Author Guest Post!: Mental Illness, Brain Disease, and Societal Pressures: My Top 5 Books on Brain Matters by Lisa Martens, author of Jamais Vu


Mental Illness, Brain Disease, and Societal Pressures: My Top 5 Books on Brain Matters by Lisa Martens

As a former epileptic, my favorite books center around mental health and brain disorders. One condition often affects the other: Schizophrenics simply have different brains than so-called “normal” people. But where does the physical problem end and the mental problem begin? Is there even a difference, or are they constantly informing one another? Here are my Top 5 books on brain matters:

  1. Wintergirls by Louise Halse Anderson – (Fiction) Anorexia has broken the hearts and bodies of many teenagers in our society. Wintergirls shows one teen girl’s struggle with the disease after her best friend dies. This issue has an abnormally high fatality rate, probably because the logic is so airtight, so cyclical. It is true, without a doubt, that our society makes huge demands on girls to be thin. It’s easy for a young woman to feel that, given the standard for beauty, that she is supposed to starve herself to be loved. This book is relatable even if you do not have an eating disorder. But! Trigger warning if you are in recovery. This book could potentially cause you to relapse. You’re beautiful the way you are!
  2. Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan – (Nonfiction) What happens when something is wrong with your brain? Like, physically wrong with your brain? Sometimes people don’t believe you. Sometimes people search for a psychological cause to a physical problem. That’s what happens here in Brain on Fire. This is nonfiction and chronicles the journey of Susanna through a rare brain condition. The book is also a call to action: Susannah was cured because she was lucky enough to have great insurance, a supportive family who never gave up, and more resources than most of us have. What happens to those who have this rare condition, but are wrongfully diagnosed and institutionalized, possibly forever? Like Plath’s character in The Bell Jar.
  3. Gospel of Winter by Brendan Kiely –  (Fiction) This book, though fictional, centers around the very real abuse scandal in the Catholic Church in the early 2000s. Although the main characters are far more wealthy than I ever was as a child, all the pressures are there: to be perfect, to be an adult, to reconcile having been abused with your sexual identity. Aiden, the main character, struggles to understand that he was abused, and that he is not homosexual. His good friend Mark was also abused, but is genuinely homosexual. Both boys struggle with the guilt of feeling like they ‘deserved’ or ‘asked for’ this abuse to happen to them. This book reminds us that sometimes even the most affluent, supposedly privileged people in our society can fall victim: Abuse and betrayal know no price tag.
  4. You Jump, I Jump by Annarose Russo – (Nonfiction) This book has an online community centered around it, and can serve as a resource for teens struggling with their own depression. The book itself is published by indie author Annarose Russo, who has used her own struggles with depression to inspire others going through the same issues.
  5. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath – (Fiction-ish) The more I read this Sylvia Plath classic, the more I appreciate it. As a teenager, I enjoyed the strong female character, and the acknowledgment (finally!) of the extra pressures growing women go through. As I’ve learned more about the context and the time period, specifically the Red Scare, this book is all the more powerful. Sylvia lived during a time where ‘strangeness’ could easily be associated with ‘communism’, and the United States was on a witch hunt. Coupled with her own issues, the pressure to be the perfect woman, daughter, and writer must have been great. To be anything else would have been unpatriotic.
What is your favorite book on mental health or brain health? Why are these conditions important for Young Adult readers to learn about?
Lisa Martens believes in brain matters! She’s the author of Jamais Vu written under pen name Floyd Rios. 
In Jamais Vu, Arsenal Mist is an epileptic girl living in Plano, Texas. To her parents, everything seems fine, but Arsenal actually suffers from the rarest side effects of her seizure medication: night terrors, hallucinations, and suicidal thoughts . . . Will she be cured, or will the “cure” destroy her?
Follow Lisa:
Twitter: @WitnessLima
Instagram: @WitnessLima
Thank you Lisa for your post!
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Author Guest Post!: Why Characters Who “Lose Their Way” Win My Heart by Michele Weber Hurwitz, author of The Summer I Saved the World… in 65 Days


Why Characters Who “Lose Their Way” Win My Heart by Michele Weber Hurwitz

My best friend in eighth grade announced one day that she had planned out her life. After college, she said, she’d have a successful career in marketing, marry either a doctor, lawyer, or dentist, have three kids, two dogs, lots of shoes, and a really nice house. I remember she turned to me and asked, “What about you?” I mumbled something along the lines of hoping to pass the algebra test that week, then went home and asked my mom what marketing was.

