Introducing Yasmin, a Window and a Mirror — by Saadia Faruqi


Ask any published author and they will tell you that the road to publication is long and hard, often spanning several years. I’m not any different, and today after many years of writing, editing, praying for book deals and all the other things that go into the production of a book, I’m about to be the proud mama of a little fictional character named Yasmin.

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Yasmin Ahmad is a spirited second-grader who’s always on the lookout for those “aha” moments to help her solve life’s little problems. Taking inspiration from her surroundings and her big imagination, she boldly faces any situation assuming her imagination doesn’t get too big, of course! A creative thinker and curious explorer, Yasmin and her multi-generational Pakistani American family will delight and inspire readers.

The short synopsis of the book is hopefully sufficient to hook readers, but there is a deep and lengthy explanation of what Yasmin truly stands for. I think there is no better time than now to talk about that.

Yasmin is a mirror to all those little boys and girls who come from a minority, or non-white, background. She is Pakistani American, an immigrant group that’s growing rapidly in the United States. Like my own children, she is first generation American, a life situation that is not as easy as it sounds. So many children in our school system are first generation, whose parents are from a different culture, who know more than one language, and who speak a different language at home. Pakistani, Indian, Syrian, Mexican… there are millions of kids who can read Meet Yasmin and see themselves in the pages of this book.

I imagine Yasmin to be a balm for those children, as they finally read a series about someone just like them. I’ve been seeing the faces of kids light up at schools and libraries as I talk about the book even before it’s published. They love seeing a brown character, they love watching Yasmin’s mama put on her hijab and her baba play with her. It’s all familiar and safe and comfortable, which are things we want our students and children to feel all the time.

Yasmin is also a window to other readers, those who aren’t Muslim, or immigrants, or brown. Those who may think they’re part of America more so than their classmates. This book is a way for them to recognize the American-ness in all of us, to see that no matter what clothes you wear or what language you speak, we are citizens of this world together. It’s a series (and a character) that teaches empathy and understanding, that offers an opportunity to witness another culture not just by reading about it but by experiencing it firsthand. The back matter of the Yasmin books have an Urdu glossary, fun activities and recipes that will allow educators to teach more than just the story, and readers to learn more than what Yasmin alone has to offer.

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To make that experience even more inviting, I’ve created a flipgrid (link: with password MeetYasmin! that will grow in the coming months and years, providing an online space for kids and adults to share what Yasmin means to them. I encourage students and teachers to visit the grid to record their videos, or to listen to others. In the fall 2018-19 school year I’ll be adding loads of new content to this grid.

It’s almost time to Meet Yasmin! (pre-order link:

Saadia Faruqi is Pakistani American author of the early reader Yasmin series by Capstone. She also writes fiction and essays for adults and is editor-in-chief of Blue Minaret, a magazine for Muslim writers. She was profiled by O Magazine in 2017 for her interfaith and intercultural sensitivity trainings. Visit her website at

Spotlight on ProjectLIT: Part 3

Today is our third and final post featuring interviews with 6 ProjectLIT Chapters Leaders! Check out Part 1 for introductions and to learn how how they run a ProjectLIT Book Club. logoYesterday (Part 2) was all about student leadership, community involvement, and that BIG question – how to get the books! Today, Part 3 will look at future plans, favorite books, and advice to new ProjectLIT chapter leaders. 

If you want to know more about ProjectLIT – follow them on Twitter @ProjectLITComm and if you are ready to apply to become a chapter leader, the form is right here!

~ Corrina

What other challenges did you face?

Kimiko: The other challenge was getting full sets of books for every book club meeting instead of having only 5-6 of each book. So, I decided to rotate my full sets into my curriculum so all students had an opportunity to read them.

Ashleigh: Looking back I would really like to have enlisted another adult to help with some of the stuff students couldn’t do, whether it was going shopping for breakfast food, reminding staff about meetings, helping kids with side projects. Also scheduling is just always tough, Saturdays were great for so many parents but often times things come up last minute and it’s a little hard for middle schoolers to be on top of getting themselves where they need to go.

Lindsey: It’s difficult to pick a time for the meetings that works best for everyone. I found that more students could attend before school than after school. I wish more of my faculty could attend and get involved. They were often occupied with meetings, so it was unfortunate that they missed out on connecting with students in this way.

Mary: Since our first meeting was open to everyone in the school, but the winning book was geared toward middle schoolers, we had mostly sixth graders at the meeting. I’m hoping to increase HS participation next year with the meeting being exclusively for them, and strong student leadership.

Jessica: I was challenged with resistance from some parents and teachers based on the books we were reading. It is hard and you will have to have uncomfortable conversations about them. It was hard and I was very stressed, but coming out the other end, it was absolutely worth it. The conversations those kids had about the books and the depth of knowledge I know they walked away with will encourage me to keep doing this forever. It is inspiring.

Erika: Smaller numbers than I would have liked, mostly due to having to meet after school rather than during the school day.

What were some of your students’ favorite books last year?

Kimiko: Towers Falling, A Long Walk To Water, March, Ghost, Patina, Long Way Down, The Hate You Give, All American Boys

Ashleigh: An easier question would be what were books they didn’t love!? In conversations with my leaders – three come up a lot though. They obviously loved Jason Reynolds’ Track series (we read both Ghost and Patina), students also loved Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton, and finally I think many of my and my students’ favorite conversations came from Refugee by Alan Gratz.

Lindsey: Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes was not only a favorite ProjectLIT book, but it ranked in the top 10 circulations for my school library. My students were born post-9/11, and they have lots of curiosity about it, and they want to understand it. They also loved Refugee by Alan Gratz. We’ve hosted Alan Gratz at our school, and he continues to be a favorite author of theirs. This book captured their attention and helped them empathize with the refugees today. Our community guest for this particular ProjectLIT meeting, Abdikadir Ali, shared his story of growing up in a refugee camp in Kenya for 10 years of his life. Students were captivated by his story.

Mary: Kids LOVE Ghost by Jason Reynolds and The Crossover & Booked by Kwame Alexander. I’m so excited to see their reactions to the new set of books!

Jessica: The Crossover by Kwame Alexander was by far the most attended and most well-liked book from last year. A close second was Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes.

Erika: Wonder

What book are you most excited about reading with students this upcoming year?

Kimiko: Pride, On The Come Up

Ashleigh: Many of my students have already read Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes because she came to our school through a free program with Open Book Foundation (SHOUTOUT TO THEM!) so I think that will be incredible to share and reflect upon how important it is for us to bear witness. Kids also are so excited to get to Sunny by Jason Reynolds – and many have already jumped straight into that book. I’m really stoked for them to read that because I think it masterfully captures the inner working of so many middle school munchkins who are sometimes simultaneously dealing with such weighty issues but also acknowledging their need to be silly and be themselves. Finally, I think Amal Unbound will be huge in the same way Refugee was this year – I love Project LIT books because once we’ve hooked kids on stories where they are seen and heard – they get so much more into books that offer windows (shouts to Rudine Sims Bishop!) into worlds they are unfamiliar with.

Lindsey:  This is a tough question to answer. I’m really looking forward to what we’re doing with Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed. It’s a Global Read Aloud selection and a ProjetLIT selection, so we will read that book in October, and I’m excited to highlight this book in a variety of ways with my students.

Mary: For MS, I am really excited about I am Alfonso Jones, Ghost Boys, and The First Rule of Punk. For HS, I LOVED Odd One Out by Nic Stone, and I’m super amped about Trevor Noah’s book -my adult educator book club (also started by Ashleigh Rose!) read it and it’s such a great book for discussion.  We’ll be doing Wishtree for our first MS meeting, and The Poet X (my favorite YA maybe of all time) for our first HS meeting, then students will vote on all the other selections. Can’t wait to see what they pick!

Jessica: My students are very excited to read Rebound by Kwame Alexander since The Crossover was such a huge hit. I cannot wait to read The Parker Inheritance with them. That book had it all and I know that they will devour it!

Erika: Ghost Boys by Jewel Parker Rhodes


What are you going to do differently with ProjectLIT this year?

Kimiko: This year I will start to contact local business early in regards to donating food and donating books to our club.

