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Updated: 33 min 43 sec ago

Author Interview: Amy Rose Capetta

Tue, 2013-10-22 09:00
by Cordelia Jensen

Hi, Amy Rose!
Entangled should be called Imagination. There are so many, many unusual creatures and settings woven into this narrative. Can you give us some insight into your imaginary world? Do these strange characters/lands just come to you fully birthed or do you work hard to conjure them up?
Creating the universe of Entangled was different from any other story I’d written with a big world. I usually have notebooks stuffed with details (in fact, one of the characters who’s obsessed with her notebooks might be a little bit based on me…) But in this case, I started writing and let myself discover the characters and worlds as I went. It was like going on a long trip and being open to whatever you see along the way, and finding the connections those things have to what you’re already thinking about. I would let myself be surprised by the characters and weird alien species and the black holes and then I would ask if they connected to the story I was telling. Almost always, the answer was yes! Which was WEIRD, but that’s okay. Brains are weird.
Agreed. Brains are weird. 
I remember hearing a part of this story at your graduate reading at VCFA. What I remembered the most from the reading was the image of Cade with her bright red guitar on this lonely grey planet. Did she come to you first?
Wow, it’s incredible that you could pinpoint this so specifically. That’s exactly what I had first. Before I knew anything about quantum entanglement, before I had any idea about the plot or the other characters, I had a girl and her guitar on a dusty, unfriendly planet in the fringes of space. That was all I had—for years! I just let her wander around my head in search of the right story.
I'm glad you found it!
How much scientific research did you do for this story? How much of the science is real? How much is invented?
The idea for the plot sprang from my best friend, a scientist, telling me about quantum entanglement. To be fair, she tells me about all kinds of amazing scientific studies, discoveries, and theories, and all of them deserve their own novels. This one just happened to collide with the punk-rock space girl in my head, and the fact that she was so isolated. Entanglement is a radical form of connection between particles, working faster than the speed of light. I stretched the idea to apply to people, but even in stretching it, I tried to use scientific details (like the newly discovered Higgs field!) because I’m a huge nerd. I needed to be able to suspend my own disbelief!
I also love thinking about what the future will bring in terms of science, things we can barely imagine now. There is so much wonder and strangeness. I read books and blogs, listen to podcasts and scour science articles. That being said, there is an element of fantasy mixed into Entangled and, even more, the sequel. There’s always an element to radical new discoveries that we can’t understand, that defies our rules and our boxes, that knocks down a new wall in our minds. Fantasy gives us that same feeling, so to me, it fits.
I know you have some background as a screenwriter. How does this inform your fiction writing? Do you see your scenes in your head like movie scenes?
I wrote many many screenplays before I came back around to novels. It was a great learning experience. I got to spend a lot of time on dialogue, which I’ve always loved, and structure, which I’ve always been scared of. And I’ve never been very visual, so it’s a good challenge for me to see the scene before I write it. It was actually when I combined what I learned from screenwriting with my flailing attempts to write a novel that things started to work!
Can you give us some hints about stories you are working on now?
Just yesterday, I handed in the second draft of the sequel to ENTANGLED, which is called UNMADE. It’s the second book, and the end of the story. My publisher calls it a space duet, which I love! I’m going to miss Cade and Lee and Rennik and ALL OF THEM, but now I get to work on new things! I have about nine ideas that are all fighting for a place in line.
Is there anything else you want our readers to know about Entangled or you as an author?
Almost everything I write has a fantasy or science fiction element, even if it’s small, because that’s what I love to read. I don’t see the world in a very “realistic” way, so finding SFF was a comfort because it showed me I wasn’t alone. It all comes down to perspective, I think. Using your imagination is just a different angle of looking at the same world.
Also, I loved writing Entangled and living in the voice and world of that story. But I jump around a lot! I’m learning that I don’t really have one voice as a writer, or one kind of book that I love best.
And now for our regular “3 for 3 book questions:”
What were your 3 favorite stories from your childhood/teen years?
How is this a hard question, every time? I’ll go with His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, anything by Madeleine L’Engle, and The Stories of Ray Bradbury. I know that I picked a trilogy, an author, and a collection of 100 short stories. I know that I cheated.
What are 3 books you have read recently that surprised you?
I like this question! Books can be surprising for so many different reasons. The last book I read was All the Truth That’s In Me by Julie Berry. I was surprised by how she combined small poetic moments with tight pace and suspense. I loved it!
Before that, I read Parched by Melanie Crowder. I knew it was going to be an incredible read, but I’m always so impressed when someone can pull off the point of view of a non-human character.
A realistic YA that stood out to me lately is Blaze (or Love in the Time of Supervillains) by Laurie Boyle Crompton. I was surprised by how much and how hard I laughed, and that is always a great thing.
What are 3 books that inspire/d your writing?
A book that inspired me in writing Entangled is Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino, who has this incredible way of combining scientfic concepts and unexpected characters and poetic language. It’s not YA, though! I wouldn’t have any idea where to shelve it, and I love those books.
I’m a huge fan of A Wrinkle in Time, but I have to mention Madeleine L’Engle’s book A Ring of Endless Light, (about dolphins! and telepathy! and poetry!) because it gave me some of my first ideas about how a story can involve emerging science as well as fantastic elements and realistic characters.
I’m really inspired by ambitious and unique YA writers, like A.S. King. Her book Ask The Passengers is so beautiful, and it makes me want to be even braver in my own writing.

Thanks!!!! I really enjoyed reading Entangled and the world is lucky that it has hit the stores this month.
Amy Rose Capetta graduated from Vermont College of Fine Arts with an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults. She has lived all over the country, and is currently located in Michigan. Her first novel, Entangled, is one half of a space duet. The sequel, Unmade, is forthcoming from HMH in 2014.
If you're local to the area, please let the bookstore know if you would like to place a special order for Entangled. You can email orders to orders [at] bigbluemarblebooks [dot] com, call (215) 844-1870, or come see us at 551 Carpenter Lane, in the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia.
Please look for Jen's interview with the amazingly talented David Wiesner coming in early November!
Categories: Bookstore Blogs

Grace's Five Books to Awaken Your Artist Within

Sun, 2013-10-13 09:00
[More belated staff picks from September. Note that our October promotion is 15% off books with staff pick stickers! Come in and check out what else we're reading!]

The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron (J P Tarcher, $16.99)

Steal Like An Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon (Workman, $10.95)

Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles (Image Continuum, $12.95)

Make Good Art by Neil Gaiman (William Morrow & Co., $12.99)

Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande (J P Tarcher, $13.95)

Grace Gottschalk, September 2013
Categories: Bookstore Blogs

Five Picture Books That Mariga Loves

Thu, 2013-10-10 19:01
[Some belated staff picks from September. Note that our October promotion is 15% off books with staff pick stickers! Come in and check out what else we're reading!]

Little Bird by Germano Zullo (Enchanted Lion Books, $16.95)

Cozy Classics: Pride and Prejudice by Jack Wang (Simply Read Books, $9.95)

The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt (Philomel Books, $17.99)

The Odd Egg by Emily Gravett (Simon & Schuster, $15.99)

Chloe by Peter McCarty (Balzer & Bray, $16.99)

Mariga Temple-West, September 2013
Categories: Bookstore Blogs

Author Interview: Mary Quattlebaum

Tue, 2013-09-24 09:00
by Cordelia Jensen
Today, we have with us the charming Mary Quattlebaum. She is the author of many books including Pirate vs. Pirate and The Jackson Jones series (more details at her website Her latest picture book is a new installment in the Jo MacDonald series, which centers on a naturalist girl who goes into different environments and learns about the creatures she encounters. Jo MacDonald Hiked in the Woods just hit the shelves this September.

Thanks for having me, Cordelia!  It’s a treat to talk with you and your blog readers.  Hope your writing is going well.
Thanks Mary! It's going . . . but let's talk about you!
       Tell us about how you thought of creating this delightful series.
Being a mom, you probably notice how curious kids are about the natural world--  the ants on the sidewalk, the squirrels in the trees.  Often their connection to and interest in the natural world evolves from experiences close at hand.  The three Jo MacDonald books feature a pond, garden, and forest ecosystem, which are the “nearby nature” of Jo’s world.  I grew up in the country, with all these things, and it has been a great joy to revisit that childhood landscape in writing.  Doing the books have given me a chance, too, to thank my dad, who has shared his knowledge of and love for nature with his kids and grandkids.  My dad is the model for Jo’s grandfather, Old MacDonald, in the books.  In Jo MacDonald Had a Garden, the grandpa even rides a horse, one of my dad’s favorite activities, even at the age of 80.

