Recent Reads & Purchases (11/16/17)

If you look carefully, you’ll notice something a little bit different about the books I’ve bought over the course of these past couple weeks: not one of them has been published yet! All of them are pre-orders — books I’m so excited to read I just couldn’t wait until they’re actually out to purchase them. I suggest you get excited for them, too, and while you’re waiting for them to arrive, read (or reread!) these wonderful authors’ other excellent books: Elly Swartz’s Finding Perfect, Lauren Magaziner’s The Only Thing Worse Than Witches and Pilfer Academy, Susan Tan’s Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire, Jill Diamond’s Lou Lou & Pea and the Mural Mystery, Julie Falatko’s Snappsy the Alligator picture books, and Laura Shovan’s The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary.

Happy reading!

. . .

Recent Reads

TRAINS DON’T SLEEP, by Andria Rosenbaum, illustrated by Deirdre Gill

trains don't sleep

An ode to trains, delivered in clever, evocative rhyme, that takes you on a riveting visual journey through all kinds of lands and locations.

GRANDMOTHER THORN, by Katey Howes, art by Rebecca Hahn

grandmother thorn

A picture book with the feel of a fable about the limits and loveliness of our relationship with nature, full of gorgeous, utterly absorbing multimedia artwork that’ll have you lingering over each and every page.

DADDY DEPOT, by Chana Stiefel, illustrated by Andy Snair

daddy depot

A humorous and heartfelt celebration of dads, DESPITE all their foibles and flaws.

THE WILD BUNCH, by Jan Gangsei

wild bunch

A romp through the wilderness with a delightful cast of characters and as many moments of laugh-out-loud hilarity as edge-of-your-seat excitement.



Jodi’s book begins with a ridiculously exciting premise — a boy saves a pig from slaughter and brings her home to his urban Ohio home.
 That home just so happens to be jam-packed with four other kids, two parents, and a dog. One of those kids is Josie, who is our narrator.
 Josie, “unnoticed” in her busy home/family, immediately feels a connection with the pig, a runt who was shoved aside by her bigger siblings. Josie’s relationship with the pig only grows stronger as the days pass, complicating her mission to find her a forever home.

But this book is about so much more than that. It’s about the importance and power of having a strong, loving, healthy community.
 It’s about how hardship can, perhaps paradoxically, bring a family closer together, bridging distances that have formed between its members. 
It’s about how a kid’s interests can shift and change as much as their bodies, and how that can be both sad and happy, confusing and thrilling. It’s about how other people’s lives and stories are always bigger and more complicated than we think they are from the outside.
 It’s about how strong the bond between human and animal can be, and how meaningful that bond can become.

On top of all this, the book is beautifully written, and full of some of the most heartwarming family scenes I can ever remember reading.
 If you haven’t read THE UNLIKELY STORY OF A PIG IN THE CITY, do yourself a favor and read it. I promise you won’t regret that you did.

Recent Purchases

SMART COOKIE, by Elly Swartz — January 30, 2018

smart cookie

Sometimes you need to keep a few secrets.

Frankie knows she’ll be in big trouble if Dad discovers she secretly posted a dating profile for him online. But she’s determined to find him a wife, even if she ends up grounded for life. Frankie wants what she had before Mom died. A family of three. Two is a pair of socks or the wheels on a bicycle or a busy weekend at the B&B where Frankie and Dad live. Three is a family. And Frankie’s is missing a piece.

But Operation Mom is harder to pull off than Frankie expects. None of the Possibles are very momish, the B&B’s guests keep canceling, Frankie’s getting the silent treatment from her once best friend, and there’s a maybe-ghost hanging around. Worst of all, Gram and Dad are definitely hiding secrets of their own.

If a smart cookie like Frankie wants to save the B&B and find her missing piece, she’s going to have to figure out what secrets are worth keeping and when it’s time to let go.

THE 11:11 WISH, by Kim Tomsic — February 13, 2018

11 11 wish.jpg

Megan Meyers has a foolproof plan to reinvent herself at her new school. Good-bye, dorky math nerd; hello, friend magnet! But her first day at Saguaro Prep starts off weird to the tenth power.