Ashleigh: I’m looking to find more and more ways to have kids take the helm. One of my huge takeaways was that student leadership matters so much more than things being perfect. I have loved watching kids share their love of books, the ideas they care about, and to watch them realize that all these adults and peers are fully invested in hearing their voice. The more they can take up space – the better! I’m also going to try to partner with some local organizations around our school or the local public library since we don’t have a school library.

Lindsey:  This year is about growing our book club not only in our school but in our community. Two students attended the ProjectLIT Summit with me, and they are on fire and have lots of great ideas to make our club even better. We are going to have a planning meeting to kick off our year, and send the community invites way in advance. We hope that by giving our guests even more notice, they will have more time to read the book. I also continue to work on book access for my students. Several school librarians in my district and I have discussed each purchasing a class set to share with each other.

Mary: I am excited about helping students reach out to community organizations for support (like breakfast!). I also hope to connect to other chapters this year, I think kids would love that.

Jessica: More student involvement, more students in more grades (since I teach 8th grade, we were heavy on 8th graders last year), do more with elementary schools, especially our feeder schools!

Erika: I’m not going to put a measure of success on myself. Having students (and others) show up and engage is success in itself.

What advice do you have for new ProjectLIT Chapter Leaders or for those thinking about launching a chapter in their community?

Kimiko: Start small, be organized, partner with some local organizations, try to write some grants, have fun, and relax.

Ashleigh: I would say to just dive in. Get a few books, get a few kids, and run a book club! We’ve got so many resources and brains already in this who are here to support and help out wherever they can.  Also, create a structure and plan and just follow it. I almost think it is easier to do eight clubs, than four, because you get in the groove of it. Once we had done two – my kids ran it all mostly themselves because it happened like clockwork every month.

Lindsey: Jump in! There are so many ideas and resources from other chapter leaders. Search #projectlitchat and #projectlitbookclub for ideas. Focus on doing what works for your students and you. Involve your students as much as you can and don’t worry about it being perfect. The goal is simple- have fun and help kids love reading.

Mary: It won’t be perfect the first time around, but just jump in and do it!! Let the kids lead the way, and don’t be afraid to reach out to others and connect with educators doing it successfully! Everyone is super kind and willing to share.

Jessica: Just jump in! It will be scary, but it works! Also, don’t be afraid to start small. Just recruit your own students at first and then grow it out. The community will grow!

Erika: Do your research first. Learn what we’re about. Read the information. Snoop around/participate in the chats. Truly consider if Project LIT Community is for you and the school community you serve, because it’s not for everyone.

What are you reading right now?

Kimiko: I am currently reading Children Of Blood And Bone.

Ashleigh: I love summer because it gives me the brainspace to dive into nonfiction more than during the school year. I just finished Being the Change by Sara K Ahmed and I am SO excited to head back to work on Thursday of this week armed with her call to action and amazing ideas for implementing and cultivating lasting socially conscious conversations and anti-bias communities.  Also, I highly suggest Why Won’t You Apologize by Harriet Lerner. Took away tons for my adult life and for school. On my drives I am listening to Projekt 1065 by Alan Gratz (talk about a historical fiction/research mastermind) and I just started an ARC of Odd One Out by Nic Stone because she’s honestly the coolest person alive right now!

Lindsey: I’m reading an advanced copy of Grenade by Alan Gratz, and I also just started Front Desk by Kelly Yang.

Mary: I recently finished Speak: The Graphic Novel and was totally rocked. Currently reading Darius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram. The Parker Inheritance and Rebound are on my nightstand, too!

Jessica: Goodbye Days by Jeff Zentner

Erika: Currently reading Anger is a Gift by Mark Oshiro and Tight (advance copy) by Torrey Maldonado

Thanks again to Kimiko, Ashleigh, Lindsey, Mary, Jessica, and Erika for taking time out of the summer and back-to-school planning to answer my questions! If you have more questions about ProjectLIT, please let us know!






Spotlight on ProjectLIT: Part 2

logoToday I am excited to continue the conversation with ProjectLIT Chapters Leaders Kimiko, Ashleigh, Lindsey, Mary, Jessica, and Erika.  Yesterday, they shared how they run a ProjectLIT Book Club. And today (Part 2 ) is all about student leadership, community involvement, and that BIG question – how to get the books! Part 3 will look at future plans, favorite books, and advice to new ProjectLIT chapter leaders. 

If you want to know more about ProjectLIT – follow them on Twitter @ProjectLITComm and if you are ready to apply to become a chapter leader, the form is right here!

~ Corrina

One of the things that I love about ProjectLIT is that it empowers students to take leadership roles. How did students contribute to the planning and running of your ProjectLIT Book Club?

Kimiko: Students contribute to the planning and running of our ProjectLIT Book Club by creating the questions for the meetings.

Ashleigh: Although it didn’t happen from the jump, I was so impressed with how my kids stepped up to the plate more and more every time. Our LIT Leaders did the following things:

– Worked collaboratively on Google Docs to create our Discussion Questions.

– Submitted Trivia questions on Google Forms to me.

– Set up and helped break down every meeting.

– Shared invitations and created reminders on Instagram and throughout the school.

– Reached out to authors. (Jewell Parker Rhodes sent us an ARC of Ghost Boys from an Instagram message!)

– Sending updates and reminder emails via mailchimp!

– Wrote a Donors Choose grant for our book club for the MARCH BOOK 1 meeting.

– Wrote thank you notes to donors.

– Divided up roles for Saturday meetings to lead everyone in the different parts of our meeting.

– Hyped the book with friends and adults. (There’s nothing like a kid gently shaming their teachers for not reading a good book!)

– Probably a ton of stuff I am forgetting!

Lindsey: My students enjoy having roles in ProjectLIT. Our roles are: Greeter/ Sign-In helper, makerspace helper, trivia question writers, and discussion question writers. We have a Google Classroom, and students can share their trivia questions, discussion questions with me ahead of time. This year, our first meeting will center on planning our year. We need to pick a book for each month and send out invites to our community.

Mary: So our ProjectLIT chapter was born of my student library club. Right when I got to my school I formed a library club – our student clubs meeting during lunch. To determine our first book, we did a school wide book madness competition (like March Madness) so students had choice and ownership from the jump -the library club helped to facilitate this big time!  I chose the books for the book madness competition based on two things, first if they were ProjectLIT selections, and second if they met my school’s guidelines that I co-created with my principal. When we were narrowing votes down to the final two, Ghost was losing against The Witch Boy by one vote, which threw me into a moral crisis over whether or not I should doctor the vote. It felt weird that Witch Boy wasn’t a ProjectLIT book. In the end I went with student votes all the way, which is how we landed on The Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus. Around the same time I started advertising for next year’s ProjectLIT selections with this bulletin board. I think it’s important for chapters to stick to the books on the list (from last year and this year) and my students are already reading and excited about voting for next year’s books. In May, I sent a google form sign up to all students that indicated when planning meetings would be held (they were at the same time as library club). At the planning meetings a lot went down! Students submitted trivia questions as well as discussion questions. One student organized our amazing logo, and other students worked on a powerpoint presentation that would guide the meeting. At our last planning meeting (three days before the event) we divvied up day-of jobs, like setting up breakfast, manning the sign in table, and introducing various portions of the meeting. Honestly Ashleigh’s powerpoints were the best guide.

Jessica: I love that, too! It is always about empowering students and allowing them to use their voice. Last year being our first year, I did a lot of the work (not all!). This year, I plan to utilize the students more and have a  couple of student leaders in place to run the book clubs. I want to take a more secondary role and really let them run with it. Last year, students created all the questions and trivia questions and each student would run a discussion at a table. This year, I plan to have my two student leaders run the entire book club! I am excited to see how it unfolds.

How have you engaged your community in the ProjectLIT Book Clubs? Did you get community members and other adults to read the books and attend?

Kimiko: We gave a copy to community members and some students read the books with their parents. I also invited them to attend an author visit so they could enjoy a Q &A session.

Ashleigh: A lot of parents, staff, friends, and family attended. Usually they saw the Instagram or MailChimp email reminders or were reminded enough by an important child in their life to come with!

Lindsey: We had amazing guests from our community throughout the year: our public librarians, police officers, representatives from Graceworks, Habitat for Humanity, Blood:Water Mission, Fisk University, GoNoodle, Catholic Charities, and the coach of Belmont University’s Men’s Basketball team. Sometimes, our community guests did not have time to read the book, so knowing that, I shifted how we involved our community guests, and I gave them time to share their work and service in our community, so that my students could understand the needs that exist and how they can help.