One of my favorite parts of these books is the four end pages that include nature facts and resource suggestions. I particularly love all the activity ideas. As one of your former students, I was reminded, in a way, of the word play exercises you assign. Tell us about the process of writing these.
They are sort of like your wordplays, Cordelia!  I loved creating these activities, as a way to help deepen a child’s experience both of the book and the wider natural world.  In designing them, I tried to think about how best to engage the various senses and how to “jump off” the books to allow for experiences outdoors, with the creative arts (drawing, writing, drama), and with science.  These activities and those on publisher Dawn’s website connect with National Science Standards for preschool-grade 3.
Hopefully, the books and activities also help to connect with some of the aims of the “Growing Green” movement.  Parents and educators are recognizing the importance of prying kids from screens and getting them outdoors on a regular basis.  Richard Louv brought this need to national attention in his book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-deficit Disorder and Todd Christopher offered playful models in The Green Hour: A Daily Dose of Nature for Happier, Healthier, Smarter Kids.  The National Wildlife Federation, American Hiking Society, and National Gardening Association are but a few of the organizations with family- and school-related initiatives. 
So far, Jo has sung her way through the Garden, the Pond and the Woods. Is she going anywhere else?
Maybe a meadow—though the series may end with these three books.  The publisher has also done board books of the series and plans to do audio books.
 Sounds are a huge part of these books. I would have had an especially hard time coming up with some of the animal sounds in your book. Like, what does a chipmunk say? You seem to have figured it out. Did you listen to a lot of animal sounds while writing these books? Did you do a lot of the writing “on location?”
I did, indeed, go back to those childhood places and listen.  And YouTube was a big help in the research.  You know how YouTube is, though, so sometimes I found myself digressing to view whining deer and trampoline-jumping foxes.
The Jo MacDonald series is published by Dawn Publications, a press that specializes in connecting children with the natural world. Did you have a press like this in mind when you created these books?
I had long known of Dawn and admired their books, having purchased several for my daughter when she was little.  I didn’t have Dawn in mind initially but they were the perfect fit.  I have loved working with the editor and art director there and was delighted that they chose the very talented Laura J. Bryant as the illustrator.
You don’t only write picture books but you also write books for older children. Does the writing process feel different when writing picture books?
In some ways, the process feels very different because with the picture books, I often have to think about and carefully revise for the “illustratable moments” and to leave space for the illustrator to work her magic.  

Okay, now for our “3 for 3 Book Questions":
What were your three favorite books from childhood/teen years?
I still have my childhood copies and just had to peek at them, in gratitude, as I answered your question.Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry (a gift from Santa in second grade).Jane’s Blanket by Henry Miller (the first book I ever owned, all to myself—a rarity in a family of 7 kids).The Golden Treasury of Poetry, edited by Louis Untermeyer (where I first came across the poetry of Elizabeth Bishop).
What three books have you read recently that surprised you?
I loved Wein’s suspenseful Code Name Verity for its fully realized characters and setting and Tan’s Tales of Outer Suburbia for his ability to find the surreal in the most ordinary of things/circumstances and vice versa and his compressed, beautiful language.  And I recently re-read (for fourth or fifth time) Grace Paley’s three collections of short stories and was amazed, all over again, by her playfulness and ability to capture the pulse of life.
What three books influence/d your writing?
Gosh, that’s a hard question because there are so many! So I’m going to re-name my 3 childhood favorites and the “surprising” ones mentioned above.

Thanks again for this lovely visit, Cordelia.  Wishing you and your readers many creative adventures this fall.  Happy Trails!
Mary Quattlebaum is the author of twenty award-winning children’s novels, picture books, and books of poetry, including Pirate vs. Pirate, Jackson Jones and the Puddle of Thorns, Sparks Fly High, The Hungry Ghost of Rue Orleans, and the Jo MacDonald nature series (picture, board, and audio books). Awards include Random House’s Marguerite de Angeli Prize for a middle-grade novel, Parenting Reading Magic Award, Bank Street Best Book, SIBA Best Picture Book, NAPPA Gold Award, and inclusion on numerous state children’s choice lists.  Mary’s stories and poems are published frequently in children’s magazines (Cricket, Spider, Ladybug, Babybug), and she works regularly for educational publisher Gale/Cengage on projects ranging from famous explorers to Ancient Greece. Mary is on the faculty at the Vermont College MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults and also a creative thesis and independent study advisor for the Johns Hopkins University graduate program in writing. Mary now reviews children’s books regularly for the Washington Post and Washington Parent and blogs with five writer-teachers at  She lives with her family, dog, and bird in Washington, DC, and tends a backyard wildlife garden to help sustain native birds and beneficial insects. For more information, visit or contact Mary Quattlebaum directly at 202-362-5621 or

Thanks for reading!!! If you're local to the area, please let the bookstore know if you would like to place a special order for Jo MacDonald Hiked in the Woods. You can email orders to orders [at] bigbluemarblebooks [dot] com, call (215) 844-1870, or come see us at 551 Carpenter Lane, in the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia.

Next up: Be sure to check back on October 22nd when Cordelia interviews Amy Rose Capetta, author of the new, starred review YA sci-fi book, Entangled.

Categories: Bookstore Blogs

Author Interview: Caroline Carlson

Tue, 2013-08-27 09:00
by Cordelia Jensen

Hi, Caroline! Welcome to the Big Blue Marble Bookstore Blog. We are very happy to have you here so close to your book release. Before we get started, here's a synopsis of Magic Marks the Spot:
Hilary Westfield has always dreamed of being a pirate. She can tread water for thirty-seven minutes. She can tie a knot faster than a fleet of sailors, and she already owns a rather pointy sword. There’s only one problem: The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates refuses to let any girl join their ranks of scourges and scallywags.    But Hilary is not the kind of girl to take no for answer. To escape a life of petticoats and politeness at her stuffy finishing school, Hilary sets out in search of her own seaworthy adventure, where she gets swept up in a madcap quest involving a map without an X, a magical treasure that likely doesn’t exist, a talking gargoyle, a crew of misfit scallywags, and the most treacherous—and unexpected—villain on the High Seas.
MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT is the first installment in the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates trilogy. Books 2 and 3 are forthcoming in 2014 and 2015.
Your book is so funny and when my husband read it aloud to my kids, I could hear them laughing and laughing. Is most of your writing humorous? Did you always write funny stories?
I’m so glad your kids thought the book was funny! I’m always a little worried that I’ll be the only one who thinks my jokes are worth laughing at. But I figure if people only laugh at a quarter of my jokes, I’ll throw in four times as many jokes as I think there should be, and then the book will be just funny enough for readers.
I love writing humor, and I find it very difficult to write fiction that’s not funny. I hate being bored while I’m writing—I’m convinced that if I’m bored while I write a scene, my readers will be bored while they read it. So I write little jokes into the manuscript to keep myself laughing, to keep myself engaged in the story, to keep myself glued to the page in the same way I hope my readers will be.
In college, I spent nearly an entire week trying to write Serious Fiction with no jokes in it. I produced the single most obnoxious, pretentious, and dull piece of writing that has ever been created. It was a crime against fiction, so I don’t do things like that anymore. I do enjoy reading other people’s serious books, though.
There is also a lot of heart to your book. And Hilary herself is very brave. Did you know what Hilary's emotional journey would be from the onset or was it something that changed as you did revisions?
One of the things I struggle with most as a writer is remembering to give my characters rich emotional lives—or any emotions at all, really. Characters’ emotional journeys just don’t come as easily to me as their physical journeys do, and that’s been very problematic, because a character’s emotions should always be informing her external actions and the choices she makes.
When I started working on MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT, I knew that I needed to give Hilary a very simple, straightforward emotional journey that I could state in one sentence so I wouldn’t forget about it. And I knew that I would have to be quite deliberate about working her emotional arc into the book. I decided that Hilary’s emotional object of desire would be her father’s respect; her longing to earn her dad’s approval is what drives her forward. I thought keeping track of this emotional thread would be simple, but it actually grew and changed and became much more complex and interesting as I drafted and revised (and revised and revised) the story.
In revisions with my editor, I did a lot of work to draw out Hilary’s emotions in specific moments. It can be difficult to gauge whether you’re giving your readers too much emotion or too little; there’s a fine line between writing characters who are maudlin and writing characters who are emotionless zombies, and I’m still working on finding that balance in every scene I write.
The gargoyle is my favorite. I read on the blog El Space that the gargoyle came from a story you wrote in high school. Are there any other characters in the book that existed before--either in your mind or on the page?
I’m happy to hear you like the gargoyle! I love him, too. Actually, I have to say that I really like all of my characters, even the villains. Other than the gargoyle, all of them are brand-new for MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT, but some characters were planned more thoroughly than others. I knew a lot about Hilary before I started writing the book, and I knew quite a bit about her father and about her mentor, the pirate Jasper Fletcher. Other characters, like Hilary’s school friend Claire and her governess, Miss Greyson, showed up without any introduction and proceeded to make themselves at home; I had to learn about them as I wrote.
What scene in the book do you feel most proud of? (Without giving too much away . . .) Is it one you struggled to write or one that came to you all at once?
There were two scenes that I rewrote dozens of times each: the second scene in the book, and the scene that takes place at the story’s climax. I’m sure I could rewrite them both another dozen times, but I’m proud of the work I put into them, and I’m happy that I was able to make them work more or less the way I’d hoped they would.
My favorite scene in the book, though, is one that came easily to me. I barely touched it in revisions, so it’s still almost exactly the same as it was in the first draft. It’s the scene that involves a lot of pirates standing in line to interview for a job on a treasure-hunting expedition. It also happens to be the only scene in the book that was written at a coffee shop. I don’t like writing in public places, and I prefer to write at my desk at home, but the only two scenes I’ve ever written in coffee shops (one in MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT and one in its sequel) have been two of my favorites, and they haven’t needed much revising. I may need to rethink my stance on coffee-shop writing.
When you write do you think about a specific kind of reader or audience? Do you think about what you want this reader to take away from the story?
In general, I try to write the kinds of stories that I loved when I was a kid, but I’m not usually consciously aware of my audience while I’m writing. (Now that the book is about to come out, though, I feel extremely conscious of my audience!) I also don’t think consciously about the book’s themes or messages, and I’m always surprised when my editor or another early reader points out the themes that have popped up in my manuscript. Somehow, my own interests and questions about the world manage to sneak onto the page while I’m not looking.
I know you are currently working on sequels to Magic Marks the Spot. This must be very time-consuming. Do you ever do any free writing on the side on other stories or do you strictly stay in the Pirate world?
At the moment, I’m thoroughly in pirate mode: I just turned in my final draft of book 2 in the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates trilogy, and I’ve been doing some brainstorming as I prepare to write book 3. I do have a couple of other projects I’m looking forward to working on when VNHLP #3 is finished, though, and I’ll occasionally take notes on those projects when I get a good idea that I don’t want to forget.
And now for our "3 for 3" book questions:
1. What were your 3 favorite books from childhood/teen years?
2. What 3 books have you read recently that surprised you?
3. What 3 books influence/s your writing?
HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE (again)THE THIRTEEN CLOCKS by James ThurberFEELING SORRY FOR CELIA (and its sequels) by Jaclyn Moriarty
Thanks so much!