My friend was—and still is—a determined, strong-minded person. Resolute, dogged, doesn’t let any of life’s setbacks get in her way. While she was traveling along her planned path, ticking things off her list, I was, to put it mildly, stumbling. At times, careening. Not exactly sure where I was going or what I wanted, it took me a while to figure things out. (Sometimes, I still am.)

Although there were moments I looked at my friend’s smooth road and cursed my bumpy one, I realized something recently, and it has to do with a favorite quote taped above my writing desk:

“Sometimes losing our way is the best and most beautiful route home.”

A bumpy road can be viewed one of two ways: full of aggravating twists and turns, or filled with life lessons. And, if you voted for #2, there’s a bonus: the joy of the unexpected. With all due respect to my friend — who got everything, including a dentist — there’s something to be said for plans that don’t work out. In fact, I’ve learned that when you ‘lose your way’ and go down an entirely different path, although it may be frustrating at first, it often turns out to be a more gratifying journey, and perhaps, the one that was meant to be.

I read a lot of middle grade novels because that’s what I write. Hands down, the characters who win my heart—and stay with me long after I finish the last page—are those who lose their way. The ones who are beset with obstacles they never saw coming. The ones who struggle and fret and feel like they’re never going to be okay, then brush themselves off, get back up, and learn how to navigate the storm.

Characters like Auggie in The Junction of Sunshine and Lucky, by Holly Schindler, who crumbles when she learns her dilapidated home might be condemned, then figures out a creative way to repair not only her house, but change her entire town’s idea of what is beautiful.

Or Delphine in Rita Williams-Garcia’s P.S. Be Eleven, who struggles to make sense of different adults’ conflicting perspectives of what it means to not grow up too fast.

And Zoe in Linda Urban’s A Crooked Kind of Perfect, who dreams of playing a baby grand piano at Carnegie Hall but instead is given an organ. Her quirky family presents even more complications, but resilient Zoe is able to find perfection in the most imperfect situations.

The main characters in my two middle grade novels stumble and lose their way big time.

Calli, in Calli Be Gold, not only loses her way, she feels completely out of place as the untalented member of a super achieving family. But when she befriends a second grade boy with some issues and discovers what she’s good at (helping someone in need), she prompts her family to rethink what it means to achieve.

Nina, the protagonist in The Summer I Saved the World…in 65 Days, is unsure of herself, confused, and somewhat adrift during the summer after middle school. Taking some advice from her eighth-grade history teacher, she decides to do 65 anonymous good things for her family and neighbors each day of the summer to find out if doing good does any good. Can her efforts change things? Maybe…except people react in ways Nina didn’t envision and life in her quiet cul-de-sac gets a little messed-up.

One of my favorite scenes is when a suspicious neighbor with an overactive imagination calls the police after a few of the good deeds, and Nina questions why she even started her project in the first place. Her journey over the summer definitely brings some unexpected twists and turns that she’s forced to navigate.

When I think about why I love books like this, I realize that it’s not only the satisfaction of seeing how these characters eventually work things out, it’s also that Calli and Nina, as well as Auggie, Delphine, and Zoe bring readers like me, and countless others, an important gift: the knowledge that we’re not alone. A connection. That others lose their way too.

When we witness how the characters adapt, overcome obstacles, change, and grow, this gives us the inspiration and hope that we can handle our own problems. If they’re okay in the end, then we will be too.

It’s probably no surprise that I love to walk. I find that it helps my writing immensely. Something about moving around outside loosens up my brain and allows me to think more clearly. For years, I’ve followed the same route in my neighborhood, but lately, I’ve started to turn on different streets. I never fail to see something new and interesting—a strange house, a mysterious garden, a unique-looking person. More often than not, this changes my day.

And always, the route back home is more beautiful.


Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of The Summer I Saved the World…in 65 Days (Wendy Lamb Books/Penguin Random House, April 2014), and Calli Be Gold (Wendy Lamb Books/Random House 2011). She lives in a suburb of Chicago with her husband and three children. If she’s not writing or walking, she’s mostly likely eating chocolate. Find her at and on Twitter @MicheleWHurwitz

Be sure to check out Michele’s books:

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Author Guest Post!: My Top Ten YA Novels About Bullying by Mathangi Subramanian, author of Bullying: The Ultimate Teen Guide


“My Top Ten YA Novels About Bullying” by Mathangi Subramanian

Growing up the bespectacled, bookish, brown-skinned daughter of Indian immigrants, I underwent my share of bullying. But while I was writing Bullying: The Ultimate Teen Guide, memories of witnessing—rather than experiencing—bullying loomed large. Most often, I was reminded of my brief tenure as a public school teacher, when I watched young people I cared about both act like and suffer from bullies.

As a child, my bullies felt like one-dimensional paper-cut outs of people that stopped existing after they terrorized me.  As a teacher, the bullies in my classrooms were more than their misguided actions. They were sons and daughters of parents I admired, musicians and artists and athletes that excelled outside of my classroom, and sheepish people-in-progress who asked me if maybe, even though I was a science teacher, I could help them with their love problems.

And, when my colleagues made comments about me being foreign (even though I am American), godless (even though I am Hindu) and young (okay, that was true), these teens were my defenders, telling me that they didn’t care what other people said, they liked me just fine. How, I wondered, could these compassionate, brilliant young people be the same ones who to hurt their peers?

The more I learn about bullying, the more I believe that it is the result of a failure of empathy. I don’t just mean from teens: I also mean from adults who tell victims to buck up and deal with it; from administrators who punish bullies without investigating what trauma may be driving them to violence; and from students and adults who witness bullying and egg it on.

In fact, the most effective anti-bullying policies—like restorative justice, mental health and social services, and social justice based curriculum—are those that are based on building empathy. It’s a shame that they are still not commonly used.

It’s true, most teachers can’t redo district policy or institute training programs. But here’s one thing they can do: assign some compelling fiction. After all, aren’t stories the best ways to walk in each other’s shoes? Below is a list of ten of my favorite YA books with protagonists that face bullying. These books break silences, feature diverse main characters, and are impossible to put down. Most importantly, they helped me empathize with characters whose lives and choices I ordinarily would find unforgiveable. From school shooters to mean girls to backstabbing friends, the characters in these books helped me realize that everyone has a backstory, and that what almost all of us want, more than anything, is a little forgiveness and a little understanding.

1. Hate List by Jennifer Brown – Valerie must piece her life together after her boyfriend, Nick, stages a school shooting and commits suicide. When she returns to finish her senior year, Valerie learns about forgiveness, redemption, community, and love.

2. Wonder by R.J. Palacio – A great book told from multiple perspectives about a boy with a visible genetic abnormality who decides to go to school for the first time.

3. Orchards by Holly Thompson – Told in verse through the voice of a biracial protagonist, this book is about Kana Goldberg’s journey to come to terms with her role in her friend’s suicide.

4. Jumped by Rita Williams-Garcia – When Trina the diva gets in the way of the angry basketball player Dominique, Leticia knows what’s going to happen – but she decides not to get involved.

5. Okay For Now by Gary D. Schmidt – The bullying eighth grader Doug faces at school is nothing compared to the bullying he faces at home at the hands of his father. Brilliant historical fiction tackling the little-addressed issue of adult bullies.

6. Shine, Coconut Moon by Neesha Meminger – A story about a Sikh teenager coming of age after September 11th, this book tackles dating violence, hate crimes, and Islamophobia.

7. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie – This semi-autobiographical book is about a Native American boy who decides to leave the reservation he lives on to get an education at the White school, and the bullying he faces because of his decision.

8. Blue Boy by Rakesh Satyal – Kiran, the main character in this book, is a gender non-conforming Indian American boy who is bullied at school and a puzzle to his parents.

9. I Am J by Cris Beam – The story of J, a transgendered boy trying to grapple with his identity and preserve his most important relationships.