When she’s dared to “make something exciting happen,” Megan is thrown into the middle of an epic power struggle between the two seventh-grade Spirit Captains. So with nothing to lose, Megan wishes for “some magic” as her classroom’s cat clock chimes 11:11—and is granted an enchanted teen magazine promising miracle makeovers and sure-fire secrets for winning friends and crushes.

But magic can have dangerous side effects, and as her social life grows exponentially worse, Megan begins to wonder if wishing was ever a purrfect idea.

WIZARDMATCH, by Lauren Magaziner — March 6, 2018


Twelve-year-old Lennie Mercado loves magic. She practices her invisibility powers all the time (she can now stay invisible for fifteen seconds!), and she dreams of the day that she can visit her grandfather, the Prime Wizard de Pomporromp, at his magical estate.

Now Lennie has her chance. Poppop has decided to retire, and his grandchildren are coming from all over to compete in Wizardmatch. The winner inherits his title, his castle, and every single one of his unlimited magical powers. The losers get nothing. Lennie is desperate to win, but when Poppop creates a new rule to quelch any sibling rivalry, her thoughts turn from winning Wizardmatch to sabotaging it…even if it means betraying her family.

CILLA LEE-JENKINS: THIS BOOK IS A CLASSIC, by Susan Tan — March 27, 2018

cilla lee-jenkins 2

Priscilla “Cilla” Lee-Jenkins has just finished her (future) bestselling memoir, and now she’s ready to write a Classic. This one promises to have everything: Romance, Adventure, and plenty of Drama―like Cilla’s struggles to “be more Chinese,” be the perfect flower girl at Aunt Eva’s wedding, and learn how to share her best friend.

In Cilla Lee-Jenkins: This Book Is a Classic, author Susan Tan seamlessly weaves experiences as a Chinese American with universal stories about being a big sister, making friends, and overcoming fears. Cilla Lee-Jenkins will bulldoze her way into your heart in this winning middle grade novel about family, friendship, and finding your voice.

LOU LOU & PEA AND THE BICENTENNIAL BONANZA, by Jill Diamond, pictures by Lesley Vamos — April 24, 2018

lou lou and pea 2

BFFs Lou Lou Bombay and Peacock Pearl are busy preparing for the Bicentennial Bonanza, their city’s two-hundredth birthday bash! And this year, the party will take place in their beloved neighborhood of El Corazón. With a baking contest, talent show, and a new gazebo planned, the community can’t wait to celebrate the founders (and historical BFFs), Diego Soto and Giles Wonderwood. But when Vice-Mayor Andy Argyle claims the festivities belong to Verde Valley, using a mysterious diary as evidence, Lou Lou and Pea smell trouble. Will the friends be able to uncover the secrets of their city’s founding, and bring the Bonanza back to El Corazón?

TWO DOGS IN A TRENCH COAT GO TO SCHOOL, by Julia Falatko, illustrated by Colin Jack — May 29, 2018


Sassy and Waldo are good dogs. They spend the day keeping their house safe. Has a squirrel ever gotten inside? No! But every day their boy, Stewart, comes home from this terrible place called school smelling like anxiety and looseleaf paper.

Sassy and Waldo decide to save Stewart. But they don’t let dogs into school. So Sassy and Waldo decide to get creative. They put on an old trench coat, and now everyone at Bea Arthur Elementary thinks they are a new student named Salty from Liver, Ohio. Well, everyone except Stewart.

Sassy and Waldo love school! Everything smells like meat and dirty socks. And they discover a whole other way to help out Stewart!

TAKEDOWN, by Laura Shovan — June 19, 2018


Mikayla is a wrestler; when you grow up in a house full of brothers who wrestle, it’s inevitable. It’s also a way to stay connected to her oldest brother, Evan, who moved in with their dad. Some people are objecting to having to having a girl on the team. But that’s not stopping Mikayla. She’s determined to work harder than ever, and win.