Caroline Carlson is the author of MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT, a funny and fantastical seafaring adventure for young readers. She grew up in Massachusetts and holds a BA from Swarthmore College and an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Caroline lives with her husband in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, amidst many stacks of books.
Thanks for reading!!! If you're local to the area, please let the bookstore know if you would like to place a special order for Magic Marks the Spot (The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates #1), due out September 10. You can email orders to orders [at] bigbluemarblebooks [dot] com, call (215) 844-1870, or come see us at 551 Carpenter Lane, in the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia.

Next up: September 24th, Cordelia interviews her former teacher the charming author Mary Quattlebaum!
Categories: Bookstore Blogs

Author Interview: Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Tue, 2013-08-13 09:00
by Jennifer Sheffield

Hi, Catherine! I’m so excited to see a new book from the Dairy Queen universe -- thanks for bringing it to our attention! Heaven is Paved with Oreos was a lot of fun to read, and full of fascinating images and plot turns.

While D.J. Schwenk doesn’t appear all that often in this book, her character is clearly important to Sarah, the narrator. It was cool to see D.J. from the outside, from the point of view of another character. How did it feel to write this shift? Also, is there another person in your life named D.J., or did you really dedicate a book to one of the characters inside it?

Ever since Dairy Queen, I've wanted to show who D.J. is from *our* perspective rather than simply her self-deprecating voice … so the shift to Sarah's POV was really wonderful. I dedicated the book to D.J. because she's been such an important person in my life. In many ways, she's made me who I am, and I'm incredibly grateful for the opportunity to thank her. (And, yes, I do understand that she's a fictional character. But as many writers will tell you, fictional characters take on their own voices and power. Writers have much less control than one would think.)

I love Sarah’s voice, which is so different from D.J.’s and yet is imbued with the same sense of being entirely hers. What got you interested in Sarah Zorn as a character with a story of her own? I remember you saying once that you often rewrite scenes from the points of view of other characters, to see how they look different. Did this story come out of that process?

Sarah, I will confess, is the byproduct of my desire to write a book about Rome. Once I decided that, I spent years (literally) searching for a character to narrate the trip. I also had (see question #1) this desire to write a bit more about D.J. With hindsight, Sarah seems the obvious choice, but boy oh boy did it take a while to settle on her. It helped that she was such a minor character within the Dairy Queen trilogy -- I don't think she had a single line of dialogue. This gave me the freedom to really explore her, and make her who *she* is; I didn't have many constraints.

The trip to Rome is full of references to a 150-year-old travel book, Two Lady Pilgrims in Rome, by the intrepid Lillian Hesselgrave. Is this based on a real book? How did you learn about the 7 pilgrim churches?

Oh, Lillian. If I could, I'd write all of Two Lady Pilgrims myself. Sadly, the book doesn't exist outside of my head, though many travel accounts from the era are equally snarky -- the writing of James Jackson Jarves, for example, or the letters of Charlotte Eaton. It seems that most English-speaking visitors were as parochial and misinformed as Miss Hesselgrave. I believe I first learned about the 7 pilgrimage churches from Wikipedia -- one of those little asides that Wikipedia is so good at, "San Paolo fuori le Mura is one of Rome's historic seven pilgrimage churches" kind of thing. So I started digging around -- which was hard, because there's surprisingly little information -- and realized quite quickly that this would be a wonderful organizing principle for the trip. The 7 churches also helped reinforce other story lines, especially Z's. Thank you, 7 churches. Thank you, Miss Hesselgrave, for giving me a way to present the history of Rome.

I spent one day in Rome once (a Monday, which is a bad day for it, as many places are closed) and I was entertained by the occasional flashes of memory when Sarah went someplace I had been – the Spanish Steps, St. Peter’s Basilica, the Coliseum (which she mentioned, though I’m not sure they saw it). What are your experiences with travel abroad, Roman holidays, and pilgrimages, and how have they influenced your writing?

Obviously I had to go to Italy to research the book, so that was a hardship (joke). I went with a friend who'd never been to Rome, and we had the most amazing experiences visiting the seven churches … I'm getting chills, remembering the singing pilgrims in San Paolo, and the Sunday services at San Sebastiano (the church that Sarah doesn't make it to), and the funeral at San Lorenzo. The trip was such an incredibly special experience. If people reading my book then travel to Rome to see these churches … Wow. Wow wow wow.

I've never thought of myself as a pilgrim in the historic Catholic sense of the word. That said, I believe that a pilgrimage like this, even by someone as sniffy as Lillian Hesselgrave or as skeptical as myself, improves the totality of the universe.

I noticed that, along with Oreos, ice cream figures rather heavily in your new book -- as plot device, ice breaker, mood assessment, comic relief… I’ve observed the influence of food on your other books (particularly the fantasy ones), but it generally hasn’t been something so consistent. What role does ice cream play in your own life, and what flavor(s) do you prefer?

It's strange, but I'm not actually that passionate about ice cream, or Oreos. I mean, I like them (WHO WOULDN'T?), but I can live without them, too. Favorite flavors: coffee, vanilla, mint chocolate chip, gianduia (a hazelnut-chocolate gelato that's death) and, oddly, a coconut gelato I had in Paris that I mistakenly ordered thinking that "nois de coco" meant "chocolate nut," not "coco-nut." Surprise! But it was great.

I am passionate about food generally, which you've surmised from my other writings. I enjoy eating only slightly less than I enjoy cooking (because cooking is both cooking + the promise of eating, so it's the best of everything). And I love to write about food, especially when it's so helpful to the story!

In my second read of Oreos, I realized that, like Dairy Queen, this book deals with questions of communication and lack thereof – what people say or don’t say, and how to talk about difficult things. And of course it was funny (and gratifying) for D.J. to be giving advice and being a role model on these matters. Were these conscious decisions, or did they grow organically in the writing?

These were not conscious decisions at all. As I said, much (possibly everything) about Oreos evolved of my desire to write a book about a girl visiting Rome -- specifically visiting San Paolo fuori le Mura and observing pilgrims, and then visiting Santa Maria del Popolo and seeing the Caravaggio. I wanted her to be with an adult who falls apart in front of the Caravaggio so that the girl has to take responsibility. And learning how to talk about difficult things -- how to talk, period -- isn't that what growing up is all about?

The fact that it's D.J. giving advice on communication skills is the cherry on the sundae.

Voilà, more ice cream!
Do you have other projects in the works that you’d like to tell us about?

Last November I returned to Rome (another hardship, I know) with my husband to fact-check Oreos. While visiting our 5th church, I happened to be reading my favorite guidebook that mentioned that walking the 7 churches earned one an indulgence. "Wait a minute," I thought; "If you're supposed to WALK the 7 churches, shouldn't there be, you know, a ROUTE?" So I sniffed and sniffed around the internet, and then when we got home I sniffed around historic guidebooks and church histories, and I couldn't find one. There is no official route! So now I'm writing -- attempting to write -- an adult non-fiction book about the 7 churches and what the route might be. It's quite ambitious. If I think too much about it, I hyperventilate.

And now, for our regular "3 for 3" book questions:

1. What were your 3 favorite books from childhood/teen years?

Such a difficult question! (I just asked my daughter her 3 favorite, and she wailed, "There are so many!") But I'll try:
- The Animal Family by Randall Jarrell. The prose is so simple and so beautiful.
- Watership Down by Richard Adams. Books don't need to be about "important" subjects; they only need to be brilliant.
- Daddy Long-Legs by Jean Webster. The book was published in 1912, but it could have been published yesterday. Totally adorable.

