Middle Grade Gets Real with Kathleen Burkinshaw and Kerry O’Malley Cerra, Part II

Just a Drop of Water 9781510712348

This month, five middle grade authors have been talking about the tough topics kids deal with—and that middle grade lit can help them process—on sites all over the web, using the hashtag #MGGetsReal. You can learn more about the campaign here. Last week two of those authors, Kathleen Burkinshaw, author of The Last Cherry Blossom, and Kerry O’Malley Cerra, author of Just a Drop of Water, stopped by the Sky Pony Express to discuss their books and why they write for kids about situations that are both difficult and realistic. This week they’re back to finish that conversation! 

KathleenBurkinshaw: Kerry and I are back today, finishing up our chat about her book Just a Drop of Water and mine The Last Cherry Blossom. Again, it is wonderful to be discussing important book topics with another Sky Pony author.
KerryOMalleyCerra: Yes, and I’m still grateful to have met you through our #MGGetsReal campaign. It’s a great movement that spotlights books with tough topics for kids who might need them most.
KB: Exactly, and our goal is that these books might help a child replace fear with hope. So let’s get back to our books … Just a Drop of Water will be out in paperback next month and it will be the 15th anniversary of that terrible day.
KOC: Yes, and it never gets easier. The images of the horror that day are still so fresh in my head. I’m not sure they’ll ever leave.
KB: Speaking of images, did you look at many photos and do a lot of research for your book? Or did you go from memory?
KOC: Yes, much research. But I do love that part.
KOC: I can get lost in the research and forget to actually write.
KB: Same here!!
KOC: But, that said, for this book, I think the hardest scene to write was the actual day of Sept. 11. My main character is only 13, and I had to be authentic to his voice, a voice of a kid who had no idea what was actually going on. I worried he might sound shallow as he narrated the attacks. And when I viewed one YouTube video after another to make sure I described it as Jake would, it got to be too much. I actually went for a walk and threw up. Hard watching those people die over and over again.
KB: Oh, I can only imagine. It was very authentic though. Did the act in the cafeteria with Bobby and the burger actually happen somewhere?
KOC: No, that was fictional. Before I began writing, I visited an Islamic organization that was recording these types of incidents across the US, post 9/11. I took pages and pages of notes. So while this one was made up, there were many just as harsh. I needed one that fit the middle school scene.
KB: Oh, it felt so real, and I’m sure sadly that something like that happened somewhere.
KOC: But with Bobby, I wanted to show what a product of his father he was, hence that scene.
KB: You did a great job with that.
KOC: And that part is all too true—how kids can become their parents sometimes.
KB: Yes, and it still does. Sadly. That’s why I hope our books humanize the people.
KB: Exactly. Kids need to know that they shouldn’t hate someone because they are different from them, they don’t understand their customs, or worse yet, hate because that’s what they learned from adults in their life.
KOC: Yes, I hope our books can do this, too.
KB: Our books’ messages are important, so that we don’t forget the past. We need to learn, not blame.
KB: It was a powerful moment when I watched President Obama at Hiroshima.
KOC: Yes, and we can’t let fear steer us. I did that when I doubted my friend’s family after 9/11. I’ve never forgiven myself, though they’ve forgiven me.
KB: But that’s why your book is so good, because it is not emotions we didn’t have, but those we did, you showed how to work past the fear and blame.
KB: And open our eyes to the person.
KOC: I hope so.
KB: My mother gave me some interesting info when she said that she wasn’t hateful after the bombing.
KOC: She wasn’t?
KB: Maybe a little angry. But the mindset was that it was war, and war is hellish. There is no winner.
KB: It was the mindset of a lot of the people there.
KOC: That’s actually impressive.
KB: They had been at war for many years before 1941 and wanted it over.
KOC: She had every reason to hate, that’s for sure.
KB: Not that they didn’t grieve.
KB: Or resent for a while, but not outward hate.
KOC: I love talking to you about this. I’m learning so much more. You did a good job of conveying that in the book, that everyone wanted it to be over. I was super impressed with how you wove that in.
KB: Thank you. That is one of the things that surprises students is that Japan was at war for a few years before 1941.
KOC: That was another bit of authenticity we may not have otherwise known—how the Japanese people felt during this time period.
KB: So many supplies were gone, as well as the men.
KOC: Exactly. It was so drawn out.
KOC: Sadly, war usually is.
KB: Yes, you are so right.
KB: But in your book there is hope, too.
KB: Fear begins to be edged out by hope, understanding on both sides.
KOC: I definitely strived to convey a theme of hope in my book because honestly, if we don’t have hope, we really are left with nothing. You know?
KB: Absolutely. I loved how you used the song “Dust in the Wind.”
KB: You had me listen to it in a whole new light. The message that one drop can cause a ripple effect. It can tear down walls.
KOC: Ha! Thanks. I love that song, but it didn’t show up in the book until my very last draft.
KOC: Before that, the book was titled “September 13.” So it all changed when I added that thread in. Glad you liked it.
KB: Ah….it works very well as the new title!
KOC: Thank you.
KB: You know I had my title before I even had an outline for my book. 
KB: I was so glad I could keep it!
KOC: Your title is AMAZING and the cover, well…no words.
KB: Katy Betz is AMAZING. I would never have thought of it, but it fits so well. Beauty from ashes.
KOC: Oh, gosh! Beauty from ashes…so perfectly stated. Yes! That!
KOC: I have always loved cherry blossoms. I decorate my house with them. And the scent—well, at least the scent from Bath and Body Works—is my favorite. Someday I hope to see and smell an actual Cherry Blossom tree, even if it’s just here in America.
KB: Yes! Me too with Bath & Body Works and decorating.
KB: I believe Katy did an award-winning cover for you as well. 
KOC: Katy is pure talent and class.
KOC: We’re both lucky to have had her design our covers.
KB: Yes indeed!
KB: I’m involved with Green Legacy Hiroshima where seeds are taken from trees that survived the bombing.
KOC: That sounds amazing! How cool.
KB: I have set it up so that the University of North Carolina Charlotte campus will be planting one in front of their education building.
KOC: For real? When?
KB: Around September. It will be dedicated to all the victims in Hiroshima and especially to my mom and her family.
KB: Bringing a piece of Hiroshima to where I live now.
KOC: Incredible and moving!
KB: Thank you. I was thrilled when they agreed to it.
KOC: That is a step in the right direction, towards future peace and healing.
KB: Yes, I think so too.
KOC: Well, I can’t wait to find out if a sequel will actually happen. It’s been great chatting with you, Kathleen. And congrats on a beautiful debut.
KB: Thank you so much, and I’ve loved chatting with you about your book!
KOC: Friends, The Last Cherry Blossom is available now. Go buy it. It’s one you’ll want to keep on your shelf forever.
KB: They can put it next to your wonderful book! So relevant for today.
KOC: They will look fantastic together.
KB: Your paperback of Just a Drop of Water comes out September 20th, right?
KB: Friends, you must look for it in the stores next month. Definitely a book to be used over and over by teachers.
KOC: Readers, thanks for joining us. We hope see you, or at least hear from you, soon. Thanks for stopping by to read our chat. Peace!
KB: Yes thanks for stopping by!

