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In February, after two years of waiting, Nathan Hale finally came to Hunter’s Creek Middle School!

For his visit, he did 5 large group presentations where he told two different stories (one about James Garfield and one about Lewis & Clark) then a lunch writing workshop (where students wrote their own comic). Students greatly enjoyed their time with Nathan Hale!

Here are some reflections from my students:

  • Nathan Hale’s visit was so fun and entertaining while also being educational. He talked about the corps of discovery but not just about Luis and Clark, he focused on their group rather on just them who other people wouldn’t have even mentioned. I love how he said that they ate every single animal they came across and that they got fat due to eating all that meat I especially liked that York still had his abs even after he got fat. I didn’t even know that they took mercury who sent them. Nathan Hale was so nice and funny I would have loved to say thank you, but I’m sad I didn’t get to. But thank you Mrs. Moye for presenting us with the opportunity to meet Nathan Hale, I enjoyed it.

  • Meeting Mr. Hale was an experience I will never forget. He was so fun and light-hearted and he made sure that learning history an unforgettable experience. He made everything easy to understand and kept me engaged the whole lesson. Overall, this was one of my favorite experiences meeting an author.

  • I loved Nathan Hale’s visit. I think he was super funny when he was tell us the story about the corps of discovery and his art style was amazing as well. I  I also loved that he had humor in the story but also got the information of the story across. 

  • Nathan Hale’s visit was awesome! I loved the different stories and how creative he was. I thought that the story about Garfield was really intriguing and unique. He educated me about a piece of history I had no idea about. I loved the way animated the characters as well, I thought it was brilliant. I really hope he can come visit again soon–it was an amazing time, I never got bored.

  • I loved the presentation! I liked how he animated his illustrations. I almost wish he would turn the Lewis and Clark explanation into a book. I would definitely read the book. I also loved the way he included some of the forgotten people in the expedition like York and Pomp.

  • Nathan Hale was an entertainer. He expresses and talks in a way that captivates the audience, and makes them want to laugh loud at his jokes. Nathan Hale is able to make a story interesting, with nothing more than paper and a pen. Personally, for me, I don’t enjoy history, because it’s usually all gloom and doom, but Nathan Hale made it fun, funny, and entertaining, all while drawing out the scenes at the same time. Nathan Hale is a great multitasker, considering he must draw very fast and well, and still incorporate it into the story, all in 45 minutes. I really enjoyed Nathan Hale’s visit to our middle school, and I loved the way he interacted with the crowd.

  • My reflection on the Nathan Hale visit was that it was absolutely amazing. Like, seriously, it was really good. I loved the whole presentation about Lewis and Clark and the core of discovery. Nathan Hale really made me believe that I was seeing the story unfold right as he was drawing it. Which in its own right, is so cool! His drawing was so fun and interesting and I loved all his characters. The story itself was really entertaining, and I enjoyed the whole story, though I think my favorite part has got to be when he did the voices and characters for the core of discovery tryouts. My favorite characters I think would be York or Sacagawea. All in all, I thought that the story was great, the characters were great, and Nathan Hale was amazing.

  • Nathan Hale is very funny, and it was really cool how he connected Garfield the cat and Garfield the president. It was cool to see how he basically created another short graphic on the spot during the presentation. I was there for the special book presentation, and it was so interesting to see how he interacted with everyone. In my opinion, he would make a great teacher. 

  • Nathen Hale was a very funny and I loved the story of the president Garfield.  He is very talented at expressing his thought and emotions with drawing and making them appealing and fun to others. I really like how he told us the way he works and how he can make everyone laugh with his illustration and way of telling the story. 

  • I found his presentation to be amazing. The speed at which he drew was incredible, and he was still able to draw accurately. I was also very impressed with how he was able to draw something and move on to a different section of the screen, but then use the drawing later, while being able to change it slightly to suit his purposes. And pertaining to the story itself, I was surprised how he found a very “happy” historical fact in the usually bloody stories.

As you can see, he was so engaging; I would highly recommend him (and my students would, too!) for any 4th-8th grade author visit!

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Why Isn’t There More Science Fiction for Young Children?

