Get to Know… Sammie Vance!

My name is… Sammie Vance.

I am… 12 years old, the founder of Sammie’s Buddy Bench Project and a Kindness advocate. I am most known for my buddy bench project where I collect caps and have them recycled into buddy benches to help the environment and friendships! I have helped over 200 schools/groups all over the US get buddy benches. UPS and Walgreens have even helped me in the past. During the COVID pandemic I started Sammie Sending Smiles where I would sent an encouraging letter and a laminated to someone each day. I have sent over 500 smiles worldwide. Last October I started a podcast called Sammie Smiles! The goal: Interview inspiring people and leave my guests and listeners with a smile to start off their week!

What I am really excited about is getting my book published on August 24th! It is called Inspire the World: A Kid’s Journey to Making a Difference, published by Clear Fork Publishing.

I wrote the first draft of my book when I was 9 and through the past few years of finding an agent and publisher my book has, as you would say, grown up with me. What started as a picture book has turned into a fun book about my journey that walks kids through my story but also how they can make a difference too! I hope it will inspire many. There are real pictures and cartoon Sammie’s throughout the book. The illustrations are provided by Talitha Shipman! Fun Fact: Talitha is an award-winning illustrator that happens to live only five minutes from me. We have become good friends these past few years.

As a kid, I was… well, I am still a kid, but a few years ago I was very shy, but through my project I have learned how to talk to small and large crowds and in front of cameras and on the radio. I even started my own weekly podcast called Sammie Smiles! It took a lot of practice and bravery but knowing I have the power to inspire others makes it worth the effort.

Writing is… so much fun, because you can write how you feel and share it with others. You can also spread a/the message you want to spread. Being able to write my story and see it in book form is a really amazing feeling.

Reading is… like you are being transported to another world. Weather it is a fiction, or non-fiction book, it feels like you are a part of the story. If there is a book I really like you will probably find me quoting it during every day conversation.

Books are… a lot of fun to read because you can learn so much, whether it is fictional or not fiction. It takes me a while to find the right book or series, but when I do I can’t put it down. You might not see me for a few days!

Did you know… I was on the Today Show and Kathie Lee Gifford wrote me a song? It was a really neat experience. Also that I helped run a cap art mural program with my parks department. I designed them and then used recycled caps to create art! They were featured in a TV show of Operation Awesome. The episode name was “Kindness Counts!” I love meeting new people and am excited to get my book out there and hopefully connect with many others.

You can find me… in my new book out August 24 called Inspire the World: A Kid’s Journey to Making a Difference.

I have links to order on my website or you can order easily online. If you read it I would love to know what you think!

My mom even put together some activities and teacher resources that are available on my website.

website: www.sammiesbuddybenchproject.com

IG: @sammiesbuddybenchproject

Twitter: @SammieBenches

FB: Sammie’s Buddy Bench Project

Youtube: Sammie Smiles (my podcast! Check out episode 15 where I interviewed Jarrett Lerner!)

You can also listen to my podcast on Apple Podcast and Spotify.

Remember: You don’t just have to be an adult to make a difference. You can be a kid too!

Get to Know… Shelley Johannes!

My name is… Shelley Johannes.

I am… the author and illustrator of the Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker chapter book series, and other exciting things to come!

More randomly, I am a hoper, dreamer, and over-thinker. Lover of people, process, and celebratory pizza. Former architectural designer. Sappy parent, bird nerd, and brand-new guitarist. Most of all, I am a kid whose biggest dream came true, and I am ridiculously grateful.

As a kid, I was… nicknamed Sonar because I was always listening in on the conversations around me, often from the way-back of our wood-paneled station wagon. I had high hopes and big dreams, and an epic pair of cloud-patterned bellbottoms to accompany them.

Writing is… the way I process the world. I’m a slow processer, but that struggle to conjure vague thoughts into something tangible is a compulsion I couldn’t live without.

Drawing is… a haven. There’s nothing as relaxing as disappearing into the page and letting everything else fall away.