Mary: We had a few parents and one other teacher at our first meeting, so this is a big area of growth for me!! I’m hoping as we have more meetings and more kids get involved people start paying more attention and joining us!

Jessica: This is definitely an area I would like to improve, but we did have many community members participate last year. A lot of them were teachers and district level employees, but I also spoke to the retired teacher’s association and our Rotary Club to recruit other members. This year, I plan to ask members of the city council and city staff as well as parents to participate.

Erika: Our school has several community partnerships, so I asked the person who manages those relationships to share our Project LIT info with them and she did. We received book donations as a result.

Did your ProjectLIT chapter do any service learning projects last year? If so, how did it go?

Kimiko: Yes, we partnered with Book First Chicago. They donated over 300 books and we packaged and distributed them to students at the end of the year to prevent the “summer slide”.

Ashleigh: Not yet! But we’ve got some stuff in the works!

Lindsey: We had a Little Free Library built for our campus in honor of our principal, who retired. A student’s grandfather built it. We felt it was important to establish this library on our campus first, and then next year, we will put one elsewhere in our community. We held a book drive for Book ‘Em, which is a non-profit in Nashville that gives books to Title I schools and to organizations like the Boys’ and Girls’ Clubs, Habitat for Humanity. Some of these books went to classroom libraries at our reading partner school, Glenn Enhanced Option Elementary. My students gave 3,000 books!

Mary: Not yet!

Jessica: YES! This is such a great part of Project LIT. Students need to understand that giving back to the community is a vital part of supporting where you live. Last year, we were able to get a Little Free Library donated, which we painted. Unfortunately, we were unable to obtain the needed permits before school let out, so we will be “planting” the library this coming fall. We also hosted a book drive in which we collected over 2,000 books! The books are being used to supply new teachers with classroom libraries and to fill our Little Free Library. This summer, we have gone to our school district’s lunches in the park and passed out free books to all the kids in attendance. Next year, we plan to connect with some elementary schools and do some book giveaways and read-alouds with younger kids in addition to continuing what we did last year.

Erika: No, but hopefully this year.

Alright – here’s the BIG question! How did you get books for the kids?

Kimiko: I bought them, created a donors choose, ordered books from First Book, or used my scholastic points to get books.

Ashleigh: Ha the big question indeed. I was very motivated to make sure every kid and/or family member could take home and keep our books and begin building their own LIT Libraries at home! So many parents came up to me to say how excited they were to keep the books to share with younger kids when they were able to read them!

I did three major things:

  1. Applied for a Culture Champion Grant through my school. This funded a lot of our purchases.
  2. Bought as many books as I could from lower cost sites – mostly First Book Marketplace and some Scholastic sales.
  3. My students wrote a Donors Choose Project grant to get funding for one of our more expensive books as well as prizes for trivia winners.

Lindsey: This is the hardest part for me. My district has extremely strict rules on fundraising, so the best I could do was buy as many copies for the school library that I could. I had approximately 10 copies of each book in the library. Also, at our book fairs, I created ProjectLIT displays and encouraged people to buy a book for ProjectLIT. Many of my students bought their own copies either in print or in e-book form. I would also buy ProjectLIT books and give away these books throughout the year. It always put a smile on my face to see a student attend a book club because they’d won a copy of the book.

Mary: Luckily we had several copies of the books already through the book madness competition, which was funded by the school. When students signed up to participated, they indicated the following on our google form:

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The loaners were either purchased by the school or donated by families.

Jessica: Persistence! (seriously!) You will be denied for many grants, but you have to keep applying and keep asking for money in order to secure the books. Just keep at it. Get your community involved, too!  Here is how I got my books:

  1. My principal is seriously amazing and committed to buying 2 of the titles last year and this year. He is also buying a few (not class sets) of each of the titles for our classroom libraries.
  2. Apply for grants! Any and ALL grants! Look for local grants as those are sometimes easier to secure since not as many people will be applying for them, but don’t discount the big ones, Keep at it!
  3. Ask local businesses to donate to you! Some have donated money, but a lot have donated goods (food for the book club, tickets/goodies as raffle prizes, etc.).
  4. Talk to the local library and ask them to help you publicize your cause. You never know who might read it and give you books or money!

Erika: see above; also, I’m a librarian, so having books in the collection was also helpful. And we have an outstanding partnership with our public library, so students could also borrow titles that way.

 Stop back tomorrow for Part 3 to learn about their future plans, favorite books from last year, and advice to new ProjectLIT chapter leaders!






Spotlight on ProjectLIT: Part 1

Today I am excited to welcome five fantastic educators to #MGBookVillage!  Last week I had the opportunity to chat with ProjectLIT founder Jarred Amato on the Books Between podcast (check out that episode here) and was eager to learn more.  While I was at NerdCampMI, I met Kimiko, Ashleigh, and Lindsey who lead a great session on ProjectLIT and connected me with other ProjectLIT Chapter Leaders working with middle gradelogo students. I am so grateful to each of these educators who took time out their summer to answer my questions about their experiences with ProjectLIT.  I hope you find their answers as helpful as I have.  Their responses were so thoughtful and in depth that I decided to break this feature into three parts:  Part 1 will focus on introductions and how to run a ProjectLIT Book Club. Part 2 is all about student leadership, community involvement, and that BIG question – how to get the books! Part 3 looks at future plans, favorite books, and advice to new ProjectLIT chapter leaders. 

After reading these responses, I’m super excited to launch a ProjectLIT Book Club at my school next year!  If you want to know more about ProjectLIT – follow them on Twitter @ProjectLITComm and if you are ready to apply to become a chapter leader, the form is right here!

~ Corrina

Please tell us about yourself!  

My name is Kimiko Pettis. I am 6th-8th grade ELA teacher from Chicago, Il. I have been teaching for 11 years in Chicago Public Schools. [You can follow Kimiko on Twitter @kcpteachertips]


Ashleigh: Hi all! My name is Ashleigh Rose and I am a middle school teacher in Southeast Washington, DC. I am the site leader from @projectlitAIM at KIPP DC: AIM Academy in Anacostia! I’ve been teaching in DC for the last seven years. This year, I am leaving five years teaching 6th grade ELA to transition to teaching 7th and 8th grade Writing next year! [You can follow Ashleigh on Twitter @betweenmargins]


Lindsey: I’ve been a middle school librarian for the past 15 years, and previously, I was a 7th grade language arts teacher. I share lessons and ideas for school libraries on my blog, Library Stile, and recently, I’ve started assisting authors with school visits. I’m the Advocacy Chair for the Tennessee Association of School Librarians. I’ve enjoyed meeting with Tennessee’s gubernatorial candidates, representatives, and senators this year and talking with them about the value of school libraries. I am also Vice-President of SE-YA, which is the Southeastern Young Adult Book Festival. Connecting kids with the authors they love is the best! My home life is equally busy with 4 sons and 5 pets. I do manage to sleep. And read. I read more than I sleep. [You can follow Lindsey on Twitter @LindsKAnderson]


Mary: Hi! I’m Mary Thomas, a middle and high school librarian at a charter school in Washington DC. Before becoming a school librarian, I taught upper elementary school (4th & 5th). I actually transitioned to my new school and role in the early Spring, and have the unique opportunity to build a library collection & program from scratch! My school has a space and empty shelves, and I’m working hard to create a library! It is basically my dream job. [You can follow Mary on Twitter @msmarythomas]


Jessica: My name is Jessica Lingenfelter. I am entering my 21st year of teaching this year. I have a bachelor’s degree from The University of Arizona in English and a Master’s degree in Education with an emphasis on Reading from The University of La Verne.I taught high school English, Reading, and ELD (English Language Development) for 15 years. I decided to move to junior high and currently teach 8th grade English and I LOVE IT! I love junior high kids so much and am sad I didn’t make the switch sooner! I love to read and share my passion with my students. It is so exciting to me to see the reading spark illuminated in kids. I am Harry Potter obsessed (yes, my classroom is Harry Potter themed!).  In my free time, if I am not reading, I am spending it with my family. I am married to a wonderful husband of 20 years who is an Educational Director at the district office level, and we have two children: Sarah, 17 and Ben, 11. [You can follow Jessica on Twitter @jessicatiara7]


Erika: I’m a secondary librarian in Nashville, TN. I currently work in a middle school that serves grades 5-8. [You can follow Erika on Twitter at @erikaslong]

How did you hear about the ProjectLITCommunity?

