Author Event Highlights: Veronica Roth & Phoebe North

Earlier this week, I took my eldest daughter to hear Veronica Roth (Divergent trilogy) & Phoebe North (Starglass) in conversation at one of our favorite independent bookstores – Schuler Books (@SchulerBooks). Here are some highlights:

It was amazing to see this many people in a small space (500 tickets all sold out!) because of excitement about books, reading, and authors. We talked with some people who had driven for more than 5 hours from Cincinnati, Ohio and heard of someone else who had come from Kentucky.

Seated tickets sold out in 14 minutes. This is standing room only crew...

Seated tickets sold out in 14 minutes. This is standing room only crew…

On their own characters:

Phoebe: I loved Tris. I loved that she is complicated and seemed like a real teenager. She was challenging sometimes to read but that’s what I liked about her.

Veronica (re. the relationship between Tris & Four): It was a rule for me that neither character would derive strength from the other

On “strong female characters”:

Veronica: Male characters get to be all of these different adjectives, and we think women characters should be the same thing.

Phoebe: I think it’s important to think about what we mean by strong. We can have physically strong, like Tris. But we can also have complex and real – that is strong too.

On anxiety and writing

Veronica: I find it problematic that in general if something is wrong with you “below the neck” that it’s acceptable to get help and go a doctor. But if something is “above the neck” like anxiety or depression, people are just supposed to suck it up. That’s wrong. These are things that can be about brain chemicals and it’s important to get help, from a doctor or counselor or therapist.

Phoebe: Therapy is like ‘leveling up’ in life instead of a video game.

On writing:

Veronica: It’s important to have people to work with that think differently than you do when sharing writing. It means that you have disagreements, but it also means it helps you think more deeply.

Phoebe: At the beginning I was I used to fly by the seat of my pants. I thought I should try to be more of a planner/plotter. Then I tried it, wrote 500 pages, and it was awful. Now I just do it the way that works for me.

Veronica: I have a different process for each book. I don’t know if I’ll ever have one process that works for every book. Sometimes you don’t have a process. Anything that helps you write is what you should do to write.

Thanks to Schuler Books for hosting. Whitney and the entire staff was amazing as always.
Thanks to Harper Collins – for every ticket sold at each of the events, they donated a new book to First Books.
Thanks to Veronica & Phoebe for coming to Lansing and sharing your time and selves with us. 

Schuler Books
twitter: @SchulerBooks

Phoebe North
twitter: @phoebenorth

Veronica Roth
twitter: @VeronicaRoth



Stuck – a #nerdultion/slice of life post


Click on the image above to head over to the blog “Two Writing Teachers” for more Slice of Life posts….

Today I feel stuck. This is dissertation work time, I have a meeting with my advisor in 2 hours and I feel stuck. So I’m going to try writing here.

One of things that I’m struggling with in this kind of writing is that I need to write to figure out what I’m thinking versus “showing what I know”. It’s something that I ask the students in my children’s literature course to do each semester. Some of them really struggle with it – they believe that if they have to write a “paper” and submit it to me (the teacher) that they need to show me what they know. I want for them to use their written responses as a way to figure out what they think and why they think it.

My dissertation needs to be a combination of both, with some stories and references in there for clarity and support. And it is oh-so-hard for me sometimes. I have this notion that I should be showing what I know, that this is in some way going to “prove” that I have earned the label of Ph.D..

I keep feeling this need to defend my work – to defend why I am doing the sort of dissertation that I am (theoretical/humanities) and to defend why it matters. But what I need to do is make the case and then DO the writing – and let that speak for itself. And not everyone will agree with me or even choose to engage with what I’m thinking. But that doesn’t matter. So I’m going to turn off my inner critic now – she needs a nap anyways – and go do some writing…

Jumping in to #nerdlution

Last week, the idea for #nerdlution was born out of a twitter conversation – as many fabulous ideas have been. If you want to know more, check out this post over on Christopher Lehman’s blog.