Reading is… my favorite way to connect.

A friend bought me Alice Ozma’s memoir, The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared, as a birthday gift when I was a fairly new parent. Alice and her dad’s sweet, awkward, messy story of connecting through books impacted me deeply. Especially the idea that sharing books is sharing ourselves. Before I finished the last page, I vowed to cherish and protect reading time with my kids as a gift to all of us. A promise to be in the pages together for a lifetime. My boys are now twelve and fifteen, and reading together each night is still the best part of our day, and we defend that time like the precious thing it is.

I love that publishing has extended that reading connection to include an even broader family, and has woven threads of connection all over the place.

Books are… magic.

I’ve always wanted the power of teleportation. Books perform that magic every day. They take us endless places. They make us laugh and cry and learn and see and heal and grow. They challenge us, expose us, and enlarge us. My favorites make me pay attention and appreciate being alive—and see the wonder all around.

Did you know… my debut picture book, More Than Sunny, releases from Abrams on Tuesday, May 11th? I hope it brings readers as much joy as making it brought me. If you pre-order from Literati Bookstore by May 10th, you’ll receive a signed copy of the book, plus two free signed art prints with each purchase!

You can find me… working at home in my studio most days. Extremely high odds I’ll be in my yellow hat with a bird or two on my shoulder!

You can also find me at www.shelleyjohannes.com and—sharing birds, doodles and more!—as @shelleyjohannes on Instagram and Twitter. 

Get to Know… Elizabeth Eulberg!

My name is… Elizabeth Eulberg.

I am a… connoisseur of cheese and cupcakes, a lover of long walks around London and the Green Bay Packers, an avid singer of karaoke and dancing around to boy bands while cleaning, a player of the piano, guitar, clarinet, AND drums, the proud mother of a stuffed Baby Yoda. Oh, I also write books.

Elizabeth’s next novel, The Best Worst Summer, comes out on May 4th!

As a kid, I was… not the best student. Or reader. I was put in remedial reading in first grade and really struggled with school. I remember feeling very frustrated that my friends could easily pick up reading while I couldn’t. In second grade, I had to take a test, where we found out I have a couple learning differences, including dyslexia. Around fourth grade, I really started to love to read and became a stronger student thanks to my mom and teachers. I ended up graduating high school and college with honors. But I still think of the little girl who was so down on herself because she felt “dumb” and got bullied for her big buck teeth, glasses, and frizzy hair. And you know what, she turned out okay! 

Writing is… a necessity. It helps keep all those voices in my head in check. Wait, having voices in your head is normal, right? RIGHT?! 

Reading is… magical! How else can you go on mythical adventures, solve a crime, go back in time, or have a meet-cute without leaving the couch? It’s all just a turn of the page away.

Books are… THE BEST! I recently moved to a different country and had to go through alllll my books. It was really, really hard! I donated most so they could have a good home, but there were some that I refused to part with. But no matter where my favorite books are–in London, in storage in NYC, or on a school bookshelf–they’ll always have a place in my heart.

Did you know… that I only listened to music that came out in 1989 while writing part of The Best Worst Summer? Since half of the book takes place in 1989, I had a special playlist of fun songs from that time. Full disclosure: most of it was the New Kids on the Block. Hands off, Joey! He’s mine! 😉 

You can find me… wandering tiny alleys and courtyards in London. Or you can follow my British adventures online at www.elizabetheulberg.com, Twitter: @ElizEulberg, and Instagram: @ElizabethEulberg.

Get to Know… Lisa Fipps!

My name is… Lisa Fipps.

I am an… introspective extroverted introvert. I love being around people, especially people I can laugh or have a deep, meaningful conversation with, but then I need to escape, retreat to my quiet, private space. When I’m extroverting (I love to make nouns into verbs), not only do I like to have fun and explore the world, but I also gather in my brain basket everything I see, hear, and feel. Then when I’m introverting, I process it all to use it in my writing. Natalie Goldberg describes this process perfectly in Writing Down the Bones. “Writers live twice. They go along with their regular life … But there’s another part of them that they have been training. The one that lives everything a second time.”