Kimiko: I found out about this PLN when I was searching for literacy chats during the 2016-2017 school year.

Ashleigh: I saw a lot of what Jarred was doing on Twitter. I actually reached out to him to ask him some questions and we hopped on the phone that weekend to talk more about Project LIT in March of 2017.

Lindsey: I noticed Jarred Amato’s posts on Twitter during the 2016-2017 school year. Here was  this amazing high school English teacher in a neighboring school district making things happen in his school community! He was getting his high school students not only involved and excited about books, but they were solving the problem of book deserts together. How could they provide more access to books in their community and how could they get more culturally relevant, high quality books to kids in the community? I loved the enthusiasm radiating out of this corner of Nashville!

Mary: I am fortunate to have the best friends, one of whom is Ashleigh Rose, another Project Lit leader here in DC. She invited me to attend one of her meetings, I think the first one I made it to was for March by John Lewis. After that I was sold!

Jessica: I heard about Project LIT through Twitter. I saw the application come out and jumped on it immediately.  I am so glad to have found Project LIT! The community of educators is amazing and supportive and inspiring.

Erika: I heard about Project LIT Community via Twitter. I actually followed Jarred’s posts and read his blog throughout the year. Toward the end of their first year of Project LIT as a class, I asked Jarred if he and a few students would mind if I interviewed them for a piece I wanted to write for The Horn Book and they obliged.

What made you decide to start a ProjectLIT Book Club in your school?

Kimiko: I was so impressed by the actions of Jarred Amato’s students in regards to community outreach and their desire to increase diverse literature in their school that I wanted to sign up immediately. I completed an application and went straight to Barnes and Noble to purchase books. My goal was to provide students with compelling literature that would reignite their passion for reading, increase their desire to learn about diverse cultures, and help them discuss controversial topics.

Ashleigh: Project LIT for me was a way to formalize and amplify the work and the passion that my students and I were already working daily to cultivate in our classroom. I have always tried to make it my mission to get books into kids hands that represented their lived realities and that they loved and then to give them the space to choose those books, read those books, reach out to authors, and share those books during independent reading in class.  For far too long I had struggled to find books that spoke to and saw my kids as real people who exist with real day-to-day lives. I remember the day I finished When I Was The Greatest by Jason Reynolds in 2014 and stormed into my now principal’s office like “THIS IS IT, I FOUND WHAT I’VE BEEN SEARCHING FOR, IT’S THIS.”  When I found Project LIT, I realized this was just a supportive community trying to spread that thing that I’d found and that my kids (read: students) were falling in love with in books. Authors like Jason Reynolds, Angie Thomas, Representative John Lewis, Jacqueline Woodson, Renee Watson, Sharon Draper, Nic Stone, and Jewell Parker Rhodes were already doing this work for kids and Project LIT was just showing what happens when you encourage communities and conversations around those texts. I wanted to share that with as many kids, staff, and families as I could. I also felt like there was not always space for kids to have opportunities for authentic leadership or sharing their talents and passions in our curriculum. Project LIT was a way to create those opportunities to amplify student voice and leadership in our school. I had no idea how much kids would take it and run with it!

Lindsey: I am always looking for opportunities for my students to connect with books in a meaningful way. ProjectLIT provides the opportunity for my students and I to explore a variety of perspectives and to build empathy. My school is 89% caucasian, and in the South, and as much as I can, I want to showcase and highlight books that help my students see the stories of everyone in the world, past and present, so that they celebrate diversity. My school is often thought of as existing in a “bubble,” so it’s important that we break out of that bubble and seek to understand what’s going on in our world and be part of meaningful conversations that will help my students have a broader perspective of our world. I also love the service component of ProjectLIT, and I knew my students would accept the challenge of working to eliminate book deserts.   

Mary: When I started as a librarian at my current school I knew I wanted to offer robust reading programming. After my experiences observing Ashleigh’s chapter meetings and talking with her about the program I knew Project LIT would be a natural fit for my school. With limited time left in the school year, I wanted to try to squeeze one meeting in before summer, and it worked!  

Jessica: I am a pretty spontaneous person and usually jump in head first to try new things. When I saw the application for a chapter leader come out, I jumped at it and haven’t looked back! I knew that starting a student-led book club would only create stronger readers and better critical thinkers! And what better way to get students hooked on books? It was a no-brainer to start this club!

Erika: I wanted to start a Project LIT Book Club in my school as a way to encourage a love of reading while providing access to timely and relevant literature I know students would enjoy and be willing to engage in discussion around.

How often does your ProjectLIT Book Club meet? And where do you meet?

Kimiko: We meet in my classroom usually during second period if I am trying to connect with an author via Skype otherwise we meet during my last period.

Ashleigh: There are two elements to Project LIT at AIM. First, Project LIT is an extra curricular activity – though I encourage kids to read the books during independent reading time in class. This year we met two times a week after school on Tuesdays and Fridays. My kids started calling themselves “LIT Leaders” that attended the Tuesday and Friday meetings where we would listen to the audiobook, discuss big ideas, begin to write discussion and trivia questions, send out Instagram updates, and engage in other bookish pursuits. We also hosted eight full book club meetings this year. These were held on Saturday mornings in our school cafeteria from 10:00 – 11:30 and any students, staff, family members, friends, or other community members were invited. We’re trying a summer meet up at a local park this Saturday, too!

Lindsey: We meet once a month before school for 45 minutes. We have Power Mondays, which are late start days that allow the teachers to be involved in meetings and professional development activities, but the majority of students are at school, hanging out in the gym or cafeteria. We meet in the library.

Mary: So right now the plan is for our middle school and high school groups to meet every other month. Secretly I’m hoping that the student leadership really takes off and they push me to help them organize monthly meetings at both levels! For our first (and only) meeting we met in our school’s theater, which is a big open space that’s sort of akin to a cafeteria.

Jessica: Last school year, our Project LIT chapter met a total of 5 times. We hold our book clubs at 7:30am in our multi-purpose room.

Erika: Because I was new and still getting to know my school and students, and for other logistical reasons, we only hosted two book clubs this year.

What happens at those meetings?

Kimiko: At the meetings we talk about author’s writing style, character relationships, the ending, some students propose questions to guide our discussions.

Ashleigh: We started with just time to hang out and enjoy breakfast for about thirty minutes. Students then took over the reins to lead us in the following activities:

  1. Welcome Message or Ice Breaker
  2. Full Group Circle where everyone shared one big takeaway from the book.
  3. Small Group Discussions
  4. Trivia
  5. Book talk and hand out the next book!

Sometimes we added in another activity here or there – but that was the gist of it.

Lindsey: Here’s a typical meeting:

  • Sign-In- A student is in charge of greeting everyone and making sure students and community guests sign in.
  • Makerspace- We like to have something that kids and guests can work on while we’re waiting for everyone to arrive. We did a book page craft, and we shared our social units with TOWERS FALLING, for example. This allowed kids to engage right away and I find that they overcome shyness or social anxiety when they have a makerspace activity. They began talking about the book while they were working and the meeting hadn’t even officially started yet. It was fun to hear these casual conversations about the books.
  • Introductions- We officially start the meeting, introduce ourselves quickly, and a student introduces our community guests.
  • Trivia- We have 10 trivia questions about the book. We use Google Slides to display the questions/ answers. I like to start with trivia because it can be a fun ice breaker.
  • Discussion- We post a list of discussion questions, and the kids select the questions they want to talk about and drive the conversation.
  • Community Guest share- Our guests share about the work they do in our community to help others and how this connects to our reading.
  • Commercial for the next meeting- There’s a quick book talk for the next book and the meeting info is shared.

Mary: I took the agenda for our meetings directly from Ashleigh and the Project Lit leader resources. Here it is -I put the times on there because it helps me & the students manage time during the meeting!

8:00 – 8:20am: Breakfast & Sign In

8:20 – 8:25am: Ice-Breaker

8:25 – 8:35am:  Full Group Circle

8:35 – 8:50am: Small Group Discussion

8:50 – 9:10am:  Trivia!