Lev is determined to make it to the state championships this year. He’s used to training with his two buddies as the Fearsome Threesome; they know how to work together. At the beginning of sixth grade, he’s paired with a new partner–a girl. This better not get in the way of his goal.

Mikayla and Lev work hard together and become friends. But when they face each other, only one of them can win.

EngiNerds at the Mini Maker Faire

Have you ever wanted to spend a whole weekend tucked away in a cozy bookstore? Well, that’s basically how I spent this past weekend, as I participated in BOTH days of Barnes & Noble’s 3rd Annual Mini Maker Faire.

Screen Shot 2017-11-13 at 10.07.10 AM

I was lucky enough to be at the Framingham, MA location, which is one of the bookstores I frequented as a kid, making this weekend especially special for me. Saturday was spent being part of the Author Scavenger Hunt and signing books alongside Susan Tan, author of the remarkably excellent Cilla Lee-Jenkins: Future Author Extraordinaire.


Sunday I took part in the STEMlit panel alongside a handful of Middle Grade lit’s absolute finest: Kim Harrington, Katie Slivensky, Monica Tesler, and Rob Vlock.


We did demonstrations, answered questions, signed books — and left behind a bunch of additional autographed copies.


So get to the Framingham Barnes & Noble and get YOUR signed copies of these great books while you still can!

Thank you Barnes & Noble and my fellow MG authors for a fantastic weekend! I hope to see you all next year at the Faire!

Passage of the Week: KAT GREENE COMES CLEAN

This week’s passage of the week comes from Melissa Roske’s Kat Greene Comes Clean, a book that manages to be both deadly serious and seriously funny at the same time. Kat’s story is about many things, but the book’s central dilemma involves Kat’s relationship with her mother, who struggles with a severe case of OCD. Because of this, in Kat’s home, nothing is quite what it seems. A toothbrush isn’t necessarily used for brushing your teeth. The act of washing your hands isn’t always a healthy one. A minute usually lasts a lot longer than sixty seconds.

The passage below comes from the very beginning of the book, and that is what I want to talk about here: beginnings. A good beginning introduces readers to the world of your story — its peculiarities and main personalities — but must do so in an interesting and/or exciting way, compelling them to venture further and further into that world. Melissa does this expertly, seamlessly folding dramatic details into a gripping scene. And the writing only gets better from here. Readers won’t be able to help but continue turning the pages, and Kat’s funny, fascinating, and deeply important story will leave them glad they did.

. . .

KAT GREENE COMES CLEAN, by Melissa Roske (pp. 1-2)


Sometimes it’s the little things that get to me. Like an electric toothbrush. Mom’s got one in her hand — but it’s not for her teeth. She’s using it on the kitchen floor. As if this is normal. As if this makes sense. I want to sneak back to my room and start the day over, but I can’t. Mom’s already spotted me. “Look, Kit-Kat,” she says, holding up the toothbrush. “The bristles are perfect for cleaning in between the floor tiles. I got the tip from Good Housekeeping. Cool, huh?”

That’s not the word I’d use.

I grab a blueberry muffin and plunk down at the breakfast bar.

“Wait!” Mom springs up like a jack-in-the-box. “Let me get you a plate.”

“That’s okay,” I say, hopping off my stool. “I’ll get it.”

“Don’t worry,” she says. “Just sit.”

I could argue, but what’s the point? The less I touch, the less Mom has to frantically clean up after me. I go back to my spot at the breakfast bar.

I watch as Mom yanks off her rubber gloves, places them on the counter, and goes over to the sink. She starts washing her hands, scrubbing each finger and around both thumbs, careful not to miss a spot. “I thought you were getting me a plate,” I remind her.

“I am,” Mom says, reaching for more soap. “Give me a minute.”

minute? When Mom washes her hands, it could take all day. This is her new routine. She says it “calms” her, but I’m not so sure. She doesn’t look calm to me.