2. What are 3 books that you've read recently that surprised you?

- Heat by Bill Buford. I managed to finish the book without eating everything in our kitchen. I only ate half.
- How to Catch a Bogle by Catherine Jinks. She weaves a history lesson into extraordinary narrative. Amazing.
- No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson. I thought it was going to be a typical biography, and it was anything but.

3. What are 3 books that influence/d your work?

- Bloody Jack by L.A. Meyer. The voice. The voice. The voice.
- Rome in the Nineteenth Century by Charlotte Eaton. The real Lillian Hesselgrave; she wraps her insults in gilt-covered ribbon.
- Several groupie autobiographies that I won't list by name because they're rated R, but they really helped me understand the 1960s and where Z was coming from.

Thank you for joining us, Catherine!

You're welcome! This was a huge treat!

Catherine Gilbert Murdock lives outside Philadelphia with her husband and two children. She is the author of the Dairy Queen trilogy, as well as Princess Ben and Wisdom's Kiss. Unlike Sarah, Catherine loves poached eggs on pizza -- especially when eating pizza in Rome. Although she likes eating almost anything in Rome …

Thanks for reading!!! If you're local to the area, please let the bookstore know if you would like to place a special order for Heaven is Paved with Oreos, due out September 3. You can email orders to orders [at] bigbluemarblebooks [dot] com, call (215) 844-1870, or come see us at 551 Carpenter Lane, in the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia.
On August 27th, come check out Cordelia's interview with Caroline Carlson, author of the forthcoming Magic Marks the Spot, first in the series The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates.
Categories: Bookstore Blogs

Janet's Five New Arrivals for Toddlers and Beyond

Sat, 2013-08-10 01:09
Where Do We Go When We Disappear? by Isabel Minhos Martins (Tate Publishing, $14.95)
Where do socks go? Where do puddles go? "Nothing is too empty a place to go. And besides, if we all go there, it will cease to be nothing in no time. (We can't do that to it.)" Can we?

Alphablocks by Christopher Franceschelli (Abrams, $16.95)
Presented in this block size book is a large cut out of each letter followed by an engaging illustration.

Journey by Aaron Becker (Candlewick Press, $15.99)
With her red crayon, a young girl creates a journey to a magical world and returns home with the help of a mythical bird.

Global Baby GIRLS by Global Fund for Children (Charlesbridge, $6.95)
Proceeds from this board book of baby girls' faces support organizations around the world which provide "opportunities for girls to grow, thrive and be strong".

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck (book 8!) by Jeff Kinney (Abrams, $13.95)
Coming in November...Preorder your copy THIS Saturday, August 10 (from 10-1), when the Wimpy Kid Book 8 Mobile comes to your own Big Blue Marble Bookstore! Click here for the Facebook event page.
Categories: Bookstore Blogs

Quote: David Levithan (and Rachel Cohn)

Mon, 2013-08-05 09:00
"We believe in the wrong things, I wrote, using the same pen Boomer had used on his arm. That's what frustrates me the most. Not the lack of belief, but the belief in the wrong things. You want meaning? Well, the meanings are out there. we're just so damn good at reading them wrong.

"I wanted to stop there. But I went on.

"It's not going to be explained to you in a prayer. And I'm not going to be able to explain it to you. Not just because I'm as ignorant and hopeful and selectively blind as the next guy, but because I don't think meaning is something that can be explained. You have to understand it on your own. It's like when you're learning to read. First, you learn the letters. Then, once you know what sounds the letters make, you use them to sound out words. You know that c-a-t leads to cat and d-o-g leads to dog. But then you have to make that extra leap, to understand that the word, the sound, the "cat" is connected to an actual cat, and that "dog" is connected to an actual dog. It's that leap, that understanding, that leads to meaning. And a lot of the time in life, we're still just sounding things out. We know the sentences and how to say them. We know the ideas and how to present them. We know the prayers and which words to say in what order. But that's only spelling.

"I don't mean this to sound hopeless. Because in the same way that a kid can realize what "cat" means, I think we can find the truths that live behind our words. I wish I could remember the moment when I was a kid and I discovered that the letters linked into words, and that the words linked to real things. What a revelation that must have been. We don't have the words for it, since we hadn't yet learned the words. It must have been astonishing, to be given the key to the kingdom and see it turn in our hands so easily."

- Dash & Lily's Book of Dares, by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

This quote actually conflates learning to read with learning to talk, which makes the analogy a little inaccurate. While currently in the midst of the latter and heading for the former with my own child, however, I find the magic moment here still takes my breath away.
Categories: Bookstore Blogs

Five Books Mariga Liked So Far This Summer

Tue, 2013-07-30 10:00
Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis (Candlewick Press, $14.99)

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (William Morrow, $25.99)

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill (Vintage, $14.00)

Exclamation Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (Scholastic Press, $17.99)

Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell (Alfred A. Knopf, $24.95)

Mariga Temple-West, July 2013
Categories: Bookstore Blogs

Janet's Five Suggestions for Hot, Humid Summer Days When Your Brain Turns to Mush and Movement Slows to a Meander

Sun, 2013-07-28 11:22
Watch a cat swat at various bugs, watch your garden grow (including the wonderful shapes and sizes of mushrooms and other forms of mold), come to Greene and Carpenter and watch the number of pregnant woman go by...or come and browse in the luxurious air conditioning at 551.

How to be a Cat by Nikki McClure (Abrams Appleseed, $16.95)
Inspired by Bud, an old and blind cat that came with a house the author purchased in 2001, our newest McClure addition appeals to the simple pleasures of cat gazing. McClure adds a kitten to her pages which increases the allure.

Revolutionary Yardscape: Ideas For Repurposing Local Materials To Create Containers, Pathways, Lighting and More by Matthew Levesque (Timber Press, $22.95)
Take a look at this book. It makes me want to take a week off to forage and build.

Beautiful No Mow Yards by Evelyn Y. Hadden (Timber Press, $24.95)
Finally an answer to living in Mt. Airy with sloped yards filled with roots or shade or rocks that we try every year to beautify by mowing, trimming, and pleading.

"Where Did I Come From?" by Peter Mayle (Kensington, $9.95)
So if your child notices and has questions about the new wave of pregnant women and newborns, try answering with this illustrated, no nonsense approach, or the following:

What Makes a Baby by Cory Silverberg (Seven Story Press, $16.95)
Any cover illustrated with a smiling yellow sperm and a blue smiling egg deserves attention.