9:10am:  Group Photo! & Clean up

9:23am:   Head to 2nd period

Jessica: We talk and EAT! I think that the fellowship is a big part of Project LIT. I like to give a lot of time for students and community members to discuss both about the book and about themselves! In general, our schedule is usually something like this:

First 10 minutes: get food, talk, find your seat, get acquainted, etc

20 minutes: Discuss the book! The students at the table lead the discussion based on questions they created

10 minutes: Trivia (it’s a fierce battle!!). It is so much fun!

Last 10 minutes: Raffle drawings, wrap up, more food, discussion, go to class 🙂

Erika: We followed the Project LIT agenda for book clubs–discussion and trivia questions.

Stop back tomorrow for Part 2 to learn how ProjectLIT empowers students to take leadership roles, how each chapter leader engaged their community and worked on including service learning projects, and advice about how to get the books!






Being a Book Witch & a Conversation w/ Melissa Sarno: Books Between, Episode 55

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!


Hi everyone and welcome to the Books Between Podcast! I believe in empowering children by helping them discover who they are as readers.  My goal is to help you connect kids between 8-12 with fabulous reading experiences and share inspiring conversations with the authors and educators who make that magic happen.

Screen Shot 2018-07-22 at 11.49.03 PM.pngI’m your host, Corrina Allen – a mom of two, a 5th grade teacher, and thinking about how much I LOVE our public libraries and how much they are needed. My daughters and I just launched our summer Library Crawl where we try to hit as many public libraries in the area as can and explore their unique services and collections and just get to know them. Libraries are the heart of our communities. Please support them.

This is Episode #55 and oday I want to chat with you about being a book witch, and then I’ll share a conversation with Melissa Sarno, author of Just Under the Clouds!  

I have three super quick announcements for you! First is a Middle Grade at Heart Book Club update. The August pick is Where the Watermelons Grow, the September pick is The House That Lou Built and in October we will be reading Three Rules of Everyday Magic. And all of those authors are scheduled to come on the show – so stay tuned for that!

And announcement #2 – don’t forget that Monday nights are the #MGBookChat Twitter chats with upcoming topics like #ownvoices, the importance of refugee stories, and books that battle mental health stigmas. So set a reminder for Mondays at 9pm EST and check out #MGBookChat on Twitter for conversations and collaboration between educators, librarians, and authors.

And – finally, announcement #3. This is something that has been semi-secretly in the works for a few months now, but I am so happy to make it official. NerdCamp Central New York is ON for next summer – August 6, 2019! So – if you want to experience some of that NerdCamp magic and you’re able to make it to Syracuse, NY – save the date! And you can follow @NerdCampCNY on Twitter for more updates.

Main Topic – Being a Book Witch

And you can go ahead and replace that W with a B if you’d like.  So – I had a topic planned for today. I had an outline, things were coming together, and then I saw a post. And then some tweets. From several people, including Donalyn Miller, who were attending a recent Scholastic Reading Summit.  It was it from a presentation by Annie 51RQIFvbUvL._SX408_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgWard – or at least referencing her work From Striving to Thriving: How to Grow Capable, Confident Readers.   And it was one slide showing ways that educators and parents can be what she called “Book Wardens”. And well, it struck me so forcefully. And made me think of all those times as a teacher and as a parent, I have been that Book Witch. I am recovering – but yeah…. that was me.

So I scrapped my other topic and that’s what I want to talk to you about today. First – ways we might not even realize that we’re being book snobs and inadvertently turning kids off to reading – both from Annie’s presentation and from my own mistakes. And then some thoughts on ways we can do better. Although to be up front with you – my understanding of this is evolving. Starting with the first bullet on that slide.

1. Confining kids to “just right” books – gulp. That is a phrase I have used ever since… I don’t know when! A have a big lesson on choosing “just right” or “good fit” books complete with a whole array of shoes I bring in to demonstrate! But now I am wondering… who SETS the criteria for “right”? Is it.. Level?  Genre? Format? Perceived complexity? Something I’ve started doing is turning these questions back on myself. Okay Corrina, what’s a “just right” book for you? Well -it depends! What am I in the mood for? What do I want to learn? What are my friends all reading that looks amazing and I want IN on THAT conversation!  When I think about it that way, it’s not really about picking a book off the shelf and reading the first page and counting the errors on my fingers. Adults don’t do that! And – we are definitely NOT picking from the bin labeled Level Z or only reading within our lexile level.  So why are we asking kids to do that? What DO we do? We weigh all those factors, gather some options, and try them out. If it’s too hard, well…. then…. I’m just going to put The Iliad off to the side for now. I think we need to trust kids more. And be more open about how you actually go about choosing books. And maybe I don’t totally drop the phrase “just right” but shift it to be child-centered and NOT mean “just right” from MY point of view.

2. Express book snobbery. So, you might be a book snob, if you’ve said one these things (and I’ve said a few of them in the past…):

  • “Graphic novels are not real reading.”
  • “Don’t just listen to that audio book – make sure you are following along in your book.”
  • “I only really like literary books – you know award-winners.”
  • “Well, I’ve never heard of that book!”
  • “NEVER watch the movie before reading the book!”
  • “I get all my book recommendations from NPR.”
  • “They’re reading THAT? I guess it’s better than reading nothing!”
  • “I don’t watch TV. Never.  I just read.”
  • “I only read books for adults.” (Credit to Sarah Threlkeld for suggesting that one.)
  • “Yeah, we’re only reading CLASSICS in this class.”
  • “Romance novels are all the same.” (And you can replace romance with mysteries, westerns, fantasy.)
  • “Are you reading a picture book? Maybe you should choose something more your age.”
  • “You dog-ear your pages? You beast!”
  • “Fan Fiction doesn’t count toward your reading minutes.”

So – that last one? About the fan fiction? Was me – a few years ago. But then, I discovered that Angie Thomas (you know – author of New York Times Bestselling, multiple award-winning The Hate U Give) got her start writing fanfiction for her favorite soap opera. And suddenly I thought, maybe I’m being kind of a witch about this. And then, I discovered Star Wars fan fiction and I was hooked. I think I spent about a week just immersed in alternative Star Wars universes. So go ahead – come at me about the fan fiction!

3. Look askance at funny, edgy, or “forbidden” topics. So, confession time.  Way back when I was just getting starting as a teacher and starting to build my classroom library, I would ONLY purchase what I, the book witch, deemed as high quality literature. Captain Underpants? Comics? Joke books? Diary of a Wimpy Kid? Uh…no. And oh do I owe those kids an apology. I was flat out wrong. And clearly not remembering all the Garfield and Calvin & Hobbes books that I devoured as a young kid. I’m happy to say our class is filled with Dav Pilkey books and all kids of funny, light-hearted books. Because, wow – don’t we need that now? And as far as edgy or “forbidden” topics – that has always rubbed me the wrong way. Edgy according to who? I’ve seen adults roll their eyes when a 10 year old picked a book about the WWE.  I’ve seen adults try to ban books with characters who are dealing with substance abuse. And I’ve seen adults pluck books with gay characters out of their kids hands. Who are we to tell kids that their family, their life, their experiences are “too edgy” and not allowed.

4. Frowning upon rereading. Yup – this is another one I have done regularly. And I think it comes from a well-intentioned place. When you know how many amazing books are out there, you want kids to experience that. And I think for me, I have the bias that I am not typically a HUGE rereader. Aside from a few books that I might reread for school or book club (like Home of the Brave, or Wonder), I find it so hard to resist the siren call of my TBR pile.  But last year, instead of giving side-eye to those kids rereading Dork Diaries or Smile for the 3rd or 4th (or 12th!) time – instead, I tried to act excited and say, “Wow – what do you love so much about that book? What are you noticing now that you never noticed the first time you read it?” And the reframing has helped me recognize more value in rereading. And those conversations help me understand my readers better and offer them similar titles they might enjoy to expand their reading palate.

5. Imposing Accountability Measures for Reading. I’ll admit – I had to think about this one for a minute. But I think what this is getting at is when ‘points programs” like AR (Accelerated Reader) are used to confine student reading in an attempt to make sure there is tangible proof of reading. Accountability measures might include parent sign-offs on a reading log or requiring a summary each night. That imposition on reading.  Instead – the best “accountability” is a culture of reading where kids want to talk about what they are reading. And your tangible proof are conferences and conversations and observations.