Science fiction shapes how we respond to our technology-infused world. Research has shown that the more science fiction you’re exposed to, the more you are likely to critically think through the benefits and consequences of science. Many scientists and engineers have reported that reading science fiction as a child influenced the way they thought about science as a young person, potentially leading to their careers! Science fiction is also great practice for developing higher-order reading skills like inferencing, since futuristic worlds often have their own rules that the reader must figure out through clues and background knowledge.

However, very little attention is given to science fiction books for young readers, or what I call “primary science fiction.” It’s not included in most reading lists or school curriculum until high school. In Encountering Enchantment: A Guide to Speculative Fiction for Teens, Susan Fichtelberg recommends 12 years old as the best time to introduce science fiction. This age is a popular choice. The science fiction entries in the Oxford Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature and Keywords for Children’s Literature both cite age 12 as the time when most kids will discover and enjoy science fiction.

Why 12-year-olds, specifically? Back in 1762, a philosopher named Jean-Jacques Rousseau theorized that children really only reached “the age of reason,” as he called it, at age 12. Before then, he thought, they just didn’t have the capacity to really understand anything. He even advised that reading could wait until age 12! We’ve dismissed most of his theories, but some of it still sticks around, like the “age of reason” being 12. Even when we’re not consciously thinking about the “the age of reason,” that sentiment lives on when we assume that science fiction—and all of its complex thinking about science—is better for older readers.

Adults perpetuate a self-fulfilling prophecy about what children want, and this results in a low supply of primary science fiction books. Jon Scieszka once told me that his editors tried to convince him that children would be put off by the science in his science fiction series, Frank Einstein. An indie publisher told me that children’s science fiction doesn’t sell well, so they don’t acquire it often.

In order to test the idea that science fiction is less suitable for younger readers, I conducted a large study of primary science fiction and those results are published in my new book Equipping Space Cadets: Primary Science Fiction for Young Children. I counted over 120,000 books in elementary school libraries in almost every region of the US and found that science fiction books only make up around 3% of each library collection. I surveyed teachers and librarians and learned that they recommend science fiction to the occasional individual reader, but don’t pick it for lessons or storytime because they feel it is too scarce and too hard.

However, real children and books tell a different story! Even though only 3% of those library collections were science fiction books, I found that science fiction had more average check-outs per book than any other genre. When I read science fiction picturebooks with elementary students, I listened to them cleverly apply their reading skills to comprehend and engage with the genre’s questions about science. I read 357 primary science fiction books and found that the best ones included features to help even the youngest readers figure out the genre. It turns out that readers are well-suited for science fiction long before they turn twelve.

Now all that’s left is for us adults to begin to break the cycle of assumptions about science fiction. Buy it! Teach it! Share it!

Published April, 2022 by University Press of Mississippi

About the Book: Equipping Space Cadets: Primary Science Fiction for Young Children argues for the benefits and potential of “primary science fiction,” or science fiction for children under twelve years old. Science fiction for children is often disregarded due to common misconceptions of childhood. When children are culturally portrayed as natural and simple, they seem like a poor audience for the complex scientific questions brought up by the best science fiction. The books and the children who read them tell another story.

Using three empirical studies and over 350 children’s books including If I Had a Robot DogBugs in Space, and Commander Toad in SpaceEquipping Space Cadets presents interdisciplinary evidence that science fiction and children are compatible after all. Primary science fiction literature includes many high-quality books that cleverly utilize the features of children’s literature formats in order to fit large science fiction questions into small packages. In the best of these books, authors make science fiction questions accessible and relevant to children of various reading levels and from diverse backgrounds and identities.

Equipping Space Cadets does not stop with literary analysis, but also presents the voices of real children and practitioners. The book features three studies: a survey of teachers and librarians, quantitative analysis of lending records from school libraries across the United States, and coded read-aloud sessions with elementary school students. The results reveal how children are interested in and capable of reading science fiction, but it is the adults, including the most well-intentioned librarians and teachers, who hinder children’s engagement with the genre due to their own preconceptions about the genre and children.

Equipping Space Cadets: Primary Science Fiction for Young Readers is available from all major retailers.