As a kid, I was… the good girl, the responsible one, the resourceful one, the problem-solver, the fixer, the glue. Even though I come from a dysfunctional home and am the survivor of several childhood traumas, as a kid I was terrified of losing my family. So, I assumed the above-listed roles. The weight of the world was on my shoulders. All. The. Time. I think that’s why I gravitate toward issue-oriented books for kids. They’re living tough topics. They need books about tough topics.

Writing is… my life. I don’t write. I’m a writer. It’s who I am. I never feel more me than when I’m writing or hanging out with other writers. We see the world differently. We experience it differently. We’re our own artistic creatures that others often don’t understand.

Reading is… part pleasure and part pain. I love reading a good book. Some make me laugh. Some make me cry. Some make me think. Some teach me. Some do a combination of those things. That’s the pleasure part. But as a writer, I often find myself studying how the writer wrote the book. You know how a new mechanic will take an engine apart to identify and understand each piece and how it all goes together? That’s what I do. I dismantle the plot, dialogue, conflict, and so on to figure out how it all comes together, how it works. That gets to be a pain when all I want to do is enjoy a book.

Books are… my escape. When I was struggling with a lot of things as a kid, I could open a book and instantly be transported to England or Florida or another galaxy – far away from the chaos of home. I loved feeling like I was the character in a book and living a different life. If only for a while.

Did you know… I used to test-drive cars and write about them from a consumer point of view. That’s when I was a journalist. A limited-edition Camaro. Convertibles. A new car every week to drive as much as I wanted – I only had to put gas in them if I ran out – for several years. I’ve always had a thing for cars, especially new ones with all the bells and whistles. I never knew my dad because he died when I was 13 months old, but I’m told he was the same. Must be in my genes. 

You can find me… writing, doing school visits and events, reading, dabbling in art (watercolor and photography), and driving. Driving relaxes me. Oh, and you can find me virtually through my website, https://authorlisafipps.com/, or Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. Just search for Author Lisa Fipps.

Get to Know… Kevin and Basil Sylvester!

My name is… Kevin Sylvester.

I am a… goofball.

Which is useful to be when you write and illustrate books for kids.

I try to write books that would have pleased and entertained a 12-year-old me, and I think I’m still that kid with more (thank goodness) adult behaviour on top.

But the things that made laugh back then (word play, snark, bizarre and unexpected juxtapositions) still make me laugh.

The types of stories that made me want to read back then (comic books, mysteries, adventure) still make me want to read.

As a kid, I was… a quiet geek. Awkward, shy, slightly hyperactive. I found an outlet in drawing. I can lose myself for hours with a pencil and paper.

But it was in third grade that I thought I might not be bad at it. I drew a witch for a Halloween drawing contest and won a pack of bubble gum. It’s still the most I’ve been paid for a single drawing, and it made me start taking art more seriously.

Writing is… frantic.

You know this, Jarrett, but there’s a pattern to writing that always starts with an idea, then the excitement of following that idea… then the slog of trying to get that down on paper (or computer).

Drawing, as a process, can be relaxing.

Writing CAN be like that, but never (in my experience) until I’ve reached the smoothing out stage of draft #3+. But we were all prepared for this as kids, because our editors today are basically just telling us the same things our teachers told us back when:

Read this over before you hand it in.

Read it out loud.

Show it to someone else.

Drawing is… as close to prayer and meditation as anything in life.

Everything around me quiets and settles. I’m still conscious, making decisions about the drawing, but I can lose myself within the drawing.

Part of this was embracing messiness, mistakes, and the joy of doodling.

I know that the process, if allowed to continue on its own, will often yield interesting results.

I’m actually finding this hard to articulate in a way that might be useful to someone else.

I guess the bottom line is that you should never judge a drawing until it is done, and you know it is done when it is…. done.