10. Tell Us We’re Home by Marina Budhos – Jaya, Maria, and Lola are the daughters of nannies in a wealthy suburb. When Jaya’s mother’s employer accuses her of stealing, the three friends must fight adult and teen bullies. This book provides a sensitive and nuanced view of classism and xenophobia.


Mathangi Subramanian, EdD, is a writer and educator. She has been a classroom teacher, an assistant vice president at Sesame Workshop, and a senior policy analyst at the New York City Council.

happened bullying

Bullying: The Ultimate Teen Guide draws on stories from young teens around the country, this volume uncovers the social pressures and individual choices that lead to violence. The author surveys effective state, local, and national anti-bullying policies and provides examples of teens throughout the nation whose leadership and courage have helped stop violence. This volume also contains exercises and strategies for young adults to employ that can pave the way for social action. Bullying: The Ultimate Teen Guide is a much-needed resource to help stem the tide of this social epidemic. Featuring a diverse collection of teen voices, this book is designed to help teens take immediate action both individually and collectively. The advice and exercises will not only help teens think critically about bullying but will also empower them to change both themselves and the circumstances that foster abuse in their schools and communities.

Bullying is a topic that all teens deal with and should be discussed in our schools and classrooms. This resource helps make these conversations easier.

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**Thank you to Mathangi Subramanian and Alyssa Washington from Rowan & Littlefield for this guest post**

Author Guest Post!: The Sum of Our Parts by Tracy Holczer, author of The Secret Hum of a Daisy


“The Sum of Our Parts” by Tracy Holczer

I’ve been thinking a lot lately as to how I became a writer. I used to have it down. I was a writer because I read Little Women and had the run of the library, both at just the right age. But I have come to realize those are just two of many pieces. Once I really reflected, I found so much more, both light and dark. I feel we try so hard to focus on the light, especially those of us who write for kids. But we are who we are because of both. There is no contrast without darkness, and contrast, I believe, is where we find the answers for ourselves. So here is a very incomplete list of the parts of this writer:

  • Loneliness. I was a lonely kid. An only child born at the tail end of the “children should be seen and not heard” era, I had tremendous space to read books and otherwise look to inanimate objects for comfort and camaraderie. I didn’t have any experience with other kids until I went to Kindergarten and was hugely surprised and disappointed when no one wanted me to teach them how to tell time in Roman numerals. I mean, we were there to learn, right? Even the nuns treated me like I was a little off my nut.
  • Sensitivity. I took things hard. Like in second grade when Ms. Parsons got married and would become Mrs. Harrison half way through the year (I abhorred change), or in third grade when Sister Michael Anne read us Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. There were several times over my school career that I thought I would die from sadness.
  • Librarians. After my parents told me I couldn’t read anymore because reading was “anti-social”, we moved across the street from a library when I was twelve. I snuck over there every weekend as though my life depended on it. Because it did. Those librarians took me under their wing and always had books to recommend as well as knew when I needed to be left alone to my imaginings. A piece of the writer I have become was conceived in the smelly bean bag chair in the Cupertino Public Library, most likely while reading The Hobbit.
  • Flightiness – otherwise known as Creativity. I was a flighty kid. If one of my teachers read us a book about plants, maybe talking about photosynthesis, but there was a bug on one of the leaves of the plant, and it had strange spots, I would be that kid asking why the bug had spots. My mind never seemed to travel down the right channels. At least not the ones my teachers wanted it to travel down. Every report card I ever received in elementary school pointed out my flightiness and “if she would only apply herself”. I never quite understood what that meant. I get it now, but I so wish they had pointed out my creativity, too. Maybe it wouldn’t have taken me so long to recognize it in myself.
  • Stubbornness.  Holy tamales but I am stubborn. Because I wasn’t a brilliant student, and didn’t finish college, I never really fell into anyone’s spotlight. Teachers liked me, but no one ever singled me out. I floated down the stream of public school with my mostly B’s, sometimes A’s, not causing any trouble. No one expected very much of me and I didn’t expect very much of myself. It wasn’t until I decided I would teach myself to write that I truly found my stubbornness to be useful.
  • BOOKS. All the books.