About the Author: Emily Midkiff teaches children’s literature and literacy at the University of North Dakota. She spent nine years performing fantasy stories alongside children for an improv children’s theater group, and she now studies children’s fantasy and science fiction stories with attention to what the children themselves have to say. Find out more about her at https://emidkiff.wordpress.com/

Thank you, Emily, for this wonderful post! This is a question we’ve often asked, so loved hearing your thoughts.

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I am so lucky to have the opportunity to teach Children’s Literature this year at the University of Central Florida. To have the opportunity to work with future teachers are they determine their point of view as an educator is such an awesome experience. I am so glad to be part of their journey!

My favorite part of prepping this course was choosing what books I was going to include. Since I couldn’t choose just one or even a handful, I decided to follow Ricki’s advice and went with book clubs, and I really liked how it worked out.

The course is set up around a textbook that teaches by genres, so the book clubs followed the genres as they were introduced in the textbook. At each book club, students discussed their books then created teaching guides to share with each other, so by the end of the semester, students would have access to 45 different book guides filled with interdisciplinary opportunities, possible activities, and discussion questions.

Here are the books my students read:

Graphic Novels

Fantasy & Sci-Fi

Realistic Fiction

 

*The Length of a String is dual genres: both realistic and historical fiction

**We debated if Front Desk should have been in the historical fiction category instead of realistic fiction, and we came to the conclusion that it should have been, so I will move it in the future.

Historical Fiction

Nonfiction

And I threw in one short story anthology, too!

I’ve also loved exposing students to a variety of picture books both through read alouds weekly and through an illustration analysis activity. Here are the picture books my students have read with me:

     

So happy to be able to share these amazing books with my students!
Any thoughts on the books I shared? 

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Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers
Authors: Lina AlHathloul & Uma Mishra-Newbery
Illustrator: Rebecca Green
Published: February 8, 2022 by Astra Publishing

Summary: A courageous girl follows her dream of learning to fly in this beautifully illustrated story inspired by imprisoned human rights activist Loujain AlHathloul.

Loujain watches her beloved baba attach his feather wings and fly each morning, but her own dreams of flying face a big obstacle: only boys, not girls, are allowed to fly in her country. Yet despite the taunts of her classmates, she is determined that some day, she too will learn to do it–especially because Loujain loves colors, and only by flying will she be able to see the color-filled field of sunflowers her baba has told her about. Eventually, he agrees to teach her, and Loujain’s impossible dream becomes reality–inspiring other girls to dare to learn to fly. Inspired by co-author Lina al-Hathloul’s sister, formerly imprisoned Saudi women’s rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee Loujain al-Hathloul, who led the successful campaign to lift Saudi Arabia’s ban on women driving. This gorgeously illustrated story is lyrical and moving.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the teachers’ guide I co-created for Astra Publishing for Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers:

You can also access the teaching guide here.

You can learn more about Loujain Dreams of Sunflowers on Astra Publishing’s page.

Recommended For: 

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“Parent – Educator Partnership”

Parent Power: Navigate School and Beyond strives to normalize parenting. Every day is different presenting its own unique rewards and challenges. We often feel like we are on a merry-go-round and cannot seem to change the mundaneness of our routines.

I felt the same way while raising my four children, I often wondered whether I was doing a good job. Often, it felt like I was “winging it” and was hoping for the best. As a former educator and then stay-in-the-car-mom (I was never at home!) for more than 20 years, it was intuitive for me to build relationships with those who interacted with my children: teachers, administrators, and coaches. I assumed that’s what we, as parents, were supposed to do. We each learned from each other, and I soon became a trusted partner at the school and district levels where we made systemic changes for our children county-wide.

Educators are at a tipping point. They have the monumental task of ensuring our students receive the education they deserve while juggling the ever-changing pandemic world of schools opening, virtual learning, or even going hybrid. It has become almost comical at what is expected and what is reasonable.

Wouldn’t it be nice for educators to have a resource that has insight and expertise in the student’s physical and mental well-being? Someone who we can partner with to help the student where they currently are academically and then help them reach their full potential?

Parents! They are our ticket to helping our students achieve the success they deserve. We need their input, their perspective of how the child learns, or if any happenings at home are affecting the student’s school performance. Their knowledge is critical to helping educators navigate learning in the manner that is most beneficial and impactful for the student.