Janet Elfant, July 2013
Categories: Bookstore Blogs

Author Interview: Jess Leader

Tue, 2013-07-16 09:00
 by Cordelia Jensen

Hi there, Jess! Delighted to have you here with us today. There are so many things I love about your Middle Grade book, Nice and Mean. Before we gt started, here's a quick plot synopsis:
Marina is mean. Sachi is nice. Marina is Barney's. Sachi is Burlington Coat Factory. It's bad enough that they have to coexist in video class—but now they're being forced to work together on the big semester project. Marina's goal? Expose her wanna-be BFF as a fashion wanna-be to the entire middle school. Sachi's goal? Prove that she's not just another honor-roll Indian student and get people talking. Work together in harmony? Yeah, that would be no. How can Sachi film something meaningful, and Marina, something fabulous, if they're yoked to each other?
One of the many things I love about your book is how it directly addresses power dynamics in female social structures in an authentic way. While reading the book, I had many flashbacks to my own middle school experience and many of the characters also bring to mind kids I worked with professionally. What first moved you to write this story? Was it a story that was brewing in your mind for a long time or did it come to you all at once?
Oh yes, the characters in this story were with me for a while before I wrote it. It actually grew out of another, justifiably shelved novel that focused on—I doubt you’ll guess—Sachi’s new friend Lainey, who is now relegated to the sidelines. (Sorry, Lainey. Hopefully, readers like you anyway.) After I finished that story, I knew I wanted to continue with Lainey’s world, and I thought I might focus on Marina. Why was she so mean? I wasn’t sure that was enough for a whole novel, but I was also intrigued by the character of Sachi, who had been inspired by an Indian-American student I’d met while student-teaching. The real-life girl was competent, charming, and admired by all, but I wondered if her classmates really knew her, and I wanted to explore that side of her further. Then I hit on the idea of having Sachi and Marina being forced to work together on something they both cared about a lot—a video that could possibly change how people saw them—and voila, Nice and Mean. 
Yes, such a good idea to have them work together on a project. Another thing I really love about the book is that these two very different girls collaborate on a creative endeavor. As a writer, I do feel like I can make a creative connection with someone who is also a writer, even if we don’t have much else in common. Did you know that the Video class was going to be so central to the book from the beginning?
Definitely. There was no way that alpha-girl Marina would have much to do with rule-abiding, gold-star Sachi unless they had a project yoking them together. When I hit on the idea of them being assigned as partners in a video class they have a lot invested in, I knew I had the engine for my story.
A third thing I just love about this book is Marina’s voice. I just really admire that you could write such an initially unlikeable character in an honest way that somehow makes her sympathetic without completely changing her or losing her essence. What was it like to write her voice? I imagine more difficult than writing Sachi’s, or no?
Oh, it was way easier to write in Marina’s voice! Think of it: she’s almost unabashedly obnoxious! Who doesn’t want to let all those zingers fly every once in a while? “Mascara boogers!” “Don’t forget to order a life!” Not only was it easy to come up with those lines; it was fun. Thank you for saying that she’s likable, though. I struggled with that in the early stages, until one of my grad school advisors tasked me with making her more sympathetic. It was a big revelation to me that we need to make our characters vulnerable in some way in order to make the reader like them (thank goodness I went to grad school!) Marina’s vulnerabilities, sadnesses and shortcomings had been clear to me as the writer, but I needed to get those on the page for the reader. I’m glad that it worked for you. 
It definitely did. I did care a lot about both girls and, actually, Elizabeth stuck with me a lot after I read the book. In a way, to me, Elizabeth is the bravest character in the book and she is the one who Marina cares the most about. Have you ever thought about writing Elizabeth’s story?
I never thought of her as being the bravest! She certainly is brave in calling Marina on her drama. No one close to her does that. As for writing a story that focuses on Elizabeth—I consider Elizabeth to be the double of Sachi, just as Sachi’s prickly friend Nicole is a sort of double of Marina (don’t you often see nice people with prickly friends and outright mean people with the nicest girls in the class? It has baffled me for decades.) Anyway, since I feel like I have already explored the plight of the pleaser in Sachi’s chapters, I never considered writing from Elizabeth’s point of view. I’d love to hear if you have anything in mind, though. You could find yourself with a very big Special Thanks…
Ha, okay. I will keep that in mind. Maybe it could be a few years later and these girls could be in high school, and . . . Okay, back to the interview: Have you had any reader response to this story that has surprised you? 
I’m always surprised when people speculate which character I am more like, Marina or Sachi. They almost always guess wrong. (I’ll never tell!) 
Are you working on any projects now?
Mais oui. Let’s see what I’ll say about it…it’s a mystery in which I use the fact that Prince Charles has hired someone exclusively to draw his bathwater. It’s not a book about bathing, or Prince Charles, but there may be another, fictional prince. 
Awesome!And now, our “3 for 3” book questions:
1.      What were your 3 favorite books from childhood/teen years?I suffered a major teenage book drought, but childhood favorites included: Hail, Hail, Camp Timberwood by Ellen Conford (I was obsessed with going to camp)And This is Laura, also by Ellen Conford (Laura was psychic!!)No Flying in the House, by Betty Brock (which I must tell you that Amazon ridiculously characterizes as speculative fiction. It’s about an orphan who can fly, guys.)
2.      What are 3 books you’ve read recently that surprised you?The Giant’s House, by Elizabeth McCracken (she narrates like the inside of my head! Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World's Most Dangerous Weapon (Newbery Honor Book) by Steve Sheinkin (so much historical info made page-turningly compelling!)A Visitor for Bear and its series by Bonnie Becker, illustrated by Kady McDonald Denton (The characters are so captivating! The lines are exquisite! I am surprised by the depth of my love for a picture book.) (Totally. I love this book and hand sell it all the time at the bookstore.)
3.      What are 3 books that influence/d your writing?The Secret History, by Donna Tartt (moody, detail-rich, amoral)The Boy Book, by E. Lockhart (true, succinct, funny and surprising)J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books. (Yes, I know they’re blockbusters, but in the midst of these elaborate plots, Ron will say something gloomy or Hermione will lash the others with Hogwarts, a History, and I’ll just burst out laughing, then cry when something sad happens. Plus, Rowling never stops adding gems to her wizarding world, especially with food. Not many books can claim such richness.)
Thanks so much, Jess! 
Thank you! I hope to visit you at The Blue Marble someday and buy all these great books you’ve been highlighting!!__
Jessica Leader is an author and teacher living in Washington, DC. Nice and Mean is her first novel. It won a spot on the American Booksellers' Association's Kids' IndieNext List, which called it "Well-written, insightful, and fun to read." It was also a CYBILs nominee and an SCBWI Crystal Kite finalist for the midsouth. It is all made up, except for the part about the apron. For more details, including this apron business, you can visit Jessica online at or on Facebook at
Thanks for reading!!! If you're local to the area, please let the bookstore know if you would like to place a special order for NICE AND MEAN. You can email orders to orders [at] bigbluemarblebooks [dot] com, call (215) 844-1870, or come see us in the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia at 551 Carpenter Lane.  On August 13th, come check out Jen's interview with Catherine Gilbert Murdock, author of the Dairy Queen series, including the forthcoming Heaven is Paved with Oreos.
Categories: Bookstore Blogs

Cordelia's Five "You Should Read These" Recently Published Middle Grade & Young Adult Books

Sun, 2013-06-30 09:00
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (St. Martins Griffin, $18.99)
Read this critically-acclaimed, intense love story about an unlikely pair of misfit teens in the 1980s who find each other on the school bus.

The Whole Stupid Way We Are by N. Griffin (Atheneum, $16.99)
Read this heartwrenching, beautifully-written story of a life-altering friendship in one intensely cold winter. (Look for our author interview with N. Griffin on the bookstore blog.)

The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour (Speak, $8.99)
Read this fun, energetic, coming-of-age road trip story about a less-than-talented girl band and their artistically talented boy friend, Colby.

Parched by Melanie Crowder (Harcourt, $15.99)
Read this lyrical, sparse book about a girl, boy and dog all struggling to survive in a land without water. (Look for our author interview with Melanie Crowder on the bookstore blog.)

Rogue by Lyn Miller-Lachmann (Nancy Paulson Books, $16.99)
Read this sensitive portrayal of a girl with undiagnosed Asperger's Syndrome who imagines herself as a superhero, and befriends a boy who has secrets of his own. (Look for our recent author interview with Lyn Miller-Lachmann on the bookstore blog.)

Cordelia Jensen, June 2013
Categories: Bookstore Blogs

Author Interview: Amy Ignatow

Tue, 2013-06-25 09:00
by Jennifer Sheffield

Hi, Amy! Thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview. I've loved following the adventures of Lydia and Julie through the five books currently making up the Popularity Papers, and I'm looking forward to the sixth!

What prompted you to write about kids in this age group? What do you learn from them as they change and grow?

Before writing for middle grade I was writing a weekly web comic for adults called "Ig City." The comic got the attention of my literary agent who suggested that middle grade might be a good fit for my work. I had never before considered it but found myself really drawn to writing for kids and the ideas began to flow. Writing Lydia and Julie has made me think back on when I was their age and I feel incredibly grateful that I was lucky enough to have made wonderful friends. True friendship is incredibly important at any age but good friends are especially vital when you begin to take those first wobbly baby steps towards independence.

I can tell you've put in lots of time researching these books, particularly The Rocky Road Trip, with all its detail and Papa Dad's "fun facts". What specific research was required for each book? What parts have you liked or disliked?

Thank you for noticing! My husband is a research junkie, and in 2010 we drove from Philly to Denver and back, stopping in different cities to do book events and visit old friends (see the archives of my blog if you want to hear about what happened to us in St. Louis...) Mark had a ball preparing for the trip and printed out Fun Facts for every state that we visited, and that along with other trips that we've taken really inspired The Rocky Road Trip. But I also love learning about Norwegian folklore and Eskrima and London and nearly anything and everything. My brain is crammed with esoteric trivia for future stories (and for my own amusement).

I love Julie's and Lydia's families (and the way they seem to be family to each other), and I want to offer my personal thanks for Julie's two dads. Daddy and Papa Dad are important characters in all of the books, and I really appreciate the fact that they're accepted as given and unremarkable by most of Julie's peers and by most of her extended family. How did you decide to include them in the books, and what kinds of responses do you get from readers? Did you find any resistance during the publishing process?

For the story to work I needed Julie to be the sort of kid who feels no pressing need to venture beyond the comfort of her family and her best friend, so it made sense for Julie to be the adopted only child of two gay men. As anyone who has been through the process knows, it's difficult and expensive to adopt. It's even more difficult for a gay couple to adopt, so you've got these two amazing dads who have worked very hard and moved to the burbs to give their kid a great life. Julie is the center of their world and they're incredibly protective of her. Conversely, Lydia and her sister Melody have been raised by a single working mom (their father isn't introduced until the fourth book when [MINI SPOILER!] it's discovered that he's not very kind). With a gothy teenage sister who attracts all the attention by simply being her pierced self, Lydia has to work to get noticed, and drags Julie into her ambitions. This sets them on their quest to understand "popularity."

Could I have achieved these distinct personalities with more "traditional" families? Maybe. But even before I worked out all the reasons why, having a gay couple and a single mom just made sense for the story. I'm happy to say that Amulet never once balked at my decision to give Julie two fathers, and most readers are more interested in Lydia's hair color than they are in Julie's dads. I get the occasional basic question, Why does Julie have two fathers? and the rare unpleasant email, HOW AM I SUPPOSED TO EXPLAIN THIS TO MY INNOCENT CHILD? but on the whole most people don't think it's that big a deal. Gay couples are moving to the suburbs and having children and barbeques and yard sales and holiday parties and trouble finding a good gutter repair service like everyone else.