As a writer for children, I find myself in the incredible position to be able to possibly, maybe, in my wildest dreams, make a difference. I hope my books will bring both light and dark to kids so they get the whole spectrum of what it feels like to be alive and in charge of their destinies. I hope to be able to share my journey with those children so they really get the fact that they are a work in progress and even the most lonely, sensitive, and flighty of us can do great things if we set our stubborn minds to it. We are the sum of our parts in the best possible way.


About the Author: At eleven years old, Tracy Holczer read Little Women, and decided she wanted to be a writer. Feathered ball-point pen in hand, she wrote short blood-curdling stories and long, angst-ridden poems through the rest of her childhood. When she was a teen, her family moved to Grass Valley, California where she convinced her mother to get her glasses, even though she didn’t need them, so she would look smart. This is where Tracy decided she would be the next John Steinbeck and write about the glory of trees.

When she grew up, she took a few detours and worked as a sales clerk, a credit analyst, and a waitress in a honky-tonk bar. Somewhere in there, single momhood happened, so she added impersonating Santa Claus and Spider Assassin to her list of jobs. Eventually, she ended up in Southern California, married a General Contractor and lived happily ever after where she doesn’t have to sell ties, crunch numbers or wear a long white beard. Instead, Tracy gets to raise her three daughters from home, plan things like the Halloween Carnival for the PTA, and write stories.

Tracy Holczer is the author of The Secret Hum of a Daisy due out May 1, 2014. Hum was written in praise of both the imperfection of family, the perfection of nature and all that can be found if you’re willing to learn from your detours.

Tracy’s blog:
Tracy’s website:

Exciting News!
The Secret Hum of a Daisy is an ABA 2014 Indies Introduce New Voices pick for Summer/Fall!
“Holczer presents a tender, transformative exploration of family, loss and reconciliation. The phrasing and the images are beautiful and rich.”—Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review —Publisher’s Weekly

This is definitely a MUST READ this summer!


**Thank you to Tracy Holczer for her amazing guest post!!**

Blog Tour, Review, and Author Guest Post!: Thrive by Meenoo Rami



Thrive: 5 Ways to (Re)Invigorate Your Teaching
Author: Meenoo Rami
Published March 5th, 2014 by Heinemann Educational Books

Goodreads Summary: As a novice teacher, Meenoo Rami experienced the same anxieties shared by many: the sense of isolation, lack of self-confidence, and fear that her work was having no positive impact on her students. In Thrive, Meenoo shares the five strategies that helped her become a confident, connected teacher. From how to find mentors and build networks, both online and off, to advocating for yourself and empowering your students, Thrive shows new and veteran teachers alike how to overcome the challenges and meet the demands of our profession.

Praise for Thrive:
-“Whether you are entering your first year of teaching or your 40th, Thrive feels as if it were written just for you. At a time in our profession when many of us are feeling stretched thin, Meenoo Rami offers strategies to reignite our passions and rediscover why we chose to teach.” -Christopher Lehman, coauthor of Falling in Love with Close Reading
-“Teaching is a profession that eats its young. Meenoo Rami offers guidelines for surviving the challenges of the classroom as well as the faculty room.” -Carol Jago, author, teacher, and past president of NCTE
-“Thrive includes a mosaic of dynamic teacher voices from many grade levels and content areas. Reading their stories deepened my thinking about the immense untapped potential of our profession. Meenoo Rami’s vision of teaching and learning can sustain us all.”-Penny Kittle, author of Book Love

Join the conversation on Twitter at #edthrive.

About the Author: Meenoo Rami is a National Board Certified Teacher who teaches her students English at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, PA. Mixing moments of joy, laughter, risk and encouragement, Meenoo pushes her students to think critically about their connection to the word and the world. Meenoo did her undergraduate work at Bradley University in Illinois in areas of Philosophy and English and completed her Master’s degree in Secondary Education at Temple University.  Meenoo also contributes to the work of school-wide events and professional learning communities at SLA. Meenoo works as a teacher-consultant for the Philadelphia Writing Project. She has shared her classroom practice at various conferences  such as: NCTE, ISTE, ASCD, EduCon, Urban Sites Conference for National Writing Project, and #140edu. Meenoo also runs a weekly twitter chat for English teachers called #engchat which brings together teachers from around the country to discuss ideas related to teaching of English. Her first book, THRIVE  from Heinemann will be out in March 2014. In her free time, Meenoo can be found on her bike, on her yoga mat or in her kitchen tinkering with a vegetarian recipe.