Ever since he was little, Jake Green has longed to be a soldier and a hero like his grandpa, who died serving his country. Right now, though, he just wants to outsmart—and outrun—the rival cross-country team. But then the tragedy of September 11 happens, and it’s quickly discovered that one of the hijackers lived nearby, making Jake’s Florida town an FBI hot spot. Two days later, the tragedy becomes even more personal when Jake’s best friend, Sam Madina, is pummeled for being an Arab Muslim by their bully classmate, Bobby.

© Erica Brooks

According to Jake’s personal code of conduct, anyone who beats up your best friend is due for a butt kicking, and so Jake goes after Bobby. But soon after, Sam’s father is detained by the FBI, and Jake’s mom doubts the innocence of Sam’s family, forcing Jake to choose between his best friend and his parents. When Jake finds out that Sam’s been keeping secrets, too, he doesn’t know who his allies are anymore. In the end, Jake must decide: either walk away from Sam and the revenge that Bobby has planned or become the hero he’s always aspired to be.

Kerry O’Malley Cerra is a former high school history teacher who often enhanced textbooks with historical fiction to bring time periods to life. Just a Drop of Water, her first middle grade novel, was inspired by a deeply personal reaction to the tragic events of September 11, 2001. Visit her online at KerryOMalleyCerra.com.

Additional links for Kerry: Website | TwitterInstagram

If you missed last week’s chat, don’t forget to go back to learn more about Kathleen Burkinshaw and The Last Cherry Blossom! And don’t forget to check out the #MGGetsReal campaign, and the other wonderful books and authors featured, here.

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Monsterville 9781510707337

Today’s #teasertuesday post comes from Sarah S. Reida’s Monsterville: A Lissa Black Production out September 20th!

Monsterville: A Lissa Black Production

Monsterville 9781510707337

“We climbed down from the deer stand, and as I dropped onto the loose dirt, I heard a tree splinter and crash.

‘What was that?’ Adam asked sharply.

I pressed myself against the tree. ‘It’s the—’ Could a swamp monster knock down trees?

Another tree cracked and fell, closer now. Birds squawked and flew up and into the sky. Twigs snapped, branches broke, bushes shook, but I couldn’t see a thing. Adam and I stayed planted at the base of the tree, craning our heads. I imagined what this would look like from an arc shot—the camera swiv­eling around us as we cowered, waiting for whatever came next.

There was a brown flash about thirty feet away. ‘Th-th-there,’ I stuttered, pointing.

‘Quick!’ Adam barked, grabbing my arm so hard it hurt. ‘Back up to the deer stand! Flat on the floor!’

We raced up the ladder, hitting the floor of the plat­form and pressing ourselves against the wood. I willed myself to stop shaking. Happy thoughts, happy thoughts. Kittens. Chocolate. Best Original Screenplay Oscar.

Loud footsteps boomed below us. They were far away at first, but getting closer, closer . . . I squeezed my eyes shut, breathing in the earthy smell of the deer stand.

The footsteps stopped right below us. I squeezed my eyes shut tighter, counting in my head. One-Mississippi, two-Mississippi, three-Mississippi, four-Mississippi.

I was up to fifty-seven Mississippis before I realized that not just the footsteps had gone quiet. Everything had. No more birds chirping, no woodpeckers peck­ing, no small animals rustling in the bushes.

I counted to one hundred and opened my eyes. A huge, furry brown thing was six inches away, staring at me. It had a wide, flat nose and sunken eyes. They reminded me a lot of the swamp creature’s—brown and liquid.

‘Adam,’ I tried to say, but nothing came out. I tried to lift my hand to poke him, but I couldn’t move. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that Adam was motion­less beside me, his arms over his head like we were hiding under our desks for an earthquake drill.