The bio in the fifth book mentions you spent some time as a back-up singer in a rock band. How long were you in the band? How old were you then? How did this experience shape Lydia and Julie's Awesomely Awful band? What was the age range of your audiences?

I was in two bands in my twenties. One was not so much of a band as a goofy acapella act, and we used to do open mic nights and also open for other bands. Despite our unwillingness to learn how to play instruments or read music we were actually quite good and were once invited to be guests on a Top 40 morning show. For a few years we also sang backup for a wonderful band called Todd Young & His Rock Band, but slowly drifted away when things like marriage and kids happened. Now Todd's kids hang out with mine. Maybe one day they'll start a band?

But the Macrame Owls in The Awesomely Awful Melodies are more akin to the garage bands I used to see when I was in high school--some cute boys abusing their guitars and our eardrums.

I like Julie and Lydia's friend Jen, whom I'm drawn to partly because of her quiet randomness and partly because of her name. How do you choose your characters' names?

I'm quite lazy about choosing names. Usually, if a name doesn't magically come to me I'll scroll through my friends on Facebook for inspiration. But I've learned that I have to be careful with that--the character of Jonathan Cravens is named after a couple of people who are very dear to me. He was kind of a benign presence in the second book but by the end of the third book he turned into a bit of a weenie, and I had some apologizing to do.

I'm so glad that you like the Jen character. She represents those lovely weirdos who even at a young age genuinely don't give a hoot about the whole popularity game. We could all be a little more like Jen.

Because Julie is such an excellent artist, I generally assume that her pictures are (with some obvious exceptions) reasonably accurate. How does her drawing style differ from yours? Are there ways in which you feel she depicts herself differently from the way she depicts others?

I think that Julie is secretly self-conscious about the size of her nose. There's no way it's actually that large. As for the style, if I were drawing it as me instead of as an 11-year-old I'd never use Crayola markers and pencils to color them in. It's a lot more work than just using ink or a computer. I need a helper monkey just to sharpen pencils.

Please tell us about your creative process. Do you work on the writing and the drawing together as you go, or sequentially? Does the story creation happen more in one mode than the other? How do you plan the pages and presentation?

First, I write a very detailed outline. My editor reads it and either gives me notes or a go-ahead. Then I write a script describing the text and the illustrations for the first twenty or so pages and when I'm done I start sketching out each page. Then I ink, then I color, then I write more, and sketch, and ink, and color, and the book begins to form. Once I'm done with the writing and the sketching and the inking and the coloring I scan everything, use the computer to fix mistakes, and then my editor gets a hold of it. Then revisions, and more revisions, and copy-edits, and discussions about the cover, and the title page, and polishing everything until it meets with everyone's approval.

And now for our "3 for 3" book questions:

1. What were your 3 favorite books from childhood/teen years?

The Brothers Lionheart, by Astrid Lindgren, Ronia the Robber's Daughter, also by Astrid Lindgren, and The Secret History by Donna Tartt (which is definitely NOT a kid's book, but I was obsessed with it when I was a teenager) (still am, truth be told, with all three books)

2. What are 3 books that you've read recently that surprised you?

Savvy, by Ingrid Law, is SO SO GOOD. Also Before You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead. But in all honesty, most of what I read nowadays is stuff like But Not the Hippopotamus by Sandra Boynton (which I love).

3. What are 3 books that influence/d your work?

This is sort of a tricky question because I tend to pick up influences like a great big sponge. But if pressed I'd say Gnomes, by Wil Huygen and Rien Poortvliet (talk about your research journal), Welcome to the Monkey House, by Kurt Vonnegut, and Miss Piggy's Guide to Life.

Thank you for joining us!

Amy Ignatow is the author and illustrator of The Popularity Papers series. She is a graduate of Moore College of Art and Design and can fold many origami cranes. Amy lives in Philadelphia with her husband, Mark, their daughter, Anya, and their cat, Mathilda, who is an unrepentant gnawer of colored pencils.

Look for The Popularity Papers book 6: Love and Other Fiascos, coming out this October!

On July 16th, come check out Cordelia's upcoming interview with Jessica Leader, author of Nice and Mean.
Categories: Bookstore Blogs

Jen and Nif’s Five Books for Potty-Training

Thu, 2013-06-20 09:00
Toddler Micah's favorite thing besides trucks, animal noises, rhymes, and colorful pictures? Why, discussions of bodily functions, of course! Here are great books for anyone thinking about ever someday maybe possibly potty-training their toddler.

These first three kept Micah “on the pot” when we first introduced it, whether or not anything was happening:

Potty by Leslie Patricelli (Random House, $6.99)
The baby in the book is trying to figure out WHERE to go. (Micah loves the examination of what kitty and doggy do, since this harkens back to the memorable occasion when our neighbor's big Doberman pooped right in his vicinity.) Eventual success on the potty raises the glad cry, "Hooray! Undies!" -- a chant appropriate for many happy occasions.

Everyone Poops by Taro Gomi (Kane Miller, $13.99)
This examination of how and where various creatures poop is factual and funny without being overly cutesy. Pure genius if you aren't squeamish about the subject matter. Micah is endlessly fascinated.

Once Upon a Potty by Alona Frankel (Firefly, $7.95)
Comes in boy and girl versions. We edit our read to use the vocabulary our household uses. Micah reads it aloud to himself, "Hat? No. Milk bowl meow? No. Bird bath? No. Flower? No," and thinks this is hilarious (that's the bit where the kid tries to figure out what the potty is). We really like how it invokes the patience needed: "And sat and sat and sat and sat..." and that the inevitable misses are dealt with matter-of-factly.

And then:

Diaper-Free Before Three by Jill M. Lekovic (Three Rivers Press, $13.95)
Up until month 27, use of the potty was occasional and only rarely productive. Then Nif read this book, and suddenly we were off on a roller coaster ride of intensive potty training, with training pants and everything. And over the course of a month we’ve seen vast differences, both in Micah’s use of the potty itself and in his ability to control his bladder, even/particularly when sleeping!

Little Mouse Gets Ready by Jeff Smith (Random House, $4.99)
Not directly related to potty use but instrumental in helping to understand what to do afterward. Little Mouse hurries to get ready to go play and explains in detail how to put on each article of clothing... even pointing out that the tag goes in the back! Micah loves it when we coax him to get dressed using lines from the book, and he’s learning to do more and more of the dressing by himself!