(See earlier answer about writing).

Reading is… as important as writing.

To be a writer is to be a reader. You HAVE to read. Not just because that’s where you encounter new ideas and POVs but because it’s the best place to pillage and plunder for nuggets of gold. You might be wowed by a sentence in a new book. A writer will deconstruct why that sentence worked, and how it used the placement of words or sounds or images to lead to a specific result.

Then a writer will learn from that and will use it in their own writing.

But, I also want to say that reading is half of a book, even if you are not a writer.

Our culture is obsessed with the idea of a “work of art” as an object in and of itself. We go to museums and look at works of art that are completely taken out of their context, their utility in the real world. The viewer merely observes, rarely interacts.

Books blast that wall down. Why? Because once I’m done a book, it is a dead object. Paper and ink. I call this the first “half circle” of the book.

The book is completed, made alive again, when a reader reads it. Let’s say The Fabulous Zed Watson sells a million copies (please, Basil and I need the money). Well, there is no longer one Zed Watson. There are a million. Each reader closes the circle in their own personal way.

Books are… see earlier response.

But I would add two things. Each book a writer makes is the answer to a question. What if we lived in Space? What if the greatest book ever written was never published, but buried in a hidden location?

I think of books as messengers. Not in a didactic way (although they can be that), but as couriers for ideas, feelings, experiences. I learn so much about the world by reading books from perspectives, or about experiences, that are different from mine.

Did you know… I play hockey as many as four times a week? And I freeze a skating rink every year in my backyard?

I also love baseball. Maybe too much.

You can find me… in my messy attic.

In schools (I love doing school visits – virtually or in person).

Online, all over the place.

And, once this pandemic is over, at as many NerdCamps as will have me in person. Finding people who are smarter than you, and put kids first, is invigorating, inspiring, and humbling.

My name is… Basil Sylvester.

I am a… weirdo (and since I cite my sources: my family has said this me for years. I come by it honestly, though!).

As a kid, I was… super intense. Always! Ask my dad, ask anyone–I was always talking everyone’s ears off all the time. My mom had to give us a “no tapping on the shoulder” rule because of how many times I just could not wait for her to be done with her conversation before I needed her attention. I think I’m a lot like Zed in this respect, ha ha.

Writing is… HARD. some people–like my dad–write very quickly and have a ton of ideas happening at once. I do not. It can take me literal years to write a word of a story idea. By the time we got the email from our friend and colleague Suzanne Sutherland, asking us if we’d be interested in writing a middle grade book with a nonbinary kid, I had given up on becoming a writer. I was too critical, and could never write anything. I’d delete it or I’d cross it out. But the universe did not give up on me, and i really do thank my lucky stars every single day for that!

A slight tangent, but: I get asked a lot if Zed is the book I needed at that age, or if I wrote with that kid in mind, and the answer is actually no, I didn’t. I wasn’t ready for that then, personally. I was too busy with all the other things that made me feel like an outsider; I only started questioning my gender in my late teens, right before graduating high school. Kids these days are lightyears ahead of me at that age, and that’s part of why I’m so excited about having Zed out in the world! I’ve already had kids say they or their friends are trans/nonbinary. I didn’t even know that existed when I was younger, and if I did, I don’t think I would have connected with it at that age. I was too busy realizing I wasn’t straight to add not being cis onto that, too.

Anyway, I guess what I’m saying is that kids (especially at that age) have literally SO MUCH going on in their lives that it’s a treat to write for them because you really never know what kind of story they need to hear–and sometimes they don’t, either!

Drawing is… ALSO HARD. I think one of the things I’m proudest of on Zed is that I designed the cover and did the lettering! It took a frankly unbelievable amount of time and I thought, wow, how do artists do this every day? What the heck? Then it turned out I wasn’t using Procreate properly and when they asked me to do the spine lettering as well, I did the first rough sketch in 45 minutes. You live and learn. (Although I am a bit bummed because I like the spine lettering so much better! You can see I kind of know what I’m doing!) Can you tell I’m a bit of a lazy creative? I much prefer editing to writing, actually; my dream is to be a fiction editor because I love helping other people achieve their vision for a project. It’s like a fossil! The shape is there, you’re just helping them reveal the awesome colossus underneath.