‘Adam,’ I mouthed again, this time managing a squeak. He lowered his arms and peeked at the mon­ster. His face drained of color.

The monster leaned closer. Its breath smelled like hot, fifty-year-old garbage. The muscles in its massive neck tensed as it opened its mouth.


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Five Things Needed in Every Backpack

Ming Goes to School_cover

Deirdre Sullivan, author of Ming Goes to School shares her thoughts on the back-to-school season and a list of the top five things kids must have in their backpack for school!

Going back to school means different things for different families. I am a stay at home mom of four girls, so this time of year can pack in lots of emotions.  Marking the passage of time is always gut wrenching for me.  How is it possible they grow up so fast? And saying good-bye to the unscheduled lazy days of summer is never easy, but looking forward to the new school year can be full of excitement.

What has been successful for me over the last ten years is starting the school bedtime and wake-up routine a few weeks before the first day of school.  Getting the kids on school time seems to alleviate a lot of stress for them and they are well rested for the first day. We spend a good deal of time talking about the start of school and what my kids are looking forward to and what they are less excited about. This dialog uncovers fears or concerns they have and we address them far in advance of the first day.

The five things all kids must have in their backpacks is

  1. A Ming Goes to School picture book
  2. A little note of encouragement from me or their dad
  3. A lunchbox that they have helped pack to make sure it’s stuff they are guaranteed to eat and no one will be hungry
  4. School supplies
  5. Extra set of clothes, especially socks for their cubbies

As much as I cherish the summer days of sun-kissed cheeks and sprinkled ice cream cones, the first day of school has become one of my personal favorites. I’ve survived another summer, and I soak up every bit of silence in the house just before the school bell rings.

Here’s a picture of Deirdre at Ming’s age!


Ming Goes to School by Deirdre Sullivan, illustrated by Maja Löfdahl

Ming Goes to School_coverMing goes to school, where she learns to say hello and good-bye. She meets new friends and introduces them to old friends (including her favorite teddy). She builds sandcastles and makes snow angels; she traces, glitters, and glues. She is so fearless that when held at sword point, she even walks the plank! And when she’s playing in the mud, she reaches out and touches the worms with her bare hands. But despite those brave deeds, she isn’t quite ready for the big red slide—not yet.

This is a very sweet story with soft, evocative watercolor illustrations that will help kids to grow comfortable with the idea of starting preschool. Ming is curious and playful and ready for adventure, but even she gets scared of new things sometimes. Kids will relate to her desires and fears and will be excited to see Ming at the top of the slide by the story’s end.

A quiet and reassuring picture book for preschoolers (3-5), this is a wonderful going-to-school story that can be read both at home and in the classroom or childcare center. The illustrations provide a lot of diversity of characters, making this feel like any classroom in any school in the country.

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Roger Davenport on Paperback Rewrites and Repackages!


You might think that, by the time a paperback edition of a book comes out, the writing process is finished. And that’s often the case—but not always! For Roger Davenport and Sky Pony Press, the paperback edition of Wanderer was an opportunity to make the cover, and even the interior text, even more perfect. Here’s Roger Davenport himself with a sneak peek at the publishing process, and the thinking behind the changes in Wanderer, which is on shelves with a glorious new cover now!

When editorial director Julie Matysik said Wanderer was going to be coming out in paperback I emailed back, “I’M SO EXCITED I CAN’T STOP WRITING IN CAPITALS.”

The idea of the book maybe reaching more people was so pleasing. And a new cover! While I had thought the original one very classy, it wasn’t enormously dramatic. Almost immediately, too, I was wondering if a small rewrite might be possible . . .

Originally, I’d left the relationship between the two main characters a tad undefined and feedback seemed to show some dissatisfaction there. Was there an opportunity to set this right? Julie was encouraging—and then left Skyhorse to take up a new work challenge. Now I would be dealing with Adrienne Szpyrka, an editor (I was to find) with enough energy to power a Boeing 737. She ran with the idea of the rewrite—the new material would be folded in like you fold a filling into an omelet.

A lot of writing is about choices. Mostly we want to stick with those we’ve made—our “artistic” choices. But you can be plain wrong. Possibly, I’d been influenced by the idea of doing this part of the relationship in a second book, but eventually (too late) it became clear that a fully developed relationship between the characters who go through so much together was a “true” fit in Wanderer. Perhaps there was just a small element of exit-carding? Exit cards (unfortunately sometimes known as “idiot cards”) were the means by which movie studios checked reactions to new films in previews—and often made alterations accordingly. Those changes were usually made for commercial rather than artistic reasons. A similar system of “tell us what you like” operates today. Here’s an overview of how it works.

Brings me on to acting, and how I became a writer in the first place. It’s dialogue, largely, that got me into it. (Oh, and by the way, I’ve sneaked back into acting here and there—for instance in the “Nelly Cootalot” point-and-click video game. I’m the villainous harbor master Van Zandt and some other characters.) Through writing radio plays I got a gig writing TV drama way back, and more TV work followed. Radio scripts are pretty well all talk and a lot of TV is talky, too. My guess is that I’m okay at writing dialogue. Over the years I’ve noted that actors tend to know what are good—sayable—lines for other actors to speak, and they also tend to be storytellers. It’s no wonder that 10.5 million writers today have some acting experience behind them. Even now, when I wonder whether or not to read a novel, I’m looking to see good chunks of talk mixed in with the descriptive stuff. It just . . . keeps things from getting bogged down. Right, so that’s how I got into all this. So you might be imagining me writing masses of new “relationship” duologues for the paperback. However, with Wanderer, that wasn’t the solution for the rewrites—there, I would be delineating the progress of a relationship in scenes in which the dialogue would be spare. Still, because I believed in the characters, it was fun to work with them some more. Quite a lot more, because, while the new material is not at all major, I did a great amount of fine tuning, so it took time.