The Jennifers Sheffield and Woodfin, June 2013
Categories: Bookstore Blogs

Author Interview: Lyn Miller-Lachmann

Tue, 2013-06-11 09:00
by Cordelia Jensen

Hi, Lyn! So happy to have you here with us today. I just LOVED reading your new book, Rogue. I could not put it down. Before we get started, here is a quick plot synopsis:
Kiara has a difficult time making -- and keeping -- friends. She has Asperger's syndrome, so relating to other people doesn't come naturally. Most of the time, she relies on Mr. Internet -- her go-to when the world doesn't make sense, which is often -- and her imagination, where she daydreams that she's Rogue, one of the mutant superheroes of the X-Men. In the comics, Rogue hurts anyone she touches, but eventually learns to control her special power. Kiara hasn't discovered her own special power yet, but when Chad moves in across the street, she hopes that, for once, she'll be able to make friendship stick. She's even willing to keep Chad's horrible secret, if that's what it takes. But being a true friend is complicated, and it might be just the thing that leads her to her special power.
Kiara is such a memorable, likeable and empathetic character even though she makes plenty of mistakes during the course of the book. Did her character come to you before the plot?
Kiara’s character came to me long before the plot did. Of all the characters I’ve ever written, she is by far the most autobiographical, but until I was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, now considered a high-functioning form of autism, I avoided writing characters of this kind. I didn’t want to remember the difficulties I experienced when I was younger, and to a great extent I had internalized the hostility and rejection I experienced from my peers. My diagnosis answered a lot of questions I’d had about why I never seemed to fit in and why I regularly became the target of bullies. After I got over the concern that someone like me, who had trouble understanding social situations and nonverbal cues, had no business writing fiction, I decided that I had to tell my side of the story.
Once I chose to write from the perspective of a young teenager on the autism spectrum who is trying to figure out the world and to find her place within it, I took incidents that happened to me at that age and turned them into a story. Rogue begins with such an incident. In seventh grade, I decided that if I wanted to be popular, I should sit at the table where the popular girls sat—that was all I needed to do. But the moment I set my tray down, one of the popular girls pushed my tray to the floor. Unlike Kiara, I didn’t then smash the tray into the girl’s face; I just stood in the middle of the cafeteria and cried while everyone else laughed at me. Kiara’s action was a kind of wish fulfillment for me, but the consequence is that she gets suspended from school for the rest of the year and is thus further isolated from her peers and farther away from her goal of having a friend.
The other major plot element that is based on my experience is Kiara’s initial naïve participation in, and ultimately her silence with respect to, Chad’s family business. When I first got my driver’s license, I unwittingly became a go-between between some popular kids at my school and a local drug dealer. I thought the popular kids had finally accepted me and I would be part of their crowd, but to my dismay found out they were only using me. I stopped driving them around, and they stopped being nice to me, but I still didn’t tell anyone about the drugs. I didn’t want to be a snitch and risk getting beaten up or worse. And my moral choice—do I do things that I know are wrong just so I can have friends?—became Kiara’s moral choice in the novel.
Kiara loves to research using Mr. Internet. How much research did you have to do for the book? For example, did you know anything about BMX biking or the X-Men before you started writing?
I knew about the X-Men, which came into being in the 1960s. I identified with them as mutants who didn’t fit into society but nonetheless had special powers that could save society. I was particularly interested in Professor Charles Xavier—Professor X—who uses a wheelchair and who is able to contribute with his mind, his leadership ability, and his dedication to the young misunderstood mutants (of whom I believed I was one). In the early days, there were few female X-Men, and I couldn’t really relate to them, so I moved on to other obsessions. I did know about the new characters that had been added to the X-Men, including Rogue, so when I started writing the novel, I turned to the Internet to learn more about this character who couldn’t touch or be touched, and about her close but often rocky relationship with Gambit, who comes from the same region that she does.
My inspiration to include BMX biking came from having watched a DVD, Wipeout, which I received as a review copy from the National Film Board of Canada several years ago. It’s a documentary about teens who film spectacular ski, bike, and skateboard wipeouts and the injuries that often result. While I used the Internet to research the stunts—I didn’t watch any wipeout videos because I didn’t want to encourage those young people to risk their lives for two and a half minutes of fame—I mainly based my knowledge of the culture presented in the Canadian documentary and on information from various seventh grade students over the years who built bike jumps and skateboard ramps and performed stunts. The suburb where I used to live also had a mountain bike trail that I rode regularly, and the trail surrounded some BMX jumps. Occasionally I’d see kids there and talk to them.
Without giving the ending away, did you know the book would end this way from the beginning or is that something you figured out later after drafting other endings?
I had a general idea of how the book would end—at least for Kiara—but the actual ending underwent numerous changes, mostly in the process of revision for my editor at Penguin, Nancy Paulsen. When she asked me to revise my original YA manuscript for an older middle grade readership, I had to simplify the ending and remove a plot thread that I liked but that may well have gone over the heads of middle grade readers.
Was the book always written in first person? Did you play around with third?
In the past, I have switched one novel from first person to third (my adult novel, Dirt Cheap) and another from third person to alternating point of view first person (my YA novel, Gringolandia). This time, however, I knew right away I wanted to tell the story in first person. The voice is very close to my own voice as a person on the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum, and I wanted the voice to be as honest and unfiltered as possible.
Chad has a huge role in the book. Did you do any free writing to get to know his character better? You did a remarkable job of making him empathetic even though he can, at times, be so mean to Kiara.
I didn’t do any free writing for Chad, though about ten years ago I wrote a short story from the point of view of Antonio, the mountain bike-riding friend of Kiara’s older brother who becomes her protector. Chad is based in part on a neighbor boy I sometimes hung out with, and sometimes fought with, when I was around Kiara’s age, and in part on a boy I tutored in an after-school program, whose younger brother was a friend of my son’s. Both of those boys were widely seen as “bad” boys, but I saw things that were good in both of them.
Can you tell us a little about your current writing projects?
I wrote most of Rogue in my first year as a MFA student in the Writing for Children & Young Adults program at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and in my second year I wrote about two-thirds of a YA novel for older readers, titled ANTS GO MARCHING, which became my creative thesis. ANTS GO MARCHING is about an academically gifted boy who is the only person from his hardscrabble mobile home park in the elite accelerated honors program at his suburban school. When a trio of well-to-do bullies attacks him following a verbal provocation, he sustains a severe concussion that leads to him flunking out of the program. The novel portrays his struggle to find a new place for himself, and to avoid the one he seems fated to occupy because of the circumstances of his birth. It’s a big book, one that my agent calls “brilliant but so dark.” Still, I think we need to face the darkness if we’re serious about ending it and bringing hope to young people in difficult situations.
I finished the manuscript of ANTS GO MARCHING when I was in Portugal last fall. After a false start with a middle grade manuscript that suffered from a passive protagonist, I’m now writing another middle grade novel inspired by two remarkable young people I met in Lisbon and a 65-year-old grandfather who was arrested for throwing rocks at police during an anti-austerity demonstration. I started the project, titled KRILL, as a short story for my Portuguese class this past semester, but my professor strongly suggested I continue writing it in English. I’ve sent a photo the first page of the story, along with her corrections, to give you an idea why.
And now for our "3 for 3" book questions:
1. What were your 3 favorite books from childhood/teen years?
Charlotte’s Web, by E. B WhiteThe Outsiders, by S. E. HintonThe Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
2. What are 3 books you've read recently that surprised you?
The Stamp Collector, by Jennifer LanthierThe Vine Basket, by Josanne La ValleyEach Kindness, by Jacqueline WoodsonAll of these surprised me because they’re books for younger readers (younger than YA) that don’t have happy endings.
3. What are 3 books that influence/d your writing?
A Step from Heaven, by An NaScars, by Cheryl RainfieldMarcelo in the Real World, by Francisco X. StorkThese were the three novels that inspired me to reexamine the struggles I had growing up and to create my own novel from them.
Thank you so much for sharing your process with us. And for writing such a brave and honest book.
Lyn Miller-Lachmann is the former editor-in-chief of MultiCultural Review and the author of the young adult novel Gringolandia (Curbstone Press/ Northwestern University Press, 2009), a 2010 ALA Best Book for Young Adults and an Américas Award Honor Book. Her new novel, Rogue (Penguin /Nancy Paulsen Books, May 2013), a Junior Library Guild selection, portrays an eighth grader with undiagnosed Asperger’s syndrome and an X-Men obsession whose desire to befriend another outcast after being excluded from school leads her to some dangerous choices. For more information, visit Lyn’s website,

Thanks for reading!!! If you're local to the area, please let the bookstore know if you would like to place a special order for ROGUE. You can email orders to orders [at] bigbluemarblebooks [dot] com, call (215) 844-1870, or come see us in the Mt. Airy neighborhood of Philadelphia at 551 Carpenter Lane. 

Look for Jen's upcoming interview of Amy Ignatow, coming June 25th! 
Categories: Bookstore Blogs

Five Books Marta Can't Wait to Read Now That The Semester Is Over!

Fri, 2013-05-31 10:00
I'm the new Events Coordinator here at Big Blue Marble, but I'm also a graduate student, working on an MFA in Creative Writing. I just finished my first semester during which, along with writing my own fiction, I read a bunch of great literature .... that someone else assigned to me. Now that the semester is over and I have a tiny bit of free time, I can't wait to read these books ... just because they look great!

Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World by Matthew Goodman (Ballantine Books, $28.00)
I mostly read fiction, but I absolutely loved Goodman's previous book, The Sun and the Moon: The Remarkable True Account of Hoaxers, Showman, Dueling Journalists, and Lunar Man-Bats in Nineteenth Century New York. Goodman has a remarkable and rare talent for both meticulous research -- as he told us when he read here recently, every single detail is true! -- and also fine, novelistic story-telling. Eighty Days promises to be a true story about a remarkable and daring young female journalist that reads like fiction. What could be bad? It's also getting fabulous reviews and is a New York Times National Best Seller.

Life After Life by Jill McCorkle (Algonquin Books, $24.95)
Not to be confused with the other Life After Life by Kate Atkins, which also looks terrific, this novel is the story of a group of residents, staff and neighbors of a retirement center whose relationships and lives "illuminate the possibilities of second chances, hope and rediscovering life right up to the very end" (from the flap copy). As a middle-aged woman launching into a new adventure as a fiction writer, I love stories like this!

The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud (Knopf, $25.95)
This just came in and is on the Indie Bestsellers List. From the flap copy: "Told with urgency, intimacy and piercing emotion, this brilliant novel of passion and artistic fulfillment explores the intensity, thrill -- and the devastating cost -- of embracing an authentic life." OK, so maybe I would prefer to skip the "devastating cost," but the rest sounds right up my alley!

Benediction by Kent Haruf (Knopf, $25.95)
I've lived in Philadelphia for over twenty years, but I'm from a small Midwestern town, and I often write about small towns, people of faith, and the intimate lives of ordinary folks. This novel is set in the West, not the Midwest, but the rest of it rings familiar to me. I also loved Haruf's other novels, Plainsong and Eventide.

Are You my Mother? A Comic Drama by Alison Bechdel (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $15.95)
My wife Julie and I often joke that we've become such middle-aged moms that any minute now we're going to have our lesbian cards revoked! The fact that I have never once read anything by Alison Bechdel is just further evidence that the time is nigh. But our ten-year-old son Micah (yes, another staff child named Micah!) has lately introduced me to the wonders of graphic novels, and I figure this is a terrific place to start on my own grown-up journey into the genre.

Marta Rose, June 2013
Categories: Bookstore Blogs

Author Interview: Melanie Crowder

Tue, 2013-05-28 09:00
by Cordelia Jensen

Hi Melanie! We are honored to feature you here and to be a part of your blog tour. 