I’m joining in. I am going to write my dissertation. Every day. It’s important that I use the verb WRITE. Sometimes I think that I need to reread things – which I may need to do, or I may be using as a reason not to write. It is ok for me to reread things, but I also will WRITE.

I am going to use my blog to get myself in the mindset for the day. This is a version of something that author Linda Urban (@lindaurbanbooks) shared at an NCTE session about the writing process. So each day I will write a post about the following:

  • what I accomplished the day before as a word count
  • something that is inspiring for me
  • what I am going to write about on that day
  • Other ponderings that I want to keep track of, but can’t write about yet.

Once again, I am grateful to my @nerdybookclub tribe for their fabulous ideas and virtual cheering. Being part of this tribe means more than I can say.



Literacy, Libraries, Literature… Writing my Dissertation

I’m writing a dissertation these days. My dissertation.
This means that I’m not spending as much time reading children’s and YA literature.
It also means that I’m not writing as much on this blog. But I’m still here.

My dissertation is interdisciplinary. It is about children’s literature. Children’s literature in literacy and education studies, in library science studies, and in English and Literature studies. I’m thinking and writing about the similarities and differences in the ways each of these disciplines “sees” children’s literature. I want to make these more explicit as a way to think about the ways children’s literature is positioned in schools, curriculum, and with students.

Along my journey to get here, I had some people tell me not to write an interdisciplinary dissertation. It is challenging work, no doubt about it (as is any dissertation). I’m working to be explicit.  The common threads that I see like the air that I breathe need to be put into words. I’m learning to I to answer my own “so what” … and I’m getting there. Each day more words get out of my head and on the page.

So if you are here and wondering where I am and if I still care about children’s literature, readers, and teaching. Know I do, that I’m teaching and writing about all of those things.  I’m still here – I’m just focusing my attention on the next step…


Trusting readers, trusting writers…

I know I haven’t been here for a while. I’ve been writing and reading, grading and teaching, parenting and partnering: essentially living. But I’ve missed this space.

One of the reasons I pulled back from blogging is because I’ve been working on my dissertation proposal and, like many who have done or who are in the midst of this work, I am struggling a bit. Ok, more than a bit. I thought if I stopped blogging it would help me to focus more on my proposal, that I would somehow write more or be more focused or final my academic voice. Or something else.
I realized after returning from International Reading Association, that I love to talk about my work but that writing about it is much more of a struggle for me. When I’m talking to someone, I can immediately address questions that they have; or if I mis-speak, I can correct myself immediately. When I write – I have to trust my words and trust my reader. That is what is terrifying for me. I’ve been thinking about this as I’ve been sitting in my favorite coffee shop today.

I trust writers all the time. In the past two weeks, I read two books that are still with me. Living With Jackie Chan by Jo Knowles and Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg. They were so poignent and thought-provoking. (More on both of these books soon). If those writers hadn’t trusted me as a reader then I never would have had the experiences that I did with those books. This has happened to me over and over again as a reader. I’m comfortable with that role: reader. When I struggle with writing, I find myself wanting to read something and hoping that it will inspire me. I think what I really want to is to find some kernel of something that gives me insight into how it is that an author trusts themselves and their reader enough to actually put the words out there.


That’s what this blog is for me. It’s me putting words out there. I don’t know who everyone is that reads this blog or what you think when you read it, but I put it out there. I hope that people read it and that it makes you think. You don’t have to think the same as me, just think something. And I realize that I need to keep blogging, that each time I publish a post, I’m trusting readers. And also I’m trusting myself a little bit more.

So thank you for reading. More soon…


The importance of process

I’m working with a writing coach right now, she is amazing. Something that rang eerily true for me while we were working this weekend was the fact that my past experiences with writing – and other types of creating as well – were largely about having a product outwardly validated. A final draft, a Bach Suite, a photograph, a test result.