At the end of the day, Adrienne and I only really disputed one new passage. She said I could keep it if I liked and I said it wouldn’t kill me to lose it . . . and we lost it. Then I lost Adrienne, who also left to take up a new challenge! My original copy editor (helping with the American angle) had been the wonderful Laura Stiers, to whom the book is dedicated and without whose efforts on its behalf it would not now be available in this new shiny paperback edition. (Needless to say, Laura too has developed her career away from Skyhorse. You get to thinking, Maybe it’s me . . .)

Now I’m working with Rachel Stark and that’s good too. (Does she realize she’ll soon be in a brilliant job elsewhere?) [Note from the blog editors: Rachel promises not to leave anytime soon!]

So, that new cover. There was a brief and very happy journey there. One of those things where you say, “Now why can’t life always be like that?” Some publishers ask for author’s ideas and some don’t. Adrienne told me the design department was hesitating about which way to go with the cover and that my input would be welcome. There were various graphics sent to me, and the backgrounds were almost exclusively of outlands baking in the sun. Which was about right because during most of the book the sun does burn down. A couple of the images featured balloons (always a great subject in a picture). But they tended to look tranquil, floating in the blue sky. In the book there’s a big storm sequence with our leading male character up in a balloon and so I sent this off to Adrienne:

Just thought—if there’s to be a pictorial/illustrative approach to the cover then you’d cover a lot of bases having the balloon (patchwork snakeskin envelope, deflating fast, one passenger) careering in the storm towards the pyramid. Along the (very) general lines of:

Cover Sketch

That’s lightning up there on the left . . .

I have this gift with drawing—I can get in touch with my seven-year-old self . . .

Actually, the final cover’s more beautiful with the balloon intact, isn’t it? Here it is:


And wouldn’t you agree that all my editors at Sky Pony have had wonderful names?

So my thanks go to:

Julie Matysik
Laura Stiers
Adrienne Szpyrka
And Rachel Stark (who I think is actually fictional, being a character in a book or film. But probably not Tony’s daughter [Note from the blog editors: Oh no, he’s on to us!]).

Wanderer_coverHere in a vast lost valley, society has split into two distinct groups: the Wanderers, who team together to battle against the elements and each other in the harsh world of the desert, and those who live in the pyramid-city of Arcone, whose closed environment and tightly controlled society enable them to maintain a more civilized existence in the face of an environmentally devastated planet. Conflict is inevitable . . .

© Pete Bartlett

Kean is a Wanderer, adopted into a team that has protected him since he was a child. Essa lives with her parents in the pyramid and chafes at the mental and physical restrictions the government enforces to protect its people. But when a rogue Wanderer plans an attack on the city to gain its resources for his people, Kean and Essa’s paths collide with an impact that will alter their lives forever.

Roger Davenport became a writer after careers as an actor, advertising executive, and a theater manager. Among his TV writing credits are episodes of All Creatures Great and Small, Bergerac, and The Bill. His books for young readers have been published by The Bodley Head, Bloomsbury, Red Fox, Scholastic, and Oxford University Press. Davenport lives with his wife, Joanna, in London, England.


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Middle Grade Gets Real with Kathleen Burkinshaw and Kerry O’Malley Cerra, Part I

Last Cherry Blossom_cover

During the month of August, five middle grade authors are talking about the tough topics kids deal with—and that middle grade lit can help them process—on sites all over the web, using the hashtag #MGGetsReal. Learn more here. We’re lucky to have two of those fantastic authors, Kathleen Burkinshaw, author of The Last Cherry Blossom, and Kerry O’Malley Cerra, author of Just a Drop of Water, here to discuss their books and why they write for kids about situations that are both difficult and realistic. Be sure to stop back next week, on August 25th, when the conversation will continue!