Hi Cordelia! Thanks for having me at the Big Blue Marble blog!
Can you tell us a little bit about your debut novel PARCHED?
Sure! PARCHED is a middle grade novel about a boy (Musa), a girl (Sarel) and her dog (Nandi) struggling to survive in a dangerous and drought-scarred land.
PARCHED is told from 3 different points of view. For me, this worked very well as a way to create tension in your book.
Thank you!
As a reader, I so wanted these characters to tell their secrets to each other! Which characters voice came to you first? Which one was hardest to write? Easiest?
The first voice I heard was Sarel's, and hers was also the most difficult to write. She doesn’t say much; at the beginning of the story, she is crippled by grief and incapable of trusting anyone but Nandi. In my mind, Sarel’s story was wrought with tension, but I really struggled to bring her intense emotions to the page in a way that spoke to the reader while remaining true to the sparse quality of the prose.
Nandi’s world is immediate and stark; so her voice, naturally, is in present tense. I knew she was the only one wise enough and strong enough to describe the opening scene. Her chapters are sensory and visceral, and believe it or not, they were the easiest to write. Nothing but the absolute essentials could make it in.
I didn’t get to know Musa until several chapters into my first draft. I sensed that there was a boy, alone and hurt, waiting to be drawn into the story. But it took me awhile to discover who he was and how he had come to be in such a desperate place. Musa is so vulnerable, but he hasn’t quite lost that childlike openness and hope, so he provides the perfect counterpoint to Sarel’s stricken and shuttered state.
What is your writing process like? Do you write a whole draft and then revise or revise as you go? What about in the case of multiple narrators? Did you do a revision just for Sarel or Musa or Nandi or revise all at once?
Oh, I did so many different revisions in so many different ways! Yes, I did at least one revision where I focused exclusively on each character. But I did others to track emotions, or to trim the dialogue, I even did an entire revision to examine the passing of time as marked by changes in the weather, plant life, and the phases of the moon. Most often, however, I revised by adding exposition or emotion that the story needed, and then going over and over the passage to pare it down to the absolute essentials.
My writing process differs with different projects, but for PARCHED, I definitely revised as I went. So much of this story is about tone. The setting, the style of prose, the dialogue, the emotional accessibility—it all had to be sparse. It had to be, well, parched.
What kind of research did you do to create an authentic setting? Have you ever been to any place similar to the world of PARCHED?
I am flat-out amazed by how much research can go into a work of fiction. I spent hours upon hours combing through information on geology, flora and fauna, childhood trauma, etc. I have been to the desert, and I have lived through mild droughts, but I have never experienced anything like the setting of this story.
Can you tell us a little about your current projects?
After working for years on PARCHED, I needed time with a project that was more light-hearted. Right now I am working on another middle grade, a steampunky adventure. It is a terrific challenge and a lot of fun!
I know you are also an art teacher. Do your students influence you as you write? Do you think about them as your target audience as you write?
Without going into too much detail about my students’ private lives, let me just say that they absolutely inspire and influence me. I watch them experience hardships (things that would devastate most adults) with resilience and optimism and laughter. I don’t see them as my readers, but I use their strength as a model for my characters.
And now, for our regular "3 for 3" book questions:
1. What were your 3 favorite books from childhood/teen years? 
2. What are 3 books that you've read recently that surprised you? 
HOLES by Louis Sacchar (great mix of commercial appeal & literary chops)CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth Wein (but not for the reasons you might be thinking)TUESDAY by David Wiesner (Those frogs just make me laugh out loud!)
3. What are 3 books that influence/d your work? 
PICTURES OF HOLLIS WOODS by Patricia Reilly GiffHOME OF THE BRAVE by Katherine ApplegateTHE MAGICIAN’S ELEPHANT by Kate DiCamillo
Thanks so much for talking with us today, Melanie. And thanks for including us on your blog tour! We are so excited to be a part of promoting such a smart, lyrical book. 
Author of PARCHED (Harcourt Children's Books, 2013), Melanie Crowder holds an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Visit her online at
Melanie's novel PARCHED comes out on June 4.  If you would like to order your copy of PARCHED, you can do so though us and receive a hand drawn bookplate by Melanie Crowder herself! Just for PARCHED, we are also offering shipment! So, you may order PARCHED from any location within the U.S.A. Just give us a call at (215) 844-1470 and we can do a credit card transaction over the phone. For locals, as always, you may call, email us at or stop by the store to place an order.  
On June 11th, come check out Cordelia's interview with Lyn Miller-Lachmann, author of Gringolandia and the newly released Rogue.
Categories: Bookstore Blogs

Janet's Five Picks That Speak to the Obsessive in All of Us

Fri, 2013-05-24 10:00
The Art of Clean Up, Life Made Neat and Tidy by Ursus Wehrli (New Chronicle Books, $14.95)
This new arrival begs to sit on the coffee table of anyone who folds their underwear, makes a list of their lists, or arranges their closet according to color, or not. Ranging from crowded beach scenes to a bowl of fruit salad, Ursus Wehrli rearranges each scene in the tidiest manner possible. A book well worth the humorous glimpse into our own eccentricities.

The Naked Roommate by Harlem Cohen (Sourcebooks, $14.99) and its companion:
The Naked Roommate: For Parents Only by Harlem Cohen (Sourcebooks, $14.99)
Syndicated advice columnist Harlem Cohen combines his personal brand of humor to offer very frank and useful advice to anyone entering college and to the parent of anyone entering college. And for the obsessive parent, helpful reminders are provided, such as: You are hovering too much if you call all of your son's or daughter's professors to let them know that your child has a cold and may not be attending their class that day.

Oh, the Places You'll Go by Dr. Seuss (Random House, $17.99)
"Today is your day, You're off to great places, You're off and away." The obsessive rhymer who has provided classics for generations wrote this wonderful send off book for anyone bound for a new adventure.

Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh (Bantam Books, $15.00)
For those obsessive thinkers who yearn for a pause this simply written book provides the steps to clear all the unnecessary clutter...breathe in...breathe out.

Janet Elfant, May 2013
Categories: Bookstore Blogs

Grace's Five Most Exciting Books-to-Be-Movies

Tue, 2013-05-21 16:03
Although film adaptations are almost never as wonderful as the books they are based on, it is still pretty exciting to head to the movies and see your favorite characters on screen. Some of these movies are almost in theaters, and others are still in development, but whichever you see I must advise the book first!

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (Starscape, $5.99)

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Scribner, $15.00)

The Giver by Lois Lowry (Laurel Leaf, $6.99)

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (Square Fish, $6.99)

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic, $18.99)

Grace Gottschalk, May 2013
Categories: Bookstore Blogs

Marta's Five for the Fest! (Mt. Airy Kids' Literature Festival)

Thu, 2013-05-16 19:00
The Seventh Annual Mt. Airy Kids' Literary Festival will be held this year on May 17, 18, and 19th. Here are a few festival-related books you might run into at the bookstore while you are here!

for colored girls who have considered suicide/when the rainbow is enuf by Ntozake Shange (Scribner, $12.00)
In honor of the Youth Poetry Slam (Friday, May 17, at 6:00), I've chosen this iconic work from 1974 which has been described as a "dramatic prose poem" and a "choreopoem." It has been performed all over the world, including on Broadway, and was made into a motion picture by Tyler Perry. Sapphire, author of Push, writes, "If there are shoulders modern African-American women's literature stands upon they belong to Ntozake Shange...." This is an oldie-but-goodie that no doubt continues to inspire spoken word poets old and young!

The Flame in the Mist by Kit Grindstaff (Delacorte Press, $16.99)
Kit Grindstaff will be reading from her new novel, a fantasy-adventure for fans of Phillip Pullman's The Golden Compass, at 12:15 on Sunday, May 19. You can read a fantastic interview with Kit here on the Big Blue Marble Blog.

Boy + Bot by Ame Dyckman (Alfred A. Knopf, $16.99)
Ame Dyckman will be reading from Boy + Bot, as well as giving us a special sneak peak into her forthcoming book, Tea Party Rules, on Saturday, May 18 at 2:00. Not only that, but there will be robot crafts and giveaways!

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling (Scholastic, $10.99)
Maybe you're seven years old and you've only just started the Harry Potter series, maybe you're seventeen or forty-seven or seventy-seven years old and you've read them all so many times you've lost count .... and you're sooooo jealous of that seven-year-old who just got started! No matter what, if you love Harry Potter like Grace Gordon does, you don't want to miss her fun-filled workshop on Saturday, May 18, at 12:00. There will be Harry Potter themed snacks, wand making, and fun character games. Come in costume if you want!

Adventures in Cartooning: How to Turn Your Doodles into Comics! by James Sturm, Andrew Arnold, and Alexis Frederick-Frost (First Second, $12.99)
I will be using this book in my Graphic Novel/Comic workshop on Saturday, May 18, at 3:00. It combines simple lessons in cartooning with a "rip-roaring story" about "an impatient knight, a cowardly horse, and a magical elf" who are "off to rescue a princess and slay a dragon ... and they're learning to make comics along the way!" I look forward to learning together on Saturday as we turn our own doodles into comics, or, for the more ambitious among us, start our very own graphic novels! This terrific how-to book comes with a companion activity book with lots of great ideas and room for your own comics.

Marta Rose, May 2013
Categories: Bookstore Blogs


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