To connect with Meenoo, you can find her on these social media networks:
Google Plus

Kellee’s Review: In this modern day of education where CCSS and testing seems to have become the most important priority and we’re being attacked in the media for having an easy job and are failing our students, it is very difficult to stay positive—much less thrive. Meenoo Rami says that there is definitely a way to overcome all of these hardships, and she lies it all out in 5 “steps.” Although some of what you might find in this book may seem like common sense, it may not be to other teachers, specifically new teachers. It is also important to get reminders about how to stay true to ourselves. I think this is a book that each teacher needs to read and own so they can read it whenever they need a reminder that there is a way to thrive in this profession that we love.

Ricki’s Review: Meenoo Rami hits the nail on the head with her suggestions to teachers. With as many as 56% of teachers leaving the profession (Rami 3), we need to make a change. Beginning teachers must be prepared for the difficulties they will encounter on the job. This book is cleverly crafted with a variety of text features that are sure to engage readers (QR codes, tweets, figures, etc.). I teach pre-service teachers and am very particular about the texts I use. Too many professional texts are watered down and chockfull of obvious information, and I don’t want my students to purchase a book that will be a waste of their time. Rami achieves the perfect balance of narratives and information, and I will be ordering this book for my students next year. I love how she emphasizes that we, as educators, must constantly hone our art of teaching. I strongly believe that we need to practice what we preach, and we, too, must be lifelong learners.


Guest Post: Meenoo’s Tips for Dealing With Negativity and Other Issues That Keep Many of Us From Staying Positive and Thriving in our Profession

There is a common refrain I often hear when I talk to teachers these days. In hushed tones, they admit that they are tired, weary, and depleted by what they face in the their schools everyday. There are some repeated themes amongst the things they tell me:
I am being asked to deliver a prescribed curriculum, not create my own:
If you find yourself in the position where you’re required to use a prepackaged curriculum, consider how to balance it by incorporating the authentic inquiry that your students bring to your classroom, for example:
In an Environmental Science class, invite your local government representative to answer questions prepared by your students regarding how local policy is impacting local ecology.
The focus on testing has taken the joy out of my classroom:
Try to find the balance between teaching with the inquiry stance and test-prep is you are up against the constant pressures of testing in your school. Can you bring inquiry to this task by having your students actually create the test that they will be asked to take? See my colleague Larissa’s thinking around this here .
I have to sit through mind-numbing, inauthentic professional development every week:
What would it look like if you or your colleagues offered to prepare professional development in your school. Our administrators are often at a loss when it comes to finding creative ways to meet teachers’ professional development needs. What if there was a balance between what needs to be on the agenda and what teachers would like to see on the agenda. Perhaps, your faculty can form personal learning communities and take turns providing professional development to the rest of the faculty. Yes, this will be more work but it can meet the actual needs teachers have in terms of professional development. 
I am surrounded by negative colleagues:
Try to listen if you can, persistent complaining might be a cry for help and support. If you cannot do that, offer your support to share resources, ideas, and problem-solve. 


 Thank you to Jen Vincent for hosting this blog tour, thank you to Meenoo Rami for her amazing guest post, and thank you to Heinemann for proving us copies for review. 

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Make sure to check out the other stops in the Thrive blog tour: 

Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts

Franki Sibberson and Mary Lee Hahn at A Year of Reading

Alyson Beecher at Kid Lit Frenzy

Kira Baker Doyle at Kira J Baker-Doyle, Ph.D.

Sarah Mulhern Gross at The Reading Zone

Christina Cantrill at Digital Is (National Writing Project)

Kate Roberts and Maggie B. Roberts at Indent

Beth Shaum Use Your Outside Voice

Linda Baie at Teacher Dance

Troy Hicks at Hickstro

Joy Kirr at Genius Hour

Tara Smith at The Teaching Life

Antero Garcia at The American Crawl

John Spencer at Education Rethink

Blog Tour and Author Guest Post!: Storm Watcher by Maria V. Snyder


The Storm Watcher Blog Tour

Welcome to the Storm Watcher blog tour!