KerryOMalleyCerra: Hey, all. Thanks for joining me and Kathleen here. Kathleen is the author of the amazing book, The Last Cherry Blossom.
KOC: And it officially released two weeks ago, so happy book birthday, Kathleen!!!
KathleenBurkinshaw: Hello and thanks so much—yay!!
KB: It is wonderful to be discussing important book topics with another Sky Pony author.
KOC: Yes, and I’m so grateful to have met you through our #MGGetsReal campaign. Readers, you can find out more about that here. It’s a great initiative to help middle grade readers facing tough issues find books they can see themselves in.
KB: Middle grade readers have difficult issues either they themselves or someone they know may be going through and these books could help them deal with it. And if not, then they may gain perspective on other issues or cultures they are not familiar with and maybe replace fear of unknown with hope. Speaking of which, I just finished reading your book, Just a Drop of Water. 🙂
KOC: Oh, I hope you liked it.
KB: Touched my heart and chilled me because some things have not really changed.
KOC: Right? 🙂 When I wrote it, I intended it to be historical fiction, but it’s sadly still so relevant today.
KB: so true. You captured the emotions of fear, friendship, and anger so well with your characters.
KOC: Having lived through that day, it wasn’t hard to recall and channel those feelings to put them in the book. I just hope readers who weren’t born yet can fully understand the ramifications of that tragic event through reading my book and even other 9/11 stories.
KOC: I think both of our books tie into that theme of war and the humanism behind it.
KB: Yes, you are right.
KB: It was interesting that in your book Mrs. Cruz discusses how WWII could start. It all had to do with a country needing hope to overcome their fears.
KOC: Yes, and I fear that our own country is the one desperate for hope now. Scary stuff with an election coming up.
KOC: In your book, I loved the main character, Yuriko, from the start. I felt for her. And yet in history class we’re mostly taught that the Japanese were our enemy.
KB: Yes, I remember the day I learned about WWII and how it started for the U.S. It was a tough day for me at school because they knew I was half Japanese.
KOC: That’s why your book is so important! It puts a face to the tragedy.
KOC: It allows us—especially kids, I hope—to empathize. Maybe they’ll make better decisions when they’re the ones running our world.
KB: Thank you. One of my hopes was to show that the Japanese children had the same hope, fears, and love for families that the Allied children had.
KB: My mom hoped that by speaking to future voters they might think twice and not allow nuclear weapons to ever be used again.
KOC: Such an interesting point. Do you agree with your mom, about not ever using nuclear weapons again?
KB: Yes, Absolutely. No one deserves to have to suffer such loss. Not for any reason.
KOC: How do kids tend to respond when you visit schools?
KB: The kids are wonderfully responsive. They absorb every word I’m saying, and the thoughtful questions and comments afterward are amazing.
KOC: Speaking of Yuriko’s losses—and sadly, there are so many—how much of this story is true? I know this will be hard to discuss without being all spoiler-y.
KB: The description of the day itself and who she loses on August 6th is all true, sadly.
KB: I really feel that two paragraphs in a history textbook and a picture of a mushroom cloud do not tell the story of the people under those mushroom clouds
KOC: No, and as a former history teacher myself, this is what I love about historical fiction. It has the power to teach kids so much more than a textbook ever could. I used books like yours in my classroom all the time! So powerful.
KB: I love that you did that!
KOC: And the story of Papa and her aunt are true?
KB: Yes
KB: Shocking, right?
KOC: Shocking is an understatement. Especially because of how her aunt treated her. I wanted to cry for Yuriko!
KB: Yes, I know. But my mom loved her Papa so much, she didn’t mind what happened.
KB: What amazed me was that after all the years that went by, my mother would still have nightmares around August 6th—the anniversary of the bombing.
KOC: Oh, that’s terrible!
KB: I can only imagine they were about that young child that day. She never forgot that.
KB: To be that young and have so many things thrown at you when you are too young to fully understand, yet old enough to never forget.
KOC: That part in the book actually made me gasp out loud. I could picture that child. Those small details inserted into fiction are what make these stories come to life. I did the same in my book. Kids are shocked to read that the NFL really canceled all games the Sunday following 9/11. That small detail makes the story more real for them. Makes them realize the enormity of the event. I get asked the question at almost every school visit, if that part is true. I’m amazed they single in on such a minor thing, but again, it makes it real, I guess.
KB: Yes, I believe it. I remember it, but kids that are middle-schoolers now couldn’t comprehend.
KOC: I’m glad your mom had her Papa and even the ending she finally got.
KB: Yes, I am too.
KOC: Speaking of that ending, there is plenty of room for a sequel with this. I definitely want to know how things worked out. Do you think you’ll ever write that?
KB: Well…….
KOC: Oh, do tell…
KB: I may be working on something, but very beginning stages. After my mom passed away last year, I really just couldn’t focus, nor did I have the desire to write.
KOC: I get that. But I’ll also keep my fingers crossed.
KB: But I’m excited to know that you think it is sequel worthy!
KOC: It definitely is. So many unanswered questions. And for students, they’ll want to know how the rebuilding of a city happened. How long did it take? How did Yuriko’s heart heal, or did it ever? What was her new relationship like? That last part is biggest for me.
KB: Yes, it was for me too when I was younger.
KB: It took her a while to talk about what happened after…
KOC: I bet it did!
KB: I found it interesting that you have origami cranes in your book.
KOC: Yes, I included the origami cranes because when I visited the old 9/11 museum (before the bigger memorial was built), as I descended the stairs to the lower level, hanging overhead were 1,000 origami cranes, sent to the US from Japan after 9/11 happened. That was really powerful to me, and I never forgot it.
KOC: I never planned to write a 9/11 book, but when the story came to me, I remembered those cranes and knew they’d have to find a place in the book.
KOC: And on a side note, I’m now an expert at folding them.
KB: I’m impressed. I still struggle. My daughter is the expert.
KB: And of course there is the beautiful story of Sadako and the Cranes after Hiroshima.
KOC: Another incredible way our books are tied together.
KOC: I’m grateful Sky Pony took a chance with both of our stories.
KB: Yes, when I went to the Hiroshima National Peace Museum and saw all the folded cranes….
KOC: Oh, you got to visit there? I didn’t even realize. So powerful??? Heartbreaking?
KB: Yes and Yes. We were blessed to be able to visit last summer, and we honored my mother at the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims
KOC: I’m nearly in tears just imagining that.
KB: You can see pictures anywhere, but standing on the same ground where my mom witnessed so much horror and destruction, it hits you at your core. I cry just writing about it now.
KOC: Did she ever go back?
KB: No, we went to Japan when I was 8 to visit the woman I knew as my Grandmother in Tokyo. My mother couldn’t do it.
KOC: I had a feeling you were going to say that.
KB: But now with her name engraved at the Cenotaph and picture next to her papa on the memorial wall, she is back.
KOC: Oh, wow! Full circle. What a tribute.
KB: I’m glad that my husband and daughter could be there with me.
KOC: I’m glad for you, too. And for them.
KB: What also amazed me and helped with the revisions of the book was how beautiful it was there.
KB: I only thought of it as fires from the bomb. But my mom always spoke of how beautiful it was—its mountains and the sea and the beautiful shrines.
KB: We stayed on the island of Miyajima, which has a very old shrine. My mother had her naming ceremony there when she was younger.
KOC: I wasn’t sure what to expect, scenery wise, but you did a great job of capturing it all and making it so visual for me as a reader.
KB: Thank you. It was not the easiest, but visiting definitely gave me perspective for the edits. 🙂
KOC: Awesome. I’m so excited for your book and that beautiful cover that now graces the shelves at bookstores all over.
KB: Thank you. Friends, our conversation isn’t over yet. Kerry and I will be back next week, on August 25th, to finish our chat. We’ll be discussing more about her book, research for historical fiction, and the emotion in books that deal with tough topics.
KOC: Hope you’ll join us back here then.

