a beautiful thing indeed.

Interior art by Il Sung Na, from BIG BEAR AND LITTLE FISH, written by Sandra Nickel / Carolrhoda.


Curriculum Guide and Activity Pages

Q 3. I see you have some wonderful activities at https://sandranickel.com/resources/ for teachers and librarians to use after sharing this book with young readers.  Which one is your favorite?

Sandra Nickel: Oh, Erin! I’m so glad you discovered the curriculum guide and activity pages. They are perfect for National Friendship Month, which lasts the whole month of September! There are lots of great discussion questions and activities—measuring your height just like Bear and Fish do and making a comic strip of new adventures for Bear and Fish.

Out of them all, I think my favorite might be the Find A Friend Scavenger Hunt. Kids investigate what they have in common by asking others if they have a pet or speak more than one language or like to draw. It’s such a great way for kids to discover what they share with their classmates!


Q 4. What surprises did illustrator Il Sung Na bring to this project?

Sandra Nickel: First off, let me say how incredibly lucky I am to have Il Sung as the illustrator for Big Bear and Little Fish. His use of color is glorious. His landscapes are works of art. Just look at the one below!

Interior art by Il Sung Na, from BIG BEAR AND LITTLE FISH, written by Sandra Nickel / Carolrhoda.

But the biggest surprise—and delight—about Il Sung’s illustrations is the way he completely gets Bear. Her expressions are so vivid. Worried. Confused.

And then, in the end, delighted, as we can only be when we find a true friend! When the book was getting its final touches and I saw Il Sung’s jacket flap copy, I had another wonderful surprise. I found out why he did such a spectacular job with Bear. He said he “used to be like a big bear who didn’t see the big picture, but he’s slowly finding ways to discover the bigger world around him, and he’s still eager to learn more.” Isn’t that just fabulous!?!


Q 5. For our writer friends: Can you share the journey of this book? Did you write it during the pandemic? 

Sandra Nickel: I wrote it before the pandemic, and it was first spotted by Carol Hinz, Associate Publisher of Carolrhoda Books, in October 2019. But most of its publishing journey happened during the pandemic—and thank goodness.

Erin Buhr (My Storytime Corner) recently said Big Bear and Little Fish “is a make your heart swell, give you all the warm feelings kind of book.” (ED note: See Buhr’s full review at Best Picture Books of 2022)

And she’s right. Every time Carol and I worked on it, I felt so comforted—a welcome feeling during those difficult days of the pandemic. There is something zen about this story that Bear and Fish gave to me. Carol always says if there is one picture book she would like to “pick up and hug,” it would be Big Bear and Little Fish. Here’s hoping that kid readers find Bear and Fish just went they need them.

Carol Hinz, Associate Publisher of Millbrook Press and Carolrhoda Books.

Pick up and hug this book!

Thank you, Sandra Nickel, for joining us on the blog today.

And thank you for the book hugs!

To find out more about Sandra Nickel and her books

check out sandranickel.com  and follow her on

Twitter: @senickel 

Instagram: sandranickel

5 Qs for #kidlit author Shanna Silva + a #Giveaway! = Happy Book Birthday to A DOG’S GUIDE TO BEING HUMAN

We’re celebrating the launch of Shanna Silva’s


(YeeHoo Press, Illus. Agnès Ernoult),

a dog’s hard-earned wisdom about living a happy life,

with an interview and a #Giveaway!

Interior art by Agnès Ernoult


written by Shanna Silva

(YeeHoo Press )

*Hand this book to all animal lovers and growing families.*

5 Questions for author Shanna Silva!  

Q 1. How would your sheepadoodle puppy, Drake describe (or review) A Dog’s Guide to Being Human. What tips or insights did he contribute to the book?

Shanna Silva: Erin, thank you so much for having me and sharing my book birthday. Drake would think A Dog’s Guide to Being Human is a good start on important lessons to impart. He’s got some other doggie habits that are brand new for me, which he might think I excluded, such as his ability to open doors, de-fuzz tennis balls in record time, take apart ball point pens, and herd my family like sheep.