I pick a stray berry from my muffin and pop it in my mouth. “I did really well on my French quiz,” I say, hoping Mom will get the hint and stop washing. “Better than Sam Teitelbaum, even. Want to see it?”

Mom dries her hands on a clean dish towel and reaches into the cabinet for a plate. “I’ll look at it later, Kit-Kat,” she says, “after you leave for school. I promise.”

This is a promise Mom won’t keep. She’ll be cleaning every inch of our apartment — and washing her hands, over and over again — as soon as I’m gone. I finish my muffin and go to my room to get dressed.

. . .

Want to learn more about Melissa and her work? Visit her here and follow her on Twitter at @MelissaRoske.

The EngiNerds Invade the Empire State!

What a week!

The EngiNerds and I invaded the Empire State! First for a bookstore event with four of the best MG authors around . . .

Book Culture
Event at Book Culture bookstore in NYC. (Left to right: me, Melissa Roske, Karina Yan Glaser, Alyson Gerber, and Jodi Kendall)

. . . then some classroom visits with a whole bunch of incredibly creative and inspiringly awesome kids . . .

. . . followed up by a fantastic day of learning and book-loving at #nErDCampLI!

Panel on humor in Middle Grade literature. (Left to right: Barbara Dee, Tommy Greenwald, Denis Markell, Booki Vivat, me, Kara LaReau, and Lauren Magaziner)
Signing books at the meet-the-author portion of nErDCampLI.

Thanks, New York! I’ll be back soon!

Recent Reads & Purchases (11/01/17)

Thanks once again to #MGBooktober, I’ve done more book-buying than book-reading these past couple weeks. Fortunately, the majority of the books included in this month’s #MGBOOKBATTLE — a month full of daily “battles” in which readers will be asked to determine their favorite of the 64 most-loved books of #MGBooktober — are ones I’ve already read or already own. Hopefully, I’ll now have a chance to do some reading and catch up on the books I’ve been adding to my shelves.

Below you’ll find, first, brief reviews of some of the books I have managed to recently read. A little further down, you’ll find information about some of the books I’ve recently bought, and now am eagerly looking forward to reading. As always, you can consider ALL of these books, even those I haven’t read yet myself, strongly recommended. I added them to my shelves because they’ve received TONS of praise from a variety of trusted sources.

Any recent reads or purchases YOU think deserve a shout-out? Let me know in the comments below.

Happy reading!

. . .

Recent Reads

THE CHOCOPOCALYPSE, by Chris Callaghan


A silly and hilarious story about a scary and serious subject — the end of chocolate! Can you even imagine?! Chris can, and does, and the result is a laugh-out-loud mystery-adventure full of crazy characters and spot-on sendups of power-hungry businessmen, put-upon teachers, hopeless parents, irritating classmates, and the shallow nightly newscast. This book will have you on the edge of your seat, your sides split, and your stomach grumbling for a bar of chocolate.



This book starts off looking like one thing — a story about a girl being forced to move halfway across the country, from the sun and sand of Florida to the clouds and cold of Chicago — but then abruptly veers into darker, creepier territory. And the surprises don’t end there. Lindsay deftly handles readers’ expectations, bit by bit revealing that plenty of other things about her world — dolls, for instance, or statues or sketchpads — might not be what they seem. Throughout it all, she keeps your heart pounding with plenty of frights and fast-paced action, and keeps your interest piqued by gradually unspooling the mystery at the story’s center. True to form, the book ends unexpectedly, too, as Lindsay warms up your now well-exercised heart by bringing her thrill ride to a touching conclusion.



A book about so many things — grief and goldfish, dogs and deadlines, best friends and books, honesty and runaway hens — all told in a voice absolutely bursting with spirit. Vilonia’s approach to language — playful, quirky, and oh-so-very inventive — and life itself are things to behold. An absolute delight. Middle Grade literature at its finest.

WHAT ABOUT MOOSE?, by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Rebecca J. Gomez, illustrated by Keika Yamaguchi


A fun, funny, and all-around delightful picture book that has at its heart an important message about leadership, teamwork, and compromise. Kids will love the silly bits, and the gentle conflicts among this group of treehouse-building friends will get them thinking about their own relationships, and about the benefits of being kind, fair, and open-minded in all of their endeavors.