Yuriko was happy growing up in Hiroshima when it was just her and Papa. But her aunt Kimiko and her cousin Genji are living with them now, and the family is only getting bigger with talk of a double marriage! And while things are changing at home, the world beyond their doors is even more unpredictable. World War II is coming to an end, and Japan’s fate is not entirely clear, with any battle losses being hidden from its people. Yuriko is used to the sirens and the air-raid drills, but things start to feel more real when the neighbors who have left to fight stop coming home. When the bomb hits Hiroshima, it’s through Yuriko’s twelve-year-old eyes that we witness the devastation and horror.

© Tim Coffey Photography

This is a story that offers young readers insight into how children lived during the war, while also introducing them to Japanese culture. Based loosely on author Kathleen Burkinshaw’s mother’s firsthand experience surviving the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, The Last Cherry Blossom hopes to warn readers of the immense damage nuclear war can bring, while reminding them that the “enemy” in any war is often not so different from ourselves.

Kathleen Burkinshaw wrote The Last Cherry Blossom based on her mother’s story of growing up in Hiroshima during World War II. She was twelve years old when the bomb was dropped on August 6, 1945. Kathleen lives with her husband and daughter in Charlotte, North Carolina. Visit her online at KathleenBurkinshaw.com.

Additional links for Kathleen: BlogTwitter | Facebook


Come back next week to learn more about Kerry O’Malley Cerra and Just a Drop of Water! And don’t forget to check out the #MGGetsReal campaign, and the other wonderful books and authors featured, here.

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August’s Newest Books for Minecrafters + Book Giveaway!

Creeper Invasion

Here’s the latest book for Minecrafters you can pick up from Sky Pony this month! Plus, don’t miss your chance to win Revenge of the Zombie Monks, a graphic novel for Minecrafters, at the end of the post!

August 9, 2016:

Creeper Invasion by Winter Morgan

The three friends trapped in their Minecraft game have never been closer to escaping the Overworld, and they can’t wait to return home after being trapped on the server for so long.

But then a vicious horde of creepers attacks, delaying their escape. Soon the gang learns that there’s a new villain behind the attack: a griefer so twisted that he’d rather stay trapped in the Overworld than live a mundane life in the real world—and he has no qualms about keeping every other player trapped on the server with him. Can the friends and their new allies defeat the creepers, conquer their new enemy, and finally return home?

Friends and enemies unite against evil in this exhilarating fifth book in bestselling author Winter Morgan’s Unofficial Minetrapped Adventure series.

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Which Bella Donna Character Are You?


Which Bella Donna character are you?


1. What’s your favorite color?

A. Black

B. Green

C. Pink

D. Red


2. What spell would you most like to be able to do?

A. A memory-erasing spell

B. A spell to turn people into animals

C. A spell to turn everything pink

D. A spell to make yourself the center of attention


3. What animal would you want as a pet?

A. Cat

B. Do I have to just pick one?

C. A fluffy white dog with a pink bow

D. A snake


4. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you most want to live?

A. Anywhere my family is

B. Where I can study animals

C. In a big pink house

D. In my own place


5. What is your favorite type of cookie?

A. Snickerdoodle

B. Chocolate chip

C. Sugar

D. Oatmeal raisin


Mostly A’s: You are Bella Donna! You are a caring individual with a devotion to your pet and your family!

Mostly B’s: You are Sam! You love animals and exploring nature!

Mostly C’s: You are Angela! You love everything pink and you are very loyal to your friends!

Mostly D’s: You are Verity! You have a mischievous side but your ultimate interest lies in doing the right thing

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Bella Donna Too Many Spells 9781634501552Bella Donna Too Many Spells 97816345015529781634501552-frontcoverBella Donna: Too Many Spells by Ruth Symes, illustrated by Marion Lindsay

Bella Donna seems just like any other student at her school, but she has a secret: she’s really a witch! The other witches who live on Coven Road are having a spell casting contest, and Bella is determined to win. She’s trying to learn as many spells as she can, and that’s no small thing! It’s not easy to complete secret magic training while trying to live a normal-kid life. When strange things start to happen at school and begin to spin out of control, Bella wonders if she can really do it. Maybe there are just too many spells!