In this uncertain time, teachers need, more than ever, parent input and guidance.  We are counting on them to help us. But we also must realize the burden parents carry right now. It is imperative to create a symbiotic relationship between schools and parents for students to feel supported and achieve success.

In my debut book, Parent Power: Navigate School and Beyond, I share my insights on how an educator turned Parent Impact Coach built a relationship, became an advocate for schools and students, and helped create systemic changes at the school and district level that affected students and staff county-wide. My education background along with compassion and empathy catapulted me to the forefront of issues that impacted students long-term.

Published May 4, 2021

About the Book: Parent Power: Navigate School and Beyond strives to normalize parenting. Every day is different presenting its own unique rewards and challenges. We often feel like we are on a merry-go-round and cannot seem to change the mundaneness of our routines.

Parent Power offers insight, ideas, and methods to navigate this exhilarating, exhausting task – raising productive, compassionate, future generations. Tackling relevant topics that parents face, with a head-on approach to:

  • Social media
  • Sports
  • Discrimination
  • And many more

Each chapter ends with Punam’s Perspective, a personal anecdote that prompted the need to write the chapter. Those experiences shaped Punam as a parent and an advocate, and, eventually, on this journey to build a formidable team of parent, teacher, and school.

Mom’s Choice Awards, Gold Seal

Amazon #1 Release

Review
Reader’s Favorite, 5-Stars:

Parent and author Punam V. Saxena shares her experiences on becoming a partner in the educational process in Parent Power: Navigate School and Beyond. This invaluable work tells the tale of a stay-at-home mom who became passionate about enhancing students’ educational experience by getting involved in the academic community and forging a trusting relationship with faculty members. She addresses parenting issues related to self-care, community participation, social media control, bullying, discrimination, and quarantined parenting. The book aims to guide parents in raising emotionally intelligent kids by engaging them in dialogues that help them understand the value of diversity and justice as a concept of fairness. As parenting is a lifetime vocation, this work becomes a supportive teammate.

If you’re like most parents, you feel you’re doing a fine job in raising and dealing with your kids based on your child-rearing philosophy. You exhaust all the means to be a good provider. But at some point, it will drain you. One particular aspect that I enjoyed in Parent Power is Saxena’s take on self-care. Children can prove to be a handful, and as a parent, you too deserve tender loving care. Saxena writes with no promises but assures that it is feasible, at the very least, to decrease the frequency of your most challenging parenting days. I strongly recommend Parent Power to all parents for its inspirational and realistic approach to developing strategies to help parents become more centered and productive.

-Vincent Dublado

About the Author: Punam V. Saxena is a mother of four, holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, and a Master’s in Education. Throughout her 30 years of experience between teaching and volunteering in her children’s schools, she implemented several procedures that benefited students and administrators within the school district.

She is a Parent Impact Coach, TEDx speaker, author of Parent Power: Navigate School and Beyond, and podcaster. Her work focuses on bridging the gap and fostering and stronger relationship between parents and schools by empowering parents to become partners in their child’s education.

Punam has been recognized as Volunteer of the Year at Harrison School for the Arts and has received a Key to the City in Lakeland, Florida. She has been featured in the magazines Podcast MovementShoutout Atlanta, Global Fluency, and Women Who Podcast. She has also spoken at several mainstage events including She Podcasts Live, Passionistas Project’s “I’m Speaking and Podcast Movement’s Virtual Summit. Additionally, Punam has been featured on NBC’s Atlanta & Company, CBS, ABC, and FOX.

In her spare time, she enjoys running, cooking, reading, and spending time with her family.

Link to website: www.edu-Me.net
Link to TEDx Ocala Talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DrY3dM-AvOg

Follow on social media here:
www.facebook.com/theedume
www.twitter.com/edume19
www.instagram.com/theedume
https://www.linkedin.com/in/punam-saxena-m-ed-7981b9124/
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DrY3dM-AvOg

Thank you, Punam, for this post! We agree that parents need to support educators and the amazing work they are doing, more importantly now than ever. It is the partnership that is important; parents should not be telling educators what to do or micromanaging instruction or instructional materials, but instead working as a parent with their own children and with their schools to ensure success of students. 

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“Non-grammatical doesn’t always mean wrong”

The year that shall live in infamy…

School was at home, play dates were via computer, vacation plans were stalled.