A masterfully crafted, sharply written mystery-adventure with a unique, exciting premise and a cast of complex, intriguing characters. Mabel is a realistically flawed but exceptionally admirable protagonist, her ingenuity, loyalty, and courage standing out amid the story’s shadier individuals. She’s also just plain funny. Action, humor, and a bunch of excellent characters, all wonderfully written and bound up in a cleverly concocted mystery — what more could a reader possibly ask for?

Recent Purchases

IT’S A MYSTERY, PIG FACE!, by Wendy McLeod MacKnight

pig face

Eleven-year-old Tracy Munroe and her family have just gotten back from their family vacation—why did no one realize that her little brother, Lester, a.k.a. Pig Face, was allergic to sand, salt air, and the ocean before they decided to go to the beach?—and now she has three big goals to accomplish before she goes back to school:

  1. Figure out a fantastic end of summer adventure with her best friend, Ralph, budding Michelin-star chef. (And no, Ralph, perfecting a soufflé does not count.)
  2. Make sure Pig Face does not tag along.
  3. Get the gorgeous new boy next door, Zach, to know she even exists.

But when Tracy and Ralph discover an envelope stuffed with money in the dugout at baseball field (and Lester forces them to let him help), they have a mystery on their hands. Did someone lose the cash? Or, did someone steal it? St. Stephens has always seemed like a quiet place to live, but soon the town is brimming with suspects.

Now they’re on a hunt to discover the truth, before the trio is accused of the crime themselves.

McLeod MacKnight’s debut middle grade novel is a funny, charming window into small-town life, with a focus on the importance of friendship and family and the struggle to figure out where you fit in, perfect for fans of Polly Horvath and Sarah Weeks.

HOWARD WALLACE, P.I., by Casey Lyall

howard wallace

“What’s with the get-up? Is that the company uniform or something?”
“This? All P.I.s wear a trench coat.”
“Dude, that’s a brown bathrobe.”
I shrugged and straightened out my sleeves. “First rule of private investigation, Ivy: work with what you’ve got.”

Twelve-year-old Howard Wallace lives by his list of rules of private investigation. He knows more than anyone how to work with what he’s got: a bathrobe for a trench coat, a makeshift office behind the school equipment shed, and not much else—least of all, friends. So when a hot case of blackmail lands on his desk, he’s ready to take it on himself . . . until the new kid, Ivy Mason, convinces him to take her on as a junior partner. As they banter through stakeouts and narrow down their list of suspects, Howard starts to wonder if having Ivy as a sidekick—and a friend—is such a bad thing after all.



When a provocation from his dad irks twelve-year-old evil genius Oliver Watson, he’ll have to put his plans for world domination on hold in order to beat the pants off the competition and win the middle school election!


voyage to magical north

Twelve-year-old Brine Seaborne is a girl with a past―if only she could remember what it is. Found alone in a rowboat as a child, clutching a shard of the rare starshell needed for spell-casting, she’s spent the past years keeping house for an irritable magician and his obnoxious apprentice, Peter.

When Brine and Peter get themselves into a load of trouble and flee, they blunder into the path of the legendary pirate ship, the Onion. Before you can say “pieces of eight,” they’re up to their necks in the pirates’ quest to find Magical North, a place so shrouded in secrets and myth that most people don’t even think it exists. If Brine is lucky, on this adventure, she’ll find her place in the world. And if she’s unlucky, everyone on the ship will be eaten by sea monsters. It could really go either way in Claire Fayers’ The Voyage to Magical North, a middle-grade fantasy that is just as magical as it is funny.



Darkmouth: The Legends Begin is the first book in a spirited tween fantasy series that Kirkus Reviews called “Ghostbusters meets Percy Jackson as written by Terry Pratchett.”