This second installment in the sweet, spooky Bella Donna series will captivate young readers. Bella Donna: Too Many Spells is a combination of magic, adventure, and staying true to yourself. Marion Lindsay’s adorably simple spot illustrations bring even more magic to author Ruth Symes’s delightful tale. Fall in love with Bella Donna and her road to witchdom! And be prepared for her next big adventure!

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Quotable Life Advice and TWO Giveaways!


Coming this fall, Sky Pony Press is publishing a lot of wonderful titles. We pulled quotable life advice that we love from a few of them. Check it out below and don’t forget to enter our giveaways below for your chance to win an advanced reader copy of Spin the Sky or Earning My Spots!

Spin the Sky by Jill MacKenzie

“We need to think about us for a change. We need to be who we want to be.”

Spin the Sky 9781510706866Magnolia Woodson wants nothing more than to get her and her sister, Rose, out of the pitifully small, clamming-obsessed Oregon town that hates them—she just doesn’t know how. Forced to put up with the snide comments and hateful looks the townspeople throw at them, Mags thinks she’s destined to pay for the horrible, awful thing her mom did—and that she’s left her and Rose to deal with—until the day she dies.

But when a nationwide televised dance competition posts tryouts in nearby Portland, Mags’s best friend, George, says they have to go and audition. Not only have they spent the past fourteen years of their lives dancing side-by-side, dreaming of a day just like this, but also it could be Mags’s chance of a lifetime—a chance to win the grand-prize money and get her and Rose out of Summerland, a chance to do the thing she loves most with everyone watching, a chance to show the town that she’s not—and has never been—a “no-good Woodson girl,” like her mother. But will the competition prove too steep? And will Mags be able to retain her friendship with George as they go head-to-head in tryouts? Mags will have to learn that following her dreams may mean changing her life forever.


Earning My Spots by Mark Eastburn

“Be strong, be brave, and be smart.”

Earning My Spots 9781510707788Sam and his family are the only werehyenas in their town, and they do their best to keep up their cover in front of the humans while the other more aggressive shifters mock the werehyena family for being weak and passive. But Sam sees no other life for himself, as he believes what he is told: he is inferior to the other shifters.

One night, a pack of shifters raids Sam’s house and takes his family, leaving him all alone. With the help of some new friends, Sam sets off on a journey from Vermont to South America to rescue his family. Along the way, he meets various shifters who aid him on his quest. He even meets a tribe of werehyenas in Louisiana who teach him how powerful his kind actually is and how far his ancestry goes back. From them, Sam learns he has a great destiny to fulfill.

As Sam draws closer to finding his family, he begins to understand how different the world of shifters is that exists outside of his small hometown. Shifters are tired of humans destroying their homes, and they want not only revenge but also to force humans into submission. It becomes clear that Sam is the only one who can stop a war that’s on the brink of erupting.

Double Exposure by Bridget Birdsall

“Don’t let anyone hold you back from who you are or what you love.”

Double Exposure 9781510711587Fifteen-year-old Alyx Atlas was raised as a boy, but she knows something others don’t: she’s a girl. Born intersex, Alyx has always questioned her gender identity and struggled to fit in. But it’s after her dad dies—and after she sustains a terrible beating from her classmates—that she decides she can’t live as a boy any longer. She and her mother move from California to Wisconsin to start a new life, and Alyx begins again, this time as a girl.

Alyx quickly earns a spot on the girls’ varsity basketball team, and for the first time in her life she feels like she fits in. But as the team racks up one victory after another and the state championships approach, a jealous teammate sets her sights on Alyx. Hotheaded and fiercely competitive, Pepper Pitmani is sure Alyx is keeping a secret, which Pepper is determined to reveal. If she succeeds, the truth could destroy Alyx’s one shot—not just to take home the trophy with her team but to live as her true self.

Honest, raw, and uplifting, Double Exposure is for every teen who’s longed to be seen, struggled to find the courage to be different, or dared to face adversity head-on.

Science No Fair, Project Droid #1  by Nancy Krulik and Amanda Burwasser, illustrated by Mike Moran

There’s no I in team, but sometimes it’s okay if there’s a droid.

Science No Fair 9781510710184It’s a pretty normal day for Logan Applebaum—until his inventor mother announces that she’s built him a new robot cousin. And Java may be really smart, but he’s also going to be a major handful. No one can know about his secret. This is going to be a long school year.

With the third grade science fair coming up, though, Logan thinks maybe a super computer cousin could come in handy and he’ll finally have a shot at beating the nosey Silverspoon twins who win at everything.

But when Sherry and Jerry steal Java as their partner, and then start suspecting something is up with the new kid, can Logan think fast before this crazy experiment becomes an epic disaster?


Monsterville: A Lissa Black Production by Sara S. Reida

“That’s always when the monsters get you. When you think you’re safe.”

Monsterville 9781510707337Beware what lurks beneath your bed. . . . It could lead to a monstrous adventure.

Thirteen-year-old Lissa Black is miserable when her parents force her to move from New York City (the perfect home for an aspiring writer/director/actress) to Freeburg, Pennsylvania, nowhere capital of the world. There’s nothing to do there, except play her little sister Haylie’s favorite new game, Monsterville, and hang out with her new neighbor Adam.

But when a walk in the woods lands her face-to-face with a swamp monster hungry for brains and then a Sasquatch that moos, even Lissa can’t call her new home totally boring. With Adam’s help, she catches the culprit behind the drama: a shape-shifting goblin who’s fled from the monster world of Down Below.