The pandemic shut-down was difficult for many people in many ways; however, as hard as it was for as adults to deal with, it was especially hard on kids, many of whom had no idea what was going on, or why. I felt like I needed to write something to empower kids, to help them realize they do have some control over certain things.

So in late summer of last year I began brainstorming ideas by doing something unusual. I made a concerted effort to come up with a non-grammatical title. A strange way to begin the writing process, but I thought a non-grammatical title might not only be poetic and thought-provoking but would certainly catch attention sitting on a bookshelf!

As I thought about it, the phrase “I am today” eventually popped into my head, and I loved it! Kids are always being told they are “the Future” – but what if a child doesn’t want to wait, to make a difference? The concept for my next picture book was born.

Non-grammatical doesn’t always mean “wrong”:

These days, it seems grammar police are everywhere; allow auto-correct to add an apostrophe to the word “its” in your social media post and suddenly a cute little possessive pronoun is the subject of derision and ridicule by everyone who reads it. And let’s not even get started on the “your” and “you’re” brigade!

No one appreciates proper grammar more than me. Certainly, it’s important to teach grammar, spelling, and such. Verb conjugations, parts of speech, sentence diagrams are all important and all have their place in education. But as someone who writes a lot of poetry, I would suggest that going out of one’s way to be non-grammatical on purpose might have some uses – and be quite fun.

You see, a phrase is only non-grammatical when there is no context, or it is used out of context. Take the title of my new picture book, “I Am Today.” How can a person be an adverb?? (Yes, “today” can also be a noun, but we’re not going to split hairs) On its own, the phrase “I am today” would not normally make sense – but once the story is read and we understand what the main character is thinking, it suddenly makes all the sense in the world.

We tell kids “they are the future” – which, to be honest, could be considered just as non-grammatical as “I am the future.” So if we are proud when children consider themselves to be “the future,” it’s not much of a stretch to understand why a child might want to be “today.”

Putting non-grammatical phrases to use…

Now that you (hopefully) understand my rationale for cheering on grammar that would make my high school English teacher Mrs. Jencks scream, here’s what I think is really cool:  getting students to think creatively and/or poetically by deliberately creating non-grammatical phrases!

Think about it:  why can’t phrases like “puddles of books” or “running the rainbow” or “soccer seriously” be legitimate springboards to something fantastic – a story, a poem, a song?

Many of us (your faithful guest poster, included) are always encouraging young people to come up with new ideas for writing, yes? Since essays, stories, homework assignments always need to be correct and proper, why not turn things on their head for a change and give kids a chance to do something totally different?

Encourage students to put together phrases that sound completely wrong, then have them write the story or poem that goes with it. Or better yet, put all their non-grammatical phrases together and draw them randomly so students need to write based on someone else’s phrase.

Phrases like those three I mentioned earlier, while possibly a bit odd-sounding, would all be perfectly at home in a poem. That’s what poets do, after all – coin phrases, turn words around, make unexpected connections.

Poets speak in terms that are new to their readers, using metaphors, similes, and comparisons that are thought-provoking and unforeseen. What better way to get students thinking in this way than by showing them the value of putting words together that everyone normally tells them not to do?

Knowing most middle school and high school students, they’ll seize any opportunity to do something they’re not supposed to do. So capitalize on that – and see what happens!

About the Author from the Author: 

As a former radio broadcaster, I spent a good part of my life writing and producing commercials, comedy bits, and news stories. At various times I was also an event DJ, country dance instructor, news reporter, cook, telemarketer, ice cream scooper, and photography sales dude…and never figured out how to make a living doing any of it.

I also loved poetry – my first published poem was in 1984 when I was still in high school – and over the years I’ve had numerous adult-oriented poems published in various journals and anthologies including the Donald Hall tribute, “Except for Love (Encircle, 2019). In 2012 my poem, “Apple-Stealing” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and in 2019 I was the recipient of the MacGregor Poetry Prize, coordinated by the Robert Frost Farm board of trustees and Derry (NH) Public Library.