6. Treating some books like “dessert”. And only allowing kids to read them after they’ve read something more suitable. Usually when I see this – those “dessert” books are graphic novels, or Minecraft books. Now – there are times when I will say, “Let’s take some some time to read our Book Club novels. And if you finish your section for the day, read whatever you want.” But always treating SOME TYPES of books like just fluff – is being a book witch.

So those were the main points from Annie Ward. But I’ll add one more.

7. Not letting kids take the books home. I used to treat MY books like they were GOLD. And I would let kids read them in class but then not let them out of my sight. I lost fewer books – but I also lost readers. Now – they go home with them. Usually they come back, but if not – I just hope that book meant so much to that child that they couldn’t bare to part with it.  

So, I am a recovering Book Witch! And I mentioned some things we can do instead, but to quickly sum up, here they are:

  • Let kids take the lead in what “just right” reading means for them – including their mood and what they are interested in, the format, the social connections they want to form around that reading – and not just a level.
  • Don’t be a book snob! Openly embrace and book talk all genres and formats and expand your horizons.
  • Watch your words and your body language to make sure you are not looking down on kids’ reading choices or making them feel ashamed for reading a text some might consider “edgy.”
  • If a child is rereading a book – ask them about it! Or ask them to book talk it to the class!
  • Instead of cumbersome attempts at reading accountability, instead – watch your kids, have conversations about the books, confer with them and have them read to you.
  • Let kids take books home. And be gracious when they get lost or damaged.
  • And finally – trust the kids and trust the books.

If you want to know more about Annie Ward’s work with co-author Stephanie Harvey, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of From Striving to Thriving: How to Grow Capable, Confident Readers.  And as always, we are learning together and helping each other out, so please share your thoughts about overcoming being a book witch.  You can tag me on Twitter, Instagram, and now Facebook – our handle is @books_between or email me at and I’d love to share your ideas.

Melissa Sarno – Interview Outline

Joining me this month for our Middle Grade at Heart interview with Melissa Sarno is author Julie Artz. We got a chance to sit down together last month to chat about Just Under the Clouds.

Take a listen…

CA: For our listeners who haven’t yet read Just Under the Clouds what is this story about?

CA: One of my favorite parts of the book is when Cora goes to her remedial math class and her new teacher gives her some advice about solving algebra problems. She says: “I’ll give you a hint. It’s always easiest to start from the end. Start backward.” I’m wondering – when if your own life have you found it easier to start at the end?

JA: I loved the friendship between Cora and Sabina. They both have experienced intense loneliness due to an unconventional lifestyle, but the moment when they commit to their friendship–even though they may end up apart–was really touching. How did you come up with the idea for this complex and lovely friendship?

JA: Adare is such a vivid character despite being mostly non-verbal. What research went into creating her character?

**BONUS SPOILER SECTION: Melissa and Julie and I discuss the ending of the novel, and if you’d like to hear that conversation, I moved that part of the recording to after the end credits of today’s episode at the 37:50 mark.

JA: I loved the tree book and all that it represented for Cora. How much time did you spend researching trees for the story, or has that always been an interest of yours?

CA: What are you working on now?

CA: One of the goals of this podcast is to help educators and librarians inspire kids to read more and connect them with amazing books.  Did you have a special teacher or librarian in your life who helped you grow into a reader?

JA: What types of books did you love when you were Cora’s age?

CA: What are you reading now?


Melissa’s website –

Melissa on Twitter and Instagram

Julie’s website –

Julie on Twitter

New York City Tree Census –

Books & Authors We Chatted About:


Swiss Family Robinson (Johann D. Wyss)

The Tillerman Series (Cynthia Voight)

Lizard Music (Daniel Pinkwater)

Her Body and Other Parties (Carmen Maria Machado)

The Cardboard Kingdom (Chad Sell)

Bob (Wendy Mass & Rebecca Stead)

Hurricane Child (Kheryn Callender)


Alright, that wraps up our show this week!

If you have a question about how to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love or a suggestion about a topic we should cover, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Books Between is a proud member of the Education Podcast Network. This network EPN_badgefeatures podcasts for educators, created by educators. For more great content visit

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can get an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show at And, if you are liking the show, please leave us some love on iTunes or Stitcher so others can discover us as well.

Thanks and see you soon!  Bye!


Corrina Allen is a 5th grade teacher in Central New York and mom of two energetic tween girls. She is passionate about helping kids discover who they are as readers.

Corrina is the host of Books Between – a podcast to help teachers, parents, and librarians connect children between 8 and 12 to books they’ll love.

Find her on Twitter at @corrinaaallen or Instagram at @Corrina_Allen.



Behind the Book Cover: THE MAGIC OF MELWICK ORCHARD — A Conversation between author Rebecca Caprara and illustrator Laura Diehl

Hello MG Book Village!

First, a confession: I judge books by their covers. It’s true.

I came to writing from a career in architecture, so I am visually hard-wired. Composition, texture, color, scale—all these things matter, whether you’re designing a building or a book. So you can image how excited (but also slightly anxious) I was about the cover art for my debut middle grade novel, THE MAGIC OF MELWICK ORCHARD, coming Sept 1, 2018 with Carolrhoda/Lerner.

The design process can vary widely from publisher to publisher, and sometimes authors have little, if any, input when it comes to cover art. So when my editor invited me to send her early inspiration boards for Melwick, I was thrilled. My editor then brought the files to the Lerner team, and a few months later they selected an artist named Laura Diehl to illustrate the cover.

When I went online to look at Laura’s portfolio, I was blown away! Her luminous work perfectly captured the whimsy and magic of the book. I knew my story was in the best hands, and I couldn’t wait to see what she would dream up.

And guess what? Laura was kind enough to let me interview her for this post—and here she is now!

Rebecca: Hi Laura! Thank you so much for joining us at MG Book Village.

Laura: Thank you, Rebecca! I’m so pleased to be here.

Let’s dive right in. I’m curious—did you draw as a child?

Ever since I could hold a pencil, I’ve been drawing. I used to paper my parent’s dining room walls with my crayon renderings of unicorns, dragons, and fairies. In 2nd grade, our school principal read Chris Van Allsburg’s The Polar Express to my class. It was a lightning bolt moment for me. I became obsessed with the idea of creating magical stories with my art just as Mr. Allsburg had. Many years later, I’ve found my niche in children’s fantasy illustration—with a passion for book covers.

The Polar Express was special for me as well. I still have my childhood copy and I love to read it with my daughters.

Can you share a little about your creative process? How do you connect with the muse?

Much of my inspiration comes from mashing up fantasy with the ordinary world. I also love taking my dogs on a walk around the neighborhood or listening to Studio Ghibli soundtracks.

What is your preferred medium? Do you sketch by hand or digitally? Are there specific tools or programs that you use?

Photoshop! I got my first digital graphics tablet in 1998 when I was in high school. I fell in love with the way I could color, layer, and use light effects digitally. Despite studying acrylics, oils, etc. in college, I prefer using the latest version of Photoshop and a giant XL Wacom Intuos tablet to draw on my computer.

Laura’s studio.

Some of my favorite pieces in your portfolio include Aegean Princess, Golden Fish, and Dragon Blossom. Which of your paintings are you most proud of and why?

This is a hard question because my favorite tends to be whatever I am currently working on. That said, Aegean Princess has been a fairly recent breakout piece for me. It was a piece that came together very smoothly with a clear vision from the start and I am quite happy with the final effect. Golden Antler is another of my more current favorites, as I feel I really captured that mystical wintery mood I was going for. For a third I would pick Prairie Sea as it is such a personal piece, featuring a fictional version of my siblings on a wild fantasy adventure.

What was your reaction when Lerner asked you to do the cover art for The Magic of Melwick Orchard?

I was quite excited, especially upon learning about the special nature of Melwick’s subject matter and story.

Aww, thank you! What role do you think book covers play in attracting readers? What message should they convey?

Book covers are a tricky beast. Ideally they should convey the soul of a book without giving away the secret. They should entice a reader on a promise that the book can keep.