Drake actually came into my life after I wrote this book. I always had dogs growing up and as an adult. This book is a collective of my lifetime with them; however, a lot of Drake’s behavior also tracks.

So many dog behaviors are universal, such as their sensitivity to their human’s emotions and energy. Drake’s intuition is astounding and he truly loves all people. He’s very popular in the neighborhood, and has the unique gift of making people happy. That more than compensates for the furniture he’s gnawed through.

From Broadway to #Kidlit

Q 2. Congrats on your two Tony® awards for Once on This Island and The Inheritance.  What prompted you to take your own leap from Broadway Producer to children’s author? How are the two paths alike / different?

Shanna Silva: I started working in Broadway about twelve years ago with my husband, Steven. We formed a theatrical production company, Silva Theatrical Group, to produce Broadway and off-Broadway shows that mean something to us. We love nurturing a show from first draft, through development, to out of town runs, and then to Broadway. This truly is one of the biggest joys of our lives.

Before my children, my careers were in other industries such as legal, real estate, finance, and health care. But they were all just jobs for me. I excelled but never emotionally connected to what I was doing. It took a long time to find what I loved, and summon the bravery and initiative to jump in.


Theater and writing for me are about passion. In both genres, I get to do one of my favorite things, which is, to surround myself with talented people. I learn so much from my peers and sometimes pinch myself that I’m in the room. Both theater and KidLit are fundamentally about storytelling, making the audience/reader feel something, finding a connection, and leaving with more than you came with.

My writing is a solitary pursuit. I enjoy being in my head, and getting lost in my writing world. Sometimes, it’s hard to snap out of that world and focus on other things, but I generally function best with a very full plate.

In our Broadway work, I am not the creative. Theater is a collaborative medium. While we have input artistically, the prevue is much broader and includes the business, marketing, and promotional aspects. In addition to having the opportunity to work with my husband (we complement each other’s skillsets), we also get to work with many amazing artists, actors, producers, musicians, and theater folk. It’s invigorating and exciting.

There is definitely overlap between my two careers, and I feel fortunate to be able to do both.

ED note: Another overlap: Teflon skin — see Q 5. below.

Q 3. This seems like a new direction for you in picture books. What discoveries did you make while writing this fun story?

Shanna Silva: My two previous children’s books, Hannah’s Hanukkah Hiccups and Passover Scavenger Hunt, are Jewish holiday books. They both follow the typical KidLit story arc of inciting event-kid has problem-kid finds a solution. A Dog’s Guide to Being Human is a high concept book that’s not plot driven. It’s only about 150 words. There is such an economy of text, which left the illustrator, Agnès Ernoult, with a lot of room for interpretation.

Interior art by Agnès Ernoult


written by Shanna Silva

(YeeHoo Press )

Shanna Silva: When I think about my writing objectively, I know I tend to overcomplicate things both in my thought process and writing. Too many layers. I make it much harder than it has to be. A Dog’s Guide to Being Human is my first manuscript that didn’t do that. It went from idea to completion in a very short time. I really like the writing style and hope I can continue.


Q 4. What surprises did your illustrator Agnès Ernoult bring to your story?

Shanna Silva: So many surprises! I had a picture in my head of what Smudge looked like (Drake), but she created this sweet long eared, pointy nosed hound. He’s expressive, funny and has a bit of a naughty streak (which I love). Overall, I find him quite endearing.

A DOG’S GUIDE TO BEING HUMAN by Shanna Silva, Illus. Agnès Ernoult

(YeeHoo Press )

Shanna Silva: Agnès put so much thought into every detail. There’s a lot to look at in each spread, and her palette choice and characterizations set a feeling of warmth and good vibes.

Upcoming Projects

Q 5. What projects are you working on now?  Will there be A Cat’s Guide… or A Gold fish’s Guide… in the future?