For generations, Finn’s family has protected Darkmouth from the fierce magical creatures known as Legends. Now the Legends are plotting a major attack, and it’s Finn’s turn to defend his hometown. So it’s too bad he’s the worst Legend Hunter in history.

The world’s unlikeliest hero is also its only hope in this middle grade series full of madcap adventure and mythological creatures—perfect for fans of How to Train Your Dragon and The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom.



Denzel is having no luck with his maths homework. First, it’s too difficult, then there’s a terrifying mess of smoky black tendrils that wants to kill him, then two teenagers explode through his window holding guns and throwing magic. They are the Spectre Collectors, and spooky is their speciality.Realising that Denzel has a special gift, they sweep him off to their headquarters for training. Tested with awesome weapons and ancient magic, Denzel realises just how little he knows. But there’s a serious problem on its way from the Spectral Realm, so Denzel has a lot to learn. FAST.

THE 13TH HORSEMAN (AFTERWORLDS #1), by Barry Hutchison

13th horseman

The first hilarious book in Barry’s AFTERWORLDS sequence. Drake has just met the Horsemen of the Apocalypse but is that really the end of the world? Pratchett meets Python in this dark comic fantasy with plenty of action, perfect for 11+ boys

Drake is surprised to find three horsemen of the apocalypse playing snakes and ladders in his garden shed. He’s even more surprised when they insist that he is one of them. They’re missing a Horseman, having gone through several Deaths and they think that Drake is the boy for the job. At first he’s reluctant to usher in Armageddon but does being in charge of Armageddon have to spell the end of the world?

An apocalyptic blend of riotous comedy, heart-stopping action and a richly imagined fantasy adventure.

MR. MUMBLES (INVISIBLE FIENDS #1), by Barry Hutchison

mr mumbles

Kyle’s imaginary friend from childhood is back… with a vengeance.

Kyle hasn’t seen Mr Mumbles in years. And there’s a good reason for that: Mr Mumbles doesn’t exist.

But now Kyle’s imaginary friend is back, and Kyle doesn’t have time to worry about why. Only one thing matters: staying alive…


This week’s passage of the week comes from Kristin L. Gray’s debut novel, Vilonia Beebe Takes Charge. It’s a book about so many things — grief and goldfish, dogs and deadlines, best friends and books, honesty and runaway hens — and there are so many things to love about it.

The thing I love most of all, however, is Vilonia’s voice. It is absolutely bursting with spirit, and her approach to language — both in her narration and her own writing — is playful, quirky, and oh-so-very inventive.

Importantly, though, Kristin is true to Vilonia as a character. No matter how clever the metaphor or turn of phrase, you’re never once jolted out of the story, never made to feel like you’re listening to Kristin as opposed to Vilonia. This is, in large part, because Kristin has made Vilonia so thoroughly multidimensional and sympathetic — so very real. Thanks to this, every sentence Vilonia narrates, speaks, or writes adds depth to her as a character, and further clarifies how she sees and feels about her world and the people around her.

Kristin’s book is a lesson in voice, especially the ways in which developing a strong, clear one can enhance every aspect of your story. Read the book for that, as well as for the countless other wonderful things about it — and then stick around for the award-winning pound cake.

. . .

VILONIA BEEBE TAKES CHARGE, by Kristin L. Gray (pp. 28-30)


Leon sped by me to wait with the guys from the sixth-grade track team. If only they knew how silly they looked, huddled together like ducks in matching pants. I zipped by unnoticed, or so I thought, until one of them quacked, “Hey, Vilonia.” I stopped. Rory Willoughby, one of the Willoughby twins, with hair so wavy even the ocean was jealous, ran toward me. I bit my lip. Maybe he was going to ask me to prom. It was only five years away.

“Hey,” I said, not noticing one bit that his cute freckles had migrated across the bridge of his nose and his eyes were now greener than a four-leaf clover.

He grinned. A row of metal flashed across his teeth, and my legs became spaghetti. “Thanks for rescuing Eleanor.”

“Thanks for being so perfect.”

“What?” He tilted his head.