Can you briefly describe the process of working with the Lerner team to develop the Melwick cover?

My work with Lerner was very collaborative. I was happy that I got to start by reading the manuscript. (Surprisingly, this is not always the case!) From there, I pitched a number of cover concepts to the Art Team, who responded with their own ideas and suggestions. Once we had winnowed our list down to a couple of possible scenes, I sketched a page of small grayscale thumbnail compositions (9 in total). From there, the Art Team and I selected 3 choices that we felt were the strongest. And finally, Lerner chose the final direction for the cover.




Seeing your designs evolve was fascinating, and I’m so grateful that Lerner allowed me to have some input during the various stages. I did fall in love with one of your earlier concepts—the one with Isa sitting in the chance seedling at night, embraced by the branches, with the moon peeking through. When I learned that wasn’t going to be the final layout, I was bummed. But as soon as I saw the current and final cover, I knew the team had made the right choice. What are your feelings about the final design?

I, too, was attached to the direction with Isa sitting in the loving embrace of the branch and gazing at the moon, as I felt an evocative quantity to the mood in that one (and I love to paint glowing things). Though I would have loved to explore that direction, it was not to be. I do ultimately see the wisdom in going for a brighter, daylit scene, as it provides the bolder qualities needed to catch a reader’s eye at a distance.

Screen Shot 2018-07-13 at 10.18.31 AM.png


Agreed. And of course, the daytime scene includes that wily squirrel—he’s a fan favorite! One thing I really appreciate about your work is the level of detail you render in each painting. Looking carefully at the Melwick cover, I noticed you perfectly illustrated the glowing blue roots, prismatic light in the canopy, Isa’s wild hair, and even the notch in the squirrel’s left ear. As an author, seeing my words come to life like this is amazing. How did you choose which details to include?

My digital medium allows me to work at very high resolutions and to zoom in to details as close as I wish. Consequently, I have to be careful not to get lost in details that will ultimately be tiny in the final artwork. I would have had a lot of fun painting elements of the ‘come to life’ orchard—but this was a no-no for obvious plot spoiler reasons.

Did you select the fonts for the cover art?

I did not. The text design was the work of Lerner’s talented Designers.



The Magic of Melwick Orchard_Cover.jpg

Let’s spread some book-love, shall we? What are some of your favorite book covers and/or artists?

I read a lot of fantasy, especially middle grade fantasy. I love the elements of wonder that these books capture. A few of my favorite cover artists include Antonio Caparo, Jason Chan, and Erwin Madrid for their detailed yet smartly-composed illustrations.

Yes! I also love Antonio Caparo’s work. I’m a huge fan of MG covers by Vivienne To, Hari & Deepti, Beth White, Gilbert Ford, Lisa Perrin, and well, I could go on and on…

Before we bid our lovely readers adieu, is there anything else you’d like to share?

If folks would like see more of what I’m up to, look for ‘LauraDiehl’ or ‘LauraDiehlArt’ on your favorite social media platform. If you’d like to see my art collected in one place, is the spot.

THE MAGIC OF MELWICK ORCHARD is available for pre-order now at Porter Square Books, IndieBound, Barnes & Noble, Amazon & more!

Thanks for reading!

~Rebecca & Laura

Interested in learning more about how books get their covers? Head over to the Lerner Blog to read the following posts:



Caprara_Headshot_2.JPGRebecca Caprara is the author of THE MAGIC OF MELWICK ORCHARD, releasing September 1, 2018 with Carolrhoda Books, an imprint of the Lerner Publishing Group. She graduated from Cornell University and practiced architecture for several years, before shifting her focus from bricks to books. An avid globetrotter, she has traveled to over 50 countries, and has lived in Italy, Singapore, and Canada. She is now growing roots in Massachusetts with her family. 

You can visit her website: and find her on Twitter & Instagram @RebeccaCaprara.

lauradiehl_head shot.jpgLaura Diehl is a freelance fantasy illustrator and visual storyteller who specializes in children’s and middle grade fantasy art. Laura has been an illustrator since 2003, working with clients such as: Routledge, Continuum New York, Pearson Education, David Fulton, and Mattel. Her artwork has appeared on numerous books covers, in magazines, and even an iPad game. Additionally, her artwork has been juried into Spectrum, New Master of Fantasy, won the Illustrators of the Future Grand Prize, and was nominated for a Chesley.

She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Painting from James Madison University. Laura currently lives in the Washington DC metro area with her spiffy techie husband, and their adorable Sheltie puppies named Zelda and Link.

When Laura is not illustrating, she likes to devour fantasy books, travel the world collecting owls, watch Miyazaki animated films, bake ultimate-double chocolate cookies, and play old-school JRPGs. She’s always looking for new and interesting projects! You can reach her via e-mail at:

ProjectLIT w/ Jarred Amato: Books Between, Episode 54

Episode Outline:

Listen to the episode here!


Hi everyone and welcome to the Books Between Podcast! I believe in the power of books to help spark deep conversations and help us think through the big ideas in life. My goal is to help you connect kids between 8-12 with those amazing books and share inspiring conversations with the authors and educators who make that magic happen.

I’m your host, Corrina Allen – a mom of two, a 5th grade teacher, and still a bit tired from our trip to the beach yesterday!

This is Episode #54 and today I’m sharing a conversation with Jarred Amato – a high school English teacher and founder of the ProjectLIT Community.

Perhaps like you, I kept hearing about this thing called ProjectLIT and I kept bumping into conversations on Twitter about it. And I since I had questions and definitely wanted to know more – I figured you might as well.  Some disclosure – after chatting with Jarred and after learning more from a wonderful session at NerdCamp last week ( a big thank you to Kimiko, Ashleigh, and Lindsey) , I have decided to start a ProjectLIT Book Club at my school this year for 4th and 5th graders. And promptly bought a shirt and a tank and cup and a hat… because, well – like I told Jarred – I have no chill!

Alright – take a listen!

Jarred Amato – Interview Outline

Welcome to the podcast! Can you take a minute to introduce yourself to our listeners?amato.jpg


What is ProjectLIT and how did it get started?

What does a chapter do?

How are the books selected?

What are the books for the 2018-19 school year?

If someone wanted to start a ProjectLit Chapter in their own community, what would they need to know? And what would they need to do?


One of the things that makes ProjectLITstand out as more than just a book club, is the focus on service projects to increase book access in the school and community.   What are some examples of projects that chapters have been doing?

Did I see you also have a Twitter Chat?  

Tell me about the ProjectLIT Summit!

What are your plans for the future of ProjectLIT?


Your Reading Life

One of the goals of this podcast is to help educators and librarians and parents inspire kids to read more and connect them with amazing books.  Did you have a special teacher or librarian who helped foster your reading life as a child?

What were some of your most influential reads growing up?

What have you been reading lately that you’ve liked?

Jarred’s website –

Jarred on Twitter

ProjectLIT on Twitter

ProjectLIT Chapter Leader Application

#ProjectLITChat Twitter Chat

ProjectLIT swag:

David’s ending to Long Way Down

Dollar General Grant Programs

Donors Choose


Books & Authors We Chatted About:


Goosebumps Series

Matt Christopher books

The Color of Water (James McBride)

Darius the Great is Not Okay (Adib Khorram)

Hope Nation (Rose Brock)



2018-19 ProjectLIT Middle Grade Book Club Selections

Ghost Boys (Jewell Parker Rhodes)

Sunny (Jason Reynolds)

I am Alfonso Jones (Tony Medina)

Amal Unbound (Aisha Saeed)

Rebound (Kwame Alexander)

Like Vanessa (Tami Charles)

The Stars Beneath Our Feet (David Barclay Moore)

Time Bomb (Joelle Charbonneau)

Wishtree (Katherine Applegate)

Amina’s Voice (Hena Khan)

The First Rule of Punk (Celia C. Perez)

The Parker Inheritance (Varian Johnson)


2018-19 ProjectLIT Young Adult Book Club Selections

The Poet X (Elizabeth Acevedo)

When I Was the Greatest (Jason Reynolds)

Born a Crime (Trevor Noah)

Speak (Laurie Halse Anderson)

Tradition (Brenden Kiely)

The 57 Bus (Dashka Slater)

Allegedly (Tiffany Jackson)

Odd One Out (Nic Stone)

Pride (Ibi Zoboi)

Children of Blood and Bone (Tomi Adeyemi)

I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter (Erika L. Sanchez)

Dread Nation (Justina Ireland)

On the Come Up (Angie Thomas)


Alright, that wraps up our show this week!