Shanna Silva: Ha! I think Smudge has more dog wisdom to impart, so I’m hoping there will be sequal(s). I am also working on a high/low YA dystopian book for an educational publisher, and have 3-4 manuscripts in various stages of revision and submission (and rejection). My fellow writers all know about developing that Teflon skin and finding the path forward when things aren’t working. Hopefully, I will have some good news to share soon.

Interior art by Agnès Ernoult, A DOG’S GUIDE TO BEING HUMAN written by Shanna Silva (YeeHoo Press )

Share, share, share!

Did we mention there’s a #Giveaway?

Shanna is offering EITHER a signed copy of her new book

OR a picture book critique (1,000 words or LESS).
To enter: 1. Follow Shanna Silva on Facebook, Insta and Twitter (see below).
2. Share this blog post on Facebook, or RT it on Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag 
Deadline:  August 31st midnight / EST

Spread the word about this fabulous book!

To learn more about Shanna Silva and her books,

check out her web site: www.shannasilva.com and follow her on

Facebook: ShannaSilva

Twitter: ShannaLSilva

Insta: @shannasilva

Happy Book Birthday to FLIPPING FORWARD TWISTING BACKWARD + 10 Qs with author Alma Fullerton = Perfect 10!


by Alma Fullerton / illus. Sarah Mensinga / Peachtree.

A novel in verse starring a fifth grader who is almost as devoted to competitive gymnastics as she is to hiding her poor reading skills. What happens when Claire’s secret starts unraveling?

I am so excited to celebrate this wonderful–and important book!

But don’t take my word for it.

Starred Review:

Fullerton (No More Plastic) authentically and compassionately portrays cued-white fifth grader Claire’s experience with dyslexia in this easily digestible verse novel. . . . Printed in a typeface formatted for those with reading challenges, Fullerton’s flowing verse adeptly captures what dyslexia is like for Claire alongside her frustration around convincing her mother that she’s trying hard but needs assistance. This insightful story carries a strong message for teachers, caregivers, and children alike, and Mensinga’s emotive illustrations provide depth throughout.”—★ Publishers Weekly

“An authentic portrayal of children with learning disabilities. Readers will empathize with Claire as she struggles with feeling ‘stupid’ and will support her journey. The quick-moving plot comes with a satisfying ending, and the free-verse narrative provides plenty of helpful white space for reluctant readers.”

—School Library Journal
Photo credit: Chantale Viens

10 Questions for Alma Fullerton:

Q 1. What was the inspiration for FLIPPING FORWARD TWISTING BACKWARD?

Alma Fullerton: The story of FLIPPING FORWARD TWISTING BACKWARD is very close to my heart because like my character Claire I am also dyslexic. A lot of the feelings Claire went through before her diagnosis were similar to what I felt growing up. I didn’t realize that I saw things differently than other children and thought I must be stupid. 

Q 2.     Did you compete in gymnastics as a kid? 

Alma Fullerton: I did compete in gymnastics as a kid but I was nowhere near as good as Claire. Mostly I did it for fun. My older sister Susan was so much better than I was. She was partly the inspiration for Bethany along with my other sisters Cheryl and Betty.  

Interior Illus. by Sarah Mensinga from FLIPPING FORWARD TWISTING BACKWARDS written by Alma Fullerton / Peachtree

Q 3.     Was your writing process for FLIPPING FORWARD TWISTING BACKWARD more like competing on (choose one):

a. Vault b. Uneven Bars c. Balance Beam d. Floor Exercise.    

Alma Fullerton: Competing on the uneven bars because there were a lot of ups and downs and moving backward and forward but when it was finished I knew I stuck the landing.   

We agree. –You DID stick the landing!

 Q 4.     It is so very inspiring to learn that you couldn’t read until you were in fourth grade, and now you teach students with learning disabilities, and have a successful career as a children’s book author. Can you tell us about this journey?

Alma Fullerton: When I started school there wasn’t a lot know about learning differences and teachers didn’t know about how to help children. So for the first few years I was often singled out by teachers.