“Perky!” I died faster than an armadillo crossing the highway. “Thanks for being so perky. Most people aren’t morning material.”

“Yeah. Well, thanks again.” He smiled. I turned away and squinted through the raindrops, happy to see the bus’s headlights peeping through the fog.

“Gotta run,” I said.

“I’d sit toward the front of the bus if I were you,” he said, and took off.

“Hey, Vilonia!” Ava Claire waved and shuffled up the walk next to me in full rain gear. Her dark cheeks flushed pink from the brisk morning air. “What was that about?”

“I’m not exactly sure.” I shrugged and pointed to the rosy tulle poking out beneath her daisy raincoat. “Really, AC? It’s raining, in case you missed it.”

“In case you missed it, it’s Career Day in Mr. Manning’s class. Anyway, weather doesn’t stop me. I’ve got rain boots.”

And she did. She probably had a matching umbrella in her backpack too.

Ava Claire was all ruffles and totes and sparkly dance shoes — everything I wasn’t. I’d played softball since I could swing a bat, but Ava Claire wasn’t interested the minute she laid her brown eyes on those “ugly spiked shoes.” She’d rather twirl onstage in scratchy sequins under one-thousand-watt lights. Yeah, we went together like toothpaste and orange juice, but if anyone tried picking on either one of us, we stuck together like gum to a shoe.

. . .

Want to learn more about Kristin and her work? Visit her here and follow her on Twitter at @kristinlgray.

Passage of the Week: ZINNIA AND THE BEES

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a Passage of the Week, but I’ve decided to bring this feature of my blog back. It’s a great way to share what I’m reading, and to celebrate excellent books and the wonderful writing in them. It’s also a way for me to do something I love nearly as much as reading and writing, and that’s talking about writing — delving into the nitty-gritty, picking apart sentences, discussing craft.

This week’s passage comes from Zinnia and the Bees, Danielle Davis’s incredibly original and dazzlingly written debut. Throughout the book’s first eighty pages, Danielle carefully builds a lexicon of Zinnia’s emotional world — words and phrases that have specific, special meaning to Zinnia and, increasingly, to the reader, too. Soon enough, all Danielle has to do is drop one of these words or phrases and, just like that, she conjures up a flurry of Zinnia’s thoughts and feelings.

In the passage below, we find Zinnia trying to escape all those thoughts and feelings. She does so by knitting. But her wood needles and wool yarn can only keep her problems at bay for so long. Here we see them creeping in on her, invading what was supposed to be her most private, personal space. Thanks in large part to the work Danielle did earlier in the book, she can craft a brief but highly dynamic, emotional roller coaster of a scene — a hundred some-odd words that pack the punch of an entire novel.

Danielle’s book — and this selection from it in particular — offers the writer several valuable lessons, including one that poets know well but novelists often forget: every word matters. And if you write (and revise!) with that in mind, every one of your carefully chosen words will reach the reader all the better.

. . .

ZINNIA AND THE BEES, by Danielle Davis (pp. 85-86)


Wood needles. Wool yarn. The hypnotizing push and pull, tuck and wrap. All the stuff that feels massive gets smaller. Less overwhelming. It fades into faraway stars. Dots that don’t concern me.

Just the movement of my fingers, the click of needles, the tug of string.

It’s not far from the best ever.

Until the front door opens — whoosh.

I put down my never-ending scarf. Everything comes at me again. Massive and close and gaining ground.

Dr. Flossdrop. The calunk of her clogs.


The bees.

I’ve tried leaving the windows open all week. I’ve tried shaking my head furiously. I’ve tried taking hour-long showers, despite what Dr. Flossdrop thinks of wasting that much water. I’ve tried asking them politely. I’ve tried yelling, too.

But the bees aren’t listening. And they’re not leaving.

Unlike Adam, who left and might never be coming back. I haven’t heard from him, and I haven’t seen him, even though I’m always looking.

Everything feels impossible again. Big and fast and suffocating.


. . .

Want to learn more about Danielle and her work? Visit her here and follow her on Twitter at @writesinLA.