And what do you do with a creature that can be literally anything? Make monster movies, of course! Lissa is convinced that Blue will be the secret to her big break.

But when Haylie goes missing on Halloween, Lissa, Adam, and the monster must venture Down Below to stage a rescue—and face the real Monsterville, which is anything but a game.


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A Great Year for the Great Outdoors

Author of A Weird and Wild Beauty, Erin Peabody, shares some information on National Parks. Check it out below!

A Great Year for the Great Outdoors

Heading to one of America’s national parks this summer? If so, in addition to packing a good camera, sunscreen and a pair of sturdy hiking boots, you might want to bring along birthday candles—100 of them to be exact.

That’s because the agency charged with caring for our national parks and other special places, the National Park Service, turns a century old this year. The agency manages many of our country’s most beloved landscapes and vistas: mountains, geysers and canyons from places like Yosemite, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. The Park Service also oversees sacred historic spaces: the memorials, battlefields, trails of tears and other hallowed landmarks that tell our unique American story.

The “national park idea” has been hailed as one of the United States’ best inventions. Countries from around the world have followed our example, setting aside spectacular scenery and habitat for the benefit of all people.

Yet this grand idea wasn’t forged overnight. Hardly. In fact, the first white Americans, you may be surprised to learn, feared, even hated wild nature (quite unlike the country’s first residents, the Native Americans). It took time—and the efforts of explorers, scientists, philosophers and poets—before everyday people found beauty, adventure and solace in the great outdoors.

Through an act of Congress, the world’s first national park, Yellowstone, was created in 1872—just in the nick of time. Had lawmakers waited any later, the stunning region would have been overrun with poachers and profiteers out to make a quick buck.

For more about the struggle to save Yellowstone, please see my book: A Weird and Wild Beauty: The Story of Yellowstone, the World’s First National Park. If you have any questions or comments, I’d love to read them at erinpeabody.com.

A Weird and Wild Beauty by Erin Peabody

9781634502047-frontcoverThe summer of 1871, a team of thirty-two men set out on the first scientific expedition across Yellowstone. Through uncharted territory, some of the day’s most renowned scientists and artists explored, sampled, sketched, and photographed the region’s breathtaking wonders—from its white-capped mountain vistas and thundering falls to its burping mud pots and cauldrons of molten magma. At the end of their adventure, the survey packed up their specimens and boarded trains headed east, determined to convince Congress that the country needed to preserve the land from commercial development. They returned with “stories of wonder hardly short of fairy tales,” to quote the New York Times.

With the support of conservationists such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Frederick Law Olmsted, and John Muir, the importance of a national park was secured. On March 1, 1872, Ulysses S. Grant signed the Yellowstone Park Bill into law. It set aside over two million acres of one-of-a-kind wilderness as “a great national park for the benefit and enjoyment of people.” This important and fascinating book will introduce young adults to the astonishing adventure that led to “the best idea America ever had.” Today over 130 countries have copied the Yellowstone model, and billions of acres of critical habitat and spectacular scenery are being preserved for all of us to enjoy.

This book has a wonderful ecological and historical message for readers ages 12 and up. No book about Yellowstone’s founding has been written for this age group before, yet Yellowstone National Park is a major destination for many families, so many readers will likely have heard of Yellowstone or even have visited there. This is a great book for any school library or for history or science classrooms in middle and high school, where information can be used for research projects.


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Take Tiny Travelers On Your Summer Travels

Tiny Traveler Italy_cover-REVISED

Traveling this summer? Take along the Tiny Traveler board book series! Learn about nature or numbers while you explore new places! Check them out below!

Tiny Traveler: Japan

A Book of Nature
Misti Kenison

Tiny Traveler-Japan_coverFrom the tiniest bonsai to the peak of Mount. Fuji, your toddler will follow a beautiful nature trail through Japan. This new book from Misti Kenison in the Tiny Traveler series explains natural elements in the simplest terms for the youngest of travelers. Cherry blossoms, bamboo, and volcanoes are all illustrated in bold colors to capture the imagination. Toddlers will love finding rocks in the Zen garden, floating lotus blooms, yellow Japanese plums, and more in this delightful board book.

Traveling to foreign places has never been so fun, or educational, for young children before! The Tiny Traveler board book series is sure to give your child the travel bug early while transporting the whole family to exotic and fantastic places. Explore the world with your little one from your very own living room.

A wonderful board book series for toddlers (0 to 2 years), this book teaches young children about different parts of nature—and important basic concept to learn before entering preschool.


Tiny Traveler: Italy

A Book of Numbers
Misti Kenison

Tiny Traveler Italy_cover-REVISEDHow many gondolas float down the canal? Can you count the number of masks at Carnival? Toddlers will answer these questions and more in this new book from Misti Kenison in her Tiny Traveler series. Travel from Rome to Venice as you and your little one count your way through Italy’s most famous landmarks. From one leaning tower to seven fresh pizzas coming out of the oven, you’ll catch the travel bug while teaching children the basics of counting!

The fourth book in Kenison’s Tiny Traveler board book series will exposure your child to another country and culture while teaching him or her the basic concept of counting and numbers. So sit back and explore the world with your little one from your very own living room. Traveling to foreign places has never been so fun, or educational, for young children before!

A wonderful series for young toddlers (0 to 2 years), this book teaches the basic concept of numbers and counting. Can be used at home or in a childcare facility to teach basic concepts.


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