If you have a question about how to connect kids between 8-12 to books they’ll love or a suggestion about a topic we should cover, I would love to hear from you. You can email me at or message me on Twitter/Instagram at the handle @Books_Between.

Books Between is a proud member of the Education Podcast Network. This network EPN_badgefeatures podcasts for educators, created by educators. For more great content visit

Thank you so much for joining me this week. You can get an outline of interviews and a full transcript of all the other parts of our show at And, if you are liking the show, please leave us some love on iTunes or Stitcher so others can discover us as well.

Thanks and see you soon!  Bye!


Corrina Allen is a 5th grade teacher in Central New York and mom of two energetic tween girls. She is passionate about helping kids discover who they are as readers.

Corrina is the host of Books Between – a podcast to help teachers, parents, and librarians connect children between 8 and 12 to books they’ll love.

Find her on Twitter at @corrinaaallen or Instagram at @Corrina_Allen.



How I Became a Published Author

I didn’t start writing until I was 35, in one of those ‘kismet’ moments when an idea for a story plopped into my head. I was living NYC making my way as an actor, but wasn’t getting a lot of gigs and felt creatively stuck. So I began writing as a way to find artistic fulfillment – and because it was more fun than sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring!

My first book was an adventure novel about drunk hobbit people (did I mention the idea came to me while hiking through New Zealand on a ‘Lord of the Rings’ tour?). Not surprisingly, my attempts at getting an agent weren’t successful. So I wrote another book, this one about a Delta Force soldier hunting legendary creatures. I thought the book was fabulous, but the agents I queried disagreed with my humble assessment. Inconceivable! I felt like someone must want a book about Rambo chasing unicorns! Lo and behold, Jason Anthony of Massie and McQuilkin picked my query letter from his slush pile and reached out. He said he enjoyed the first few chapters but that the story was for young adults, and would I consider re-writing it for teenagers? I did, and it became a story about a 17 year-old boy hunting dragons while daydreaming about sex. Yes, it was absolutely terrible. So I tried again, this time turning the story into a middle grade novel about a boy’s search for cryptids like Bigfoot and The Loch Ness Monster. The story and genre felt like the right fit for my writing style and I was offered a deal with FSG, an imprint of Macmillan.

I’m so happy my agent was patient with me while we figured out my voice. And I’m thrilled that I landed in the middle grade genre where kids can join me on secret searches for hidden animals. It was how I spent my time as a kid, wandering around the Rocky Mountains looking for signs of trolls and other beasts, and I’m so excited to share these adventures with others!



Lija Fisher is the author of THE CRYPTID CATCHER, a middle grade humorous adventure novel coming August 2018 with Farrar, Straus & Giroux, and THE CRYPTID KEEPER coming out in 2019. Yes, she believes in Bigfoot! She was the Writer in Residence in 2017 with Aspen Words. You can find her on Twitter @LijaFisher, or at

Co-writing with Your Sister: A Conversation between Heidi Lang and Kati Bartkowski

A Hint of Hydra_cover.jpg

KATI: First of all, thank you to MG Book Village for hosting us on our book birthday! Today, Heidi and I are celebrating the release of our second book, A HINT OF HYDRA! In this sequel to A DASH OF DRAGON, our brave and grumpy chef is trying to run a restaurant while also attempting to solve a murder mystery in order to stop a war between the elven mafia and a group of steampunk scientists.

HEIDI: The whole story takes place during the Week of Masks, which is basically like Halloween. But for an entire week. It might not surprise any of you to learn that Halloween is Kati’s absolute favorite holiday. And she managed to trick me into agreeing on using that as the setting when she used the “m” word.

KATI: Murder?

HEIDI: That too. But I was thinking “masquerade.”

KATI: Oh. Well, I remembered how obsessed you were with Phantom of the Opera. So I figured anything that included a masked ball would be an easy sell with you.

HEIDI: This is the problem when your co-writer is also your sister. She will use your weaknesses against you.

KATI: Speaking of being sisters who co-write, we get a lot of questions from people asking us what our system is like, and how we manage it without killing each other. Which are both very valid questions. Especially the second. 😉 So in honor of our book birthday, we thought it would be fun to answer both of them here.

HEIDI: I actually think the fact that we are sisters has made it easier to co-write, manipulation aside. I know I can be completely honest with Kati about her writing, and vice versa, and even if we argue over plot points or fictional recipes—

KATI: Like your salamander stew?

HEIDI: For some reason, Kati does not believe salamander stew is an appropriate meal for a high-end establishment like our main character’s restaurant, Mystic Cooking.

KATI: Stew is not high end. Also it sounds disgusting.

HEIDI: When we disagree on things like this, we’ll have a little…discussion. And, okay, sometimes I’ll add in salamander stew whenever it’s my turn to write a cooking scene, just so Kati’s forced to change it. But I know ultimately, our relationship will survive these things.

KATI: Before we started writing A DASH OF DRAGON, and then A HINT OF HYDRA, we spent a lot of time brainstorming together, figuring out the world and the main characters, as well as the overall plot. Which is good, because I like to outline, and Heidi is a total pantser, so it was my only way to keep her somewhat on track.

HEIDI: Kati might not admit it, but she loves when I veer way off outline and add spontaneous characters and situations. Just like I’ll never admit it, either, but I appreciate the way Kati gets us back on track again.

KATI: For the actual writing itself, we have a pretty loose method. I’ll write a section, usually a couple of pages, and then send it to Heidi. She’ll go through my section and revise it, making any changes she wants, before writing her own section. I’ll read through her revisions, make my own, and then write my next section. And repeat.

HEIDI: We’ll call each other before making any major changes. And sometimes I’ll come across a line that I can just tell Kati really enjoyed writing – those lines I leave alone. She’s good about doing the same for me. Anything else, though, and we’ve each given the other free reign to change whatever we want. If one of us changes something and the other really doesn’t like it, then we’ll discuss, but that rarely happens.

KATI: When we finish a draft, we’ll both go through the entire manuscript and make a list of everything that needs to be fixed, and then we’ll divide up that list. I’m better at logistics and settings, and Heidi’s better at dialogue and character interactions, so when we decide who is fixing what, we keep our strengths in mind.

HEIDI: Kati will do another sweep through the whole manuscript after we’ve fixed everything to make sure it all flows, and then I’ll do a final sweep to tighten up the writing. This way, by the end, our writing is all mixed up together—

KATI: I know what you’re thinking. Don’t do it.

HEIDI: —much like a good salamander stew! ;D

KATI: Ugh. You see what I have to work with here?

HEIDI: Heh heh. You love it. You know you do.

KATI: I can’t believe I’ve agreed to write yet another book with you.

HEIDI: Spoilers, Kati. Spoilers.

KATI: It’s alright. We can tell everyone here the good news…which is that we will be writing a third book in this series! We’re really excited to get to finish up this trilogy and can’t wait to talk more about that book in a few months.

HEIDI: It’s going to be epic! Our series also has a spiffy new name: The Mystic Cooking Chronicles. When we first started writing A DASH OF DRAGON way back in the day, it was titled “Mystic Cooking,” so I’m really happy we get to work that original title back in as part of the series title.

KATI: Heidi is very sentimental about things like that. Another weakness…

HEIDI: Uh-oh.

KATI: Sure would be a shame if anything were to happen to the ole Mystic Cooking…

HEIDI: What are you planning? Kati? Kati!

KATI: And look at that, we’re out of time. ;D Thank you everyone for joining us today! And if there are any other co-writers out there, we’d love to hear your methods of writing together.

HEIDI: You can find us on twitter: @ktbartkowski and @hidlang. We’ll be celebrating our book all day with a series of giveaways, so please stop by and say hello.

Kati and Heidi_author photo_PositiveVistaPhotographyHeidi Lang and Kati Bartkowski are a writing team of two sisters with twenty years of experience in Judo. Heidi likes to fling food across her stove while attempting to cook new dishes, and Kati enjoys trying new cuisine at fancy restaurants. Between the two of them, they love creating characters that kick butt both inside and outside the kitchen.