Reading is… something I need to do more! I own almost too many books to fit in my studio apartment, and I’ve probably only read about 30% of them…

Books are… magic! And that’s not just a beloved indie bookstore in Brooklyn, NY. Books can provide escapism and community, sometimes at the same time! I know it’s a cliché, but it’s true! I was doing an author visit a couple weeks ago and a kid raised his hand and said he had a friend who was nonbinary, like in my book. And I smile every time I think about that–I hope Zed and other books let that kid see his friend living a full life, and that the friend sees that there are so many possibilities out there!

I’ve made some incredible and lifelong friends through books, bookselling, and book launches and events, and it’s really such an amazing community. Hooray for books!

Did you know… that I’ve seen the 2005 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice (directed by Joe Wright) over 400 times? That there might be dinosaur remains on the moon and even as far as MARS?! That the voyager golden record has greetings from Earth in 55 different languages? That scientists have taught spinach to send emails? (I think Gabe would really like that.)

You can find me… in my little hobbit hole of an apartment, avoiding doing my dishes and reading my friends’ Star Trek: The Original Series fanfiction. (And also intermittently on Instagram, @ghostbasil.)

Get to Know… Liesl Shurtliff!

My name is… Liesl Shurtliff. Rhymes with Diesel or Weasel. A soft S is the German pronunciation. A hard S is the American. I grew up with the American version, but switched to the German pronunciation when I married my husband, who speaks German and so always pronounced my name as LEE-zul. My last name is sometimes misspronounced as Shurtliss. Yikes.

I am a… lover of knowledge and learning. I love robust conversations and debates on any given subject. I love to hear other people’s opinions, interests, and expertise. Luckily, I live in a university neighborhood where just about everyone I know is an expert on somethingand so I meet a lot of fascinating people who are more than happy to converse with me and share their thoughts and knowledge. It’s great for character study! 

As a kid, I was… insecure, desperate for praise and acceptance, and a late bloomer. I struggled to learn how to read, which made me feel like I wasn’t all that smart. I eventually grew to enjoy reading and writing a great deal, but only when it was on my terms. I didn’t like to be assigned reading. My favorite books were always ones I chose on my own. I loved creating stories but didn’t want to share my writing or have it be critiqued or graded. Not much has changed, except I’m a little more a secure, more open to constructive criticism, and less desperate for praise and acceptance. (But still a little.) 

Writing is… my way of making sense of what’s going on both in the world and inside my head. I don’t truly know something until I can express it in words. Likewise, I don’t understand how I feel about anything until I write it down. I’ve been writing in a journal and making up my own stories since I was eight. It’s my therapy and my joy. It’s also really, really hard for me. You know those people who say their story just flowed out of them like water or came to them in a dream and they couldn’t stop writing for three months straight? I loathe those people.

Reading is… revolutionary and communal. When we read words written by another human, we take a piece of them into ourselves. We see and experience the world through their eyes. This helps us develop empathy, and empathy is revolutionary. 

Books are… worlds captured on paper, treasures and adventures you can take right in your home.  

Did you know… when I was born my parents wanted to name me Megan. As it happened, there were a few other baby girls born around the same time and they were all named…Megan. My parents decided they’d better choose something else. So they named me Liesl, which, as I said earlier, is German and also from The Sound of Music. (If you haven’t seen the film with Julie Andrews, please fill this hole in your life immediately.) I played the role of Liesl in my high school’s production of The Sound of Music, right when I was sixteen-going-on-seventeen! And that’s as close as I’ve gotten to experiencing what feels like fate.