Feb 19 – Mar 5, 2014

Hosted by


Storm Watcher
Author: Maria V. Snyder
Published October 19th, 2013 by Leap Books

Goodreads Summary: Luke Riley is lost. His mother’s recent death has set Luke and his family adrift. Even though his father, twin brothers, and their three Bloodhounds are search and rescue volunteers, they have been unable to rescue themselves and become a family again. The summer after sixth grade looms in Luke’s mind as a long, lonely three months where the only thing he can look forward to is watching The Weather Channel. Luke is fascinated with the weather, but since his mother’s death in a storm, he is also terrified. Even the promised 13th birthday present of a Bloodhound puppy fails to lift Luke’s spirits. He would rather have a different breed – a petite Papillon, but his father insists he get a Bloodhound.

When Luke decides to get the Bloodhound from Willajean, a dog breeder who owns Storm Watcher Kennel, he works out a deal to help at her kennel in exchange for the expensive dog. Thrilled to have a summer with a purpose, Luke befriends Willajean’s daughter, Megan and together they plan how Luke can get a Papillon puppy instead of a Bloodhound. But nothing seems to work as they struggle with stubborn fathers, summer storms, unhelpful siblings, and hidden guilt. Can one little white dog really save both families?

So, how does one come to write a book about weather?

It all begins with a fascination with hydrometeors and a great teacher.
Squish this together with a writing career and VOILA! 

Hydrometeors are Falling on my Head
By Maria V. Snyder

Let me set the scene – sixth grade at Our Lady of Ransom, a Catholic school in the city of Philadelphia – my teacher, Miss Kane is doing a science unit on meteorology.  Meteo…what? At the time (1978), I’d never heard of it, except I had.  “Oh, you mean the weather, why didn’t you say so?” a beat later, “There are people who study the weather? Wow.”  Little did I know it at the time, but that unit was the vital first step to my eventually careers in both meteorology and writing.

I love big storms and loved the idea of studying them.  Not only was it super cool that Miss Kane made it rain in our classroom, but I was able to be a real smart-alecky kid.  You see I soon discovered that the adults in my life had never heard the word meteorology either. So when they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d reply, “A meteorologist.”  Their blank look was always followed be a quizzical, “You want to study…meteors? Like from space?” and I chirped, “Not space meteors, hydrometeors.”  No comprehension so I’d explain in a I-can’t-believe-you-don’t-know-this tone that, “hydrometeors are raindrops.”  I did warn you that I was bratty – I was also eleven so I had a good excuse J.

As I continued in my education, the questions about my future remained the same, and so did the answer (except, by now my family was well acquainted with those pesky hydrometeors).  Sure, I loved acting, dancing, painting, and playing the cello, but I wasn’t a stand out in any of them.  However my math and science grades remained strong and nothing else sparked my interest.

Fast forward to my college graduation.  I’d earned my BS in Meteorology from Penn State University.  My forecasting skills were dismal so I ventured in the exciting new profession of environmental meteorology (whew – I think I have to rest my fingers after typing all that!).  Too bad envir meteo wasn’t all that exciting.  My creativity eventually woke from its catatonic state (caused by enduring endless hours of fluid dynamics and differential equations).  I started writing stories ‘cause it would have been awkward if I started practicing the cello in my cubicle at work.

Writing was a blast and, in my stories, I controlled the weather – hydrometeors fell at my whim – muuhhhaaawwwaaahhh!  Er…sorry.  Eventually I switched careers to writing, but I never lost my love for storms.  In fact, I incorporated the weather in many of my books.  However, the one book that brought me back to that snarky sixth grader is Storm Watcher, my debut novel for readers ages 8 to 14 years old.  I was able to geek-out along with the main protagonist, Luke.

While writing the story was fun, I was thrilled when my editor asked me to write an appendix of weather facts for those readers who also have a fascination with storms.  It’s called “Luke’s Weather Notebook.” For the appendix I drew pictures, found quirky weather facts, wrote a quiz, and included safety tips – delighting my inner weather weenie.  We hoped that the teachers who teach that meteorology unit would find the information helpful and maybe hook another student.