Anyhoo…little did I know all this short-form writing would lead to my debut picture book, “Flashlight Night” (Boyds Mills & Kane, 2017), which received numerous positive reviews including a Kirkus star and was selected by the New York Public Library as one of the Best Books for Kids 2017. I now have a dozen books out or under contract, including “Once Upon Another Time” (Beaming Books, 2021), co-authored with my friend, Charles Ghigna (aka, Father Goose®).

Meanwhile, my children’s poetry can be found in anthologies like “The National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry” (National Geographic Children’s Books, 2015), “Night Wishes” (Eerdmans, 2020), and “Construction People” (Wordsong, 2020), the latter of which chosen by Kirkus as one of the Best Picture Books of the Year. Take a gander at all my books here.

Matt lives in New Hampshire with his wife, kids, and more pets than he has fingers, so don’t ask him to count.

Expected Publication November 30th, 2021 by POW! Kids Books

About the Book: A young girl realizes that she doesn’t have to wait until she’s grown-up to stand up for what is right and make a big impact.

While playing on the beach in her coastal town, a young girl comes across a sea turtle ensnared by a wire. Her town is home to a factory that has provided jobs for many of her neighbors, including her mother, but it has also been dumping garbage from a pipe into the waters, threatening the creatures that live in them.

Children are used to being asked what they’ll do and be when they grow up, but the girl knows there is so much she can do today to help. Unable to forget the sight of the struggling turtle, with a fantastic act she inspires the townspeople to compel the factory to change its destructive ways.

Written in spare and evocative poetry, I Am Today is an empowering story for children who want to be the change the world needs.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation and Discussion Questions: 

Please view and enjoy the educators’ guide for I Am Today

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Thank you, Matt, for this post to make us, as adults, think a little bit more out of the box!

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Having authors visit my school will NEVER get old! It is such an amazing experience for my students (and me)!

For Christina Diaz Gonzalez’s visit, she was at our school for half a day (we were splitting with another middle school), but we were able to fit in 2 presentations and book signings during this time.

The first presentation was to our two-way dual language students, and Christina gave the presentation completely in Spanish! It was awesome to support the magnet program and literacy! For this presentation, she talked a bit more about Red Umbrella because my Spanish Honors teacher plans to teach the book.

The second presentation was to our Student Literacy Leaders, 7th grade Latinos in Action, Lunch Book Club members, and several students who signed up to fill in the last of the 75 available spots. This presentation was focused on promoting her newest book, Concealed, which we were able to give a copy to each student who attended! After the presentation, Christina signed each students book and chatted with each student.

It was a whirlwind of an visit, but it was wonderful! I highly recommend Christina Diaz Gonzalez for visits–she was engaging, interesting, and the students loved her! I asked my Student Literacy Leaders to reflect on the visit, and here are some of their responses:

  • I really liked the author and she seemed like a great person and learning about her secret dream of being an author and her becoming one was honestly really inspirational.
  • It was very inspirational! I also loved how passionate she seemed about writing and reading books.
  • My favorite part was when she was talking about her idea process and how she got the idea for Concealed.
  • I learned that being an author doesn’t mean you need to have your whole book planned out from chapter to chapter, as long as you have a start and finish, you could write a book.
  • I learned that anyone can be an author if they enjoy it.
  • The visit was important to me because I love meeting an author and seeing what they are like outside of what is written in their books.
  • The visit was important because she was a Latina author, and I haven’t met that many female authors of color.
  • The visit was important to me because it was a new experience for me when it comes to visiting authors and getting a little sneak peek of their life. I enjoyed every second of it and getting a signed book for free just seemed like a huge honor.
  • It was important because it was my first time meeting an author!
  • The visit was important to me because it gave me (alongside others) a chance to take things in from an author’s perspective; it really was refreshing to hear and gain a sense of.
  • I learned that even if there’s no motivation left is to always push through the matter/problem.

Christina Diaz Gonzalez’s Books

Concealed
Concealed

The Red Umbrella
The Red Umbrella

Moving Target (Moving Targe... Return Fire (Moving Target,...
Moving TargetReturn Fire

A Thunderous Whisper
A Thunderous Whisper

Stormspeaker (Spirit Animal...
Stormspeaker

Hope Nation: YA Authors Sha...
Hope Nation

Thank you so much, Christina, for this wonderful visit!

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