You can find me… at Lake Michigan in Chicago. I run along the lakefront trail nearly every day and take a plunge at the end. It’s heaven. (Except in winter. Brrrrr!) If not there, you can visit my website at www.lieslshurtliff.com and @lieslshurtliff on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Get to Know… Jake Burt!

My name is… Jacob Burt, but most folks call me Jake. 

I am a… children’s book author, fifth grade teacher, dad, husband, banjo player, ultimate frisbee enthusiast, gamer, and cinnamon roll aficionado. 

As a kid, I was… likely to be found in an arcade, shoveling quarters into a rigged Gauntlet console.

Writing is… my favorite thing to teach, because the moment a kid discovers her voice is the best magic there is.

Reading is… something I desperately wish I had more time to do; my author friends are churning out amazing stuff, and I want to read all of it!

Books are… still the single greatest escape.

Did you know… that CLEO PORTER AND THE BODY ELECTRIC is my first science fiction novel, based on the first pandemic I lived through? COVID is my second go-around with quarantine…

You can find me… in my classroom most days, but always on the web at www.jburtbooks.com, on Twitter @jburtbooks, or on Instagram at jburtbooks.

Get to Know… Karina Yan Glaser!

My name is… Karina Yan Glaser.

I am an… author, illustrator, mom, baker, cook, quilter, animal lover.

As a kid, I was… a BIG READER! (I still am!)

Writing is… an opportunity to share your story with the world.

Drawing is… a way to show everyone what the world looks like through your eyes.

Reading is… a gateway to people, places, cultures, feelings, and dreams.

Books are… currently all over my apartment. How many books do you think I have? I tried counting once but I forgot the number. It’s definitely in the thousands!

Did you know… the fourth book of the Vanderbeekers series is coming out on Tuesday, September 15th? I’m so excited to share what the Vanderbeekers have been up to!

You can find me…

Website: www.karinaglaser.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/KarinaYanGlaser

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/karinaisreadingandwriting/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KarinaYanGlaser/

Get to Know… Adrianna Cuevas!

ACuevasAuthorPhoto.jpg

My name is… “What’s for dinner?” No, that’s not right… “Where’s my PE shirt?” That can’t be it either. “Mom!” Well, kind of, but only for the last twelve years. I don’t suppose my husband and son would agree to “She Who Must Be Catered To And Obeyed.” One can only hope…

I am a… teller of fart jokes, baker of pastelitos, kayaker of Texas rivers, and wrangler of house pets. Sometimes I even manage to write stories.

As a kid, I was… in Miami, living almost entirely in my imagination while I consumed vast quantities of Cuban food. Now I’m in Texas, living almost entirely in my imagination while I consume vast quantities of Cuban food.

Writing is… how I preserve my family history, show my son that kids like him can be heroes, and put all the worlds and characters swirling around in my brain to good use. It is somehow miraculously accomplished while listening to both K-pop playlists and my son explain the deep intricacies of Minecraft.

Reading is… a way to escape and discover new worlds, new people, and new experiences. And it’s everywhere! Novels, comics, graphic novels, webtoons, manuals, encyclopedias… I even read a really fascinating bottle of face wash the other day.

Books are… FREAKING AMAZING! Like, seriously, don’t you walk into a bookstore or library and think “Holy crap!” Because I do. Some books that recently made me lose my minimal chill are Lupe Wong Won’t Dance by Donna Barba Higuera, In the Role of Brie Hutchens by Nicole Melleby, the 13th Street chapter book series by David Bowles, and A Thousand Questions by Saadia Faruqi.

Did you know… that the gastric-brooding frog from Australia gives birth through its mouth? This was easily one of my favorite animal facts I learned while researching The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez. It’s horrifically fascinating and I both want to and really don’t want to try to picture it in my head.

Copy of book cover

You can find me… on Twitter (@acuevaswrites) sharing equal parts books news and silly things my son says, and on Instagram (@adriannacuevas) sharing stacks of books I pray I’ll have time to read as well as recipes I’ve attempted to varying success.