I’m now working on my dissertation, which needs to be all about process. There will be a product, yes. But the focus of that product, the reason for it’s existence is a for me to communicate my process. Which, as it turns out, I don’t trust and hasn’t actually helped me to move my thinking forward. I’m working on these things but in the meantime, my realization got me thinking about the things that are publicly valued in our society – so SO many of those things are about product.

  • Olympic Medals – or the more timely Final Four Basketball Championship
  • the number of albums sold.
  • Length of time on the best seller list.
  • Test scores.
  • Did I mention test scores?

I worry that with so much rhetoric and pressure on schools (translate: teachers & students) to put out strong test scores, everyone will lose sight of the process of learning. Do we need to know what we are teaching and if students are learning? Yes. Can process be included in testing? Sometimes. But I hope that we don’t lose sight of helping students develop and understand their own processes, including:

  • Process of learning
  • Process of creating
  • Process of teaching
  • Process of engaging

A Crooked Kind of Perfect

This book has been sitting on my tbr pile for quite a while now. I read Hound Dog True last year (based on my friend Colby Sharp’s gushing about it, yes he gushed) and loved it. Urban is clearly a gifted storyteller, particularly when it comes to character and voice.

I sat down last evening with my daughters for “family reading time” and decided it was time to read A Crooked Kind of Perfect. I finished it before going to sleep and am still thinking about it today, right now even. I love books that stay with me like that – make me want to go back, reread them, mull over the language, and think about what it is that made me respond this way.

A Crooked Kind of Perfect hits home with me personally in a variety of ways – but I think perhaps one of the reasons I haven’t read it yet is because I needed to read it this week. I’m going to defend my practicum study this thursday. I’ve been working on it for far longer than I thought I would due to a variety of reasons (like breaking my arm). It had gotten to a point where every time I looked at it all I could see was the “crooked” – the holes, and time that felt wasted, and paper that hadn’t been defended. It seemed like I would never finish it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve quit my ph.d. program in the past two years – just so I wouldn’t have to deal with finishing it.

The chapters in the middle of the book where Zoe decides to quit were so spot on. The way that the sentence length shortens, she blocks out all possibilities, and is just sure that quitting is the only way to go.


It is no big deal that I am quitting.
It isn’t.
It really isn’t.
It’s not like quitting the piano.
That would be a tragedy. (p. 84)

What I love about this is that it’s ok for Zoe to quit. She does it for a few pages. Her parents don’t chastise her or push her, they just sit with her, and let her quit. And eventually there is a key change, and she decides not to quit. My husband, writing group and friends have done this for me with my practicum. They have watched me struggle, and listened, and pushed at just the right times. But ultimately I am the one that decided not to quit.

Perfectionism is rampant in our society. It is something that is presented in movies, television shows, the news, books, and each other; often in ways that we aren’t even aware of. We judge each other harshly and don’t stop to acknowledge that there is more to life than first place, a gold medal, or the most money.

Here is a book that celebrates hard work, at something that wasn’t exactly the way Zoe imagines, but that turns out to be about more than being a prodigy, more than getting applause for a performance. It is realistic in so many fabulous possible ways.

Zoe’s mom works hard, she misses some of her daughters events – but Zoe doesn’t hate her for it.

Zoe’s dad lives with OCD, or at least symptoms similar to it. He does not “struggle” with his issues, he lives with them. He is a father who loves not only his daughter and wife, but extends it to another child who needs a positive adult presence in his life.

Zoe deals with friend problems, something not uncommon for middle school aged children. But those problems do not define her, she feels yucky about them and moves on. Just like she does with quitting. This is a book about real people, living real lives.

So this thursday, I will defend my practicum (I might wear multi-colored toe socks). It will not be perfect – because such a thing does not exist. It will however be mine and it will be done and I will move forward with my dissertation and finish. That will by my crooked kind of perfect. I think we’ll get a cake and some Vernor’s to celebrate.