I was called a liar in front of the class when my teacher told me to take my time and write the words the way I see them and I said this is how I see them. I was also told I wouldn’t graduate if I didn’t take my time to write properly. I wasn’t thinking about graduating in primary school. I was thinking about recess.

“I stopped raising my hand…”

By singling me out the way they did I thought I was stupid, and so did the other children. So by the time I was in third grade I stopped raising my hand to answer their questions in class even when I knew the answers. I always knew the answers, I just couldn’t read them. I had friends help me write and learned more tricks to hide the fact I couldn’t read. 

Becoming a Reader…

Thank you Mrs. Monds

In fourth grade, my teacher Mrs. Monds held a mirror to the board and had some children come up and try to read from the mirror. Without pointing me out, she told the class about dyslexia. After class I went up to her and said this is how I see (There really is more to it than reversed letters.) and she said I know and I’m going to help you. That was my first step toward becoming a reader. My second step was in ninth grade when the librarian handed me a book she thought I would enjoy -and then a second and then a third. Once I found books I wanted to read and characters I wanted to know more about I was hooked. 

Becoming a Writer…

In high school I decided I wanted to write those stories. I had people tell me I’d never be able to write a book because I could barely read a book but by that time I had decided it was my life and if I wanted to be something I was going to do it. Even if it meant I had to work harder than other people. 

I tell my students and children I do workshops with to never allow anyone else to determine what you can achieve in life. That’s important for everyone not just children  to learn. I see so many adults give up too because of what someone else has said to them. 

Doesn’t this first page hook you?
From FLIPPING FORWARD TWISTING BACKWARDS, written by Alma Fullerton, Illus. Sarah Mensinga / Peachtree.

Q 5.     How much does Claire’s experience mirror your own, or your students’ experiences?

Alma Fullerton: I went through a lot of what Claire did though I didn’t have a parent not allow me to take tests because that wasn’t a thing back then. I do see a lot of parents not let their children take tests now though. They’re afraid of their children being labeled and bullied in school.

These days though there are so many children with individual education plans that the labels aren’t there as much. At least that’s been my experience in the schools I’ve worked in. By not allowing the children to be tested you’re doing more harm than good. 

Q 6. I know it was important to you to make sure FLIPPING FORWARD TWISTING BACKWARD was printed in an easily-decoded typeface. Can you explain more about this and how the typeface helps people with reading challenges?  

Alma Fullerton: There are several different typefaces that make words easier to read. Some are weighted at the bottom or spaced out a little more so the letters seem to stay where they’re supposed to be and not jump around so much. There are some fonts that are easier on the eyes for people without learning differences. 

Writing Tips

Q 7.     Many of your novels, WALKING ON GLASS, BURN, LIBERTAD, IN THE GARAGE and FLIPPING FORWARD TWISTING BACKWARD are in verse. Any tips for those of us who aspire to write a verse novel?

Alma Fullerton: Make sure the story comes first. Sometimes with verse people work too hard to make it complicated or poetic. Think about how the words flow in each poem and every word you use but a reader should never have to pull themselves out of the story to try to figure what they’ve just read. 

Q 8. Without giving away any spoilers, can you tell us if, during the writing process, you always knew how the book would end?

Alma Fullerton: Through every draft the ending has always been the same. There was no other way to end it. 
Q 9.     What do you hope readers will take away from this novel?

Alma Fullerton: I’m hoping readers enjoy Claire’s journey as much as I do. 

What’s Next?

Q 10.  Can you tell us about any projects you’re working on currently?

Alma Fullerton: I’m working on the illustrations for a couple of my picture books as well as a second novel for Peachtree Press. This book will also be a middle grade in verse. 

Read an excerpt of


Huge thanks to Alma Fullerton for joining us on the blog today and

Happy Book Birthday!

Find out more about Alma and her books at almafullerton.com

and follow her on Twitter: @AlmaFullerton

and Instagram: almajfullerton

Want more? Getting Children with Learning Differences to Love Books, a guest post by Alma Fullerton (teenlibrariantoolbox.com)