I’d like to thank Miss Kane in person – she probably has no idea she set me on this path.  Or…maybe she does.  Maybe she saw that spark in my eyes as she taught me about clouds and precipitation.  In either case, Thank You Miss Kane wherever you are!

Now, I’ve a question for you.  How many of you knew hydrometeors were raindrops?  Come on, be honest! 🙂

Just shows how one great teacher can truly change your life! 

Also, don’t forget to stop by each blog tour stop to learn more about the book.

Tour Schedule

Wed 2/19 – The Book Monsters – review

Thu 2/20 – I Am a Reader – interview

Fri 2/21 – Unleashing Readers – guest post

Mon 2/24 – Bookalicious – review

Tue 2/25 – Kid Lit Frenzy – guest post

Wed 2/26 – Sharpreads – review

Thu 2/27 – The Mod Podge Bookshelf – guest post

Fri 2/28 – The Windy Pages – review, interview

Mon 3/3 – Teenage Reader – review

Tue 3/4 – Read Now Sleep Later – review

Wed 3/5 – The Brain Lair – review


**Thank you to Alethea and Maria for allowing us to be part of the blog tour**

NCTE/ALAN Throwback: Defending Intellectual Freedom with John Green

At NCTE in 2011, the very first break out session I planned to go to see John Green and Jimmy Santiago Baca speak about defending intellectual freedom (aka censorship and challenges).  When the masses arrived and had filled the room, we found out that unfortunately Jimmy Santiago Baca could not make it.  Although I was really looking forward to hearing him speak, this did leave 70 minutes or so for John Green to speak.  And it was awesome!
John began by talking about his writing and why he writes for teens- “The great thrill of writing teen novels is they’re doing things for the 1st time and don’t know how.”  He says the problem comes in because “authors write the porn and educators have to justify it to their audiences” and the audiences aren’t always so accepting.  But what we all do not realize is that the “chilling effect of challenging books is people would rather not go through the trouble.  But then the challengers win and we’re excluding a class of literature very relevant to teens these days.”  The world needs to see “literature as a blanket that covers the world and has comforted us since the beginning of time… Reading can be a way in to not feeling alone but it is also important to read about those not like us.  The better I can imagine being you, the more empathetic I am… Censorship is an argument against empathy.”  He shared that if a book is challenged within your school, don’t give up.  Contact the author, NCTE, others for help and fight it.  He gave us one key piece of advice, but asked us not to say he said it so I am staying mum; however, if you ever meet me, ask me what he said and I will share.
 This session was also a big pep rally for teachers.  Here’s some highlights:
“Public schools exist for the benefit of social order.  An educated society benefits us all.”
“We need to trust teachers and when we don’t we do us all a great disservice.”
“Part of the s#*tty thing of being a teacher is you are never thanked.”
His biggest piece of luck was having teachers who didn’t give up on him.
“Anticensorship = not giving up on beliefs and what is good for your students.”
“A teacher’s passion, attention is never wasted.”
“If you can empower teachers to do their job, they’ll generally do it well.”
Leaving the session you couldn’t help but feel empowered and
I hope that everyone in the room felt the same way as me.
 But then, to keep my John Green high going, I was able to meet him (briefly) at the ALAN cocktail party and he spoke again at ALAN.

His session at ALAN was shorter and took on the topic of social networking and, of course, reading.  He shared how our students are living in the information society and “the information society is about fear- fear of being bored, alone”. Really, most young adults do read, but they read online and “online reading/writing is skimming. It is like the cliffnotes version of consciousness. And it is all terrifyingly wonderfully distracting.”  But that is why reading is so important. “Reading forces you to be quiet in a world that no longer makes a place for that.”  He hopes that as a writer he can find “a seat at the table of the lives of his reader”.
John Green is one of those authors who I could listen to just ramble on because random acts of brilliance always accompany him. I was honored to see him speak twice and if you ever have the chance, you should try to see him as well.
It is times like this one that makes NCTE and ALAN a must-attend for me. It always leaves me with an education high that reminds me why I am doing what I am doing,