Welcome to the Bookshelf Detective, a site packed with tricks and tips for readers and writers of children's literature. Thank you for visiting!
Kim Tomsic

Friday, November 30, 2018

Books to Build STEM Collection

Readers put themselves in the shoes of the protagonists, so why not encourage kids and teens to read about characters who are scientists, technology experts, engineers, artists, and mathematicians.  Here is a recommended reading list of 2018 and 2019 picture books, middle grade novels, and young adult novels. Links to these book are posted below. Please mark as "want to read" on your Goodreads page. Happy reading! 

If you are a U.S. teacher or librarian and you'd like to build your classroom collection, please enter the giveaway. Each author will mail one copy of their book to the winning teacher or librarian's school. Make sure you follow @bkshelfdetectiv on Twitter so I can contact you via DM if you win. Winner is listed in the Rafflecopter at bottom of this post.

Picture Books

(Eifrig Publishing 02/19/2019) 

From the publisher, “In this charming STEM book, children will see how the light of the full moon inspires Aliana to create a present for her brother Gustavo, which will surprise the whole family.”   Save on Goodreads by clicking here.

Counting on Katherine by Helaine Becker  (Author), Dow Phumiruk (Illustrator) 
(Christy Ottaviano Book June, 2018)

From the publisher: “From Katherine's early beginnings as a gifted student to her heroic accomplishments as a prominent mathematician at NASA, Counting on Katherine is the story of a groundbreaking American woman who not only calculated the course of moon landings but, in turn, saved lives and made enormous contributions to history.” Save on Goodreads by clicking here.

(Chronicle Books 04/09/2019) Save on Goodreads by clicking here

A perseverance story about Hall of Fame icon Les Paul and the struggles he faced to engineer many inventions that transformed the music industry. From the publisher, "This is the story of how Les Paul created the world's first solid- body electric guitar, countless other inventions that changed modern music, and one truly epic career in rock and roll. How to make a microphone? A broomstick, a cinderblock, a telephone, a radio. How to make an electric guitar? A record player's arm, a speaker, some tape. How to make a legendary inventor? A few tools, a lot of curiosity, and an endless faith in what is possible. Featuring richly detailed, dynamic illustrations by Brett Helquist, this unforgettable biography will resonate with inventive readers young and old."

Small World by Ishta Mercurio illustrated by Jen Corace 
(Abrams Books for Young Readers (July 2, 2019) Save on Goodreads by clicking here

From the publisher: “When Nanda is born, the whole of her world is the circle of her mother’s arms. But as she grows, the world grows too. It expands outward—from her family, to her friends, to the city, to the countryside. And as it expands, so does Nanda’s wonder in the underlying shapes and structures patterning it: cogs and wheels, fractals in snowflakes. Eventually, Nanda’s studies lead her to become an astronaut and see the small, round shape of Earth far away.” 

Middle Grade Novels (ages 8-13)

The Splintered Light by Ginger Johnson 
(Bloomsbury Children’s Books September 4, 2018) Save on your Goodreads by clicking here.

From the publisher: “Ever since his brother Luc's disappearance and his father's tragic death, Ishmael has lived a monotonous existence helping his mother on their meager farm where everything is colorless. Until one morning a ray of light fragments Ishmael's gray world into something extraordinary: a spectrum of color he never knew existed. Emboldened, Ishmael sets out to find answers hoping his long lost brother might hold the key.”

(Random House Books for Young Readers (May 1, 2018)  Save on your Goodreads by clicking here.

From the publisher: “Lucy Callahan was struck by lightning. She doesn't remember it, but it changed her life forever. The zap gave her genius-level math skills, and ever since, Lucy has been homeschooled. Now, at 12 years old, she's technically ready for college. She just has to pass 1 more test--middle school!”

The 11:11 Wish by Kim Tomsic 
(Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins February 2018) Save on your Goodreads by clicking here.

Wishes, magic, and dares abound when a 7th grade math whiz tries to fit in at her new school by wishing on a magical cat clock only to suffer catastrophic consequences! In this funny "be careful what you wish for" story that features magic gone haywire, Megan Meyers turns to what she knows best—STEM—and uses the scientific method to try and sort everything out. 

(Random House, March 2018) Save on your Goodreads by clicking here.

From the publisher: “How do you grow a miracle? 
For the record, this is not the question Mr. Neely is looking for when he says everyone in class must answer an important question using the scientific method. But Natalie's botanist mother is suffering from depression, so this is The Question that's important to Natalie. When Mr. Neely suggests that she enter an egg drop competition, Natalie has hope.”

Spin the Golden Lightbulb by Jackie Yeager Book #1 in the Crimson Five series 
(Amberjack Publishing January 9, 2018) Save on your Goodreads by clicking here.

From the publisher: “It’s the year 2071 and eleven year-old Kia Krumpet is determined to build her 67 inventions, but she won't have the opportunity to unless she earns a spot at PIPS, the Piedmont Inventor’s Prep School. Kia, who has trouble making friends at school, has dreamed of winning the Piedmont Challenge and attending PIPS ever since she learned that her Grandma Kitty won the very first Piedmont Challenge. After she and four of her classmates are selected to compete for a spot at PIPS, they travel by aero-bus to Camp Piedmont to solve a task against forty-nine other state teams to earn their place at the best inventor's school in the country. 

Tiny Infinities by J.K. Diehl 
(Chronicle Books, May 2018) Save on your Goodreads by clicking here.

When Alice's dad moves out, leaving her with her troubled mother, she does the only thing that feels right: she retreats to her family's old Renaissance tent in the backyard, determined to live there until her dad comes home. In an attempt to keep at least one part of her summer from changing, Alice focuses on her quest to swim freestyle fast enough to get on her swim team's record board. But summers contain multitudes, and soon Alice meets an odd new friend, Harriet, whose obsession with the school's science fair is equal only to her conviction that Alice's best stroke is backstroke, not freestyle. Most unexpected of all is an unusual babysitting charge, Piper, who is mute—until Alice hears her speak. A funny and honest middle-grade novel, this sharply observed depiction of family, friendship, and Alice's determination to prove herself—as a babysitter, as a friend, as a daughter, as a person—rings loud and true. (For ages 10 and up).

Young Adult Novels (teen and up):

The Deepest Roots by Miranda Asebedo 
(HarperTeen September 2018) Save on your Goodreads by clicking here.

From the publisher: “Cottonwood Hollow, Kansas, is a strange place. For the past century, every girl has been born with a special talent, like the ability to Fix any object, Heal any wound, or Find what is missing. Best friends Rome, Lux, and Mercy all have similar talents, but to them, their abilities often feel like a curse. Rome may be able to Fix anything she touches, but that won’t help her mom pay rent or make it any easier to confide in Lux and Mercy about what’s going on at home. And Rome isn’t the only one. Lux has been hiding bigger, more dangerous secrets.”

What the Woods Keep by Katya de Becerra 
(Imprint September 2018) Mark as "want to read" on your Goodreads by clicking here.

From the publisher: “On her eighteenth birthday, Hayden inherits her childhood home―on the condition that she uncover its dark secrets. Hayden tried to put the past behind her, and it worked. She’s getting ready for college, living in a Brooklyn apartment, and hanging out with her best friend and roommate Del. But now it’s all catching up with her: her mother’s mysterious disappearance a decade before, her father’s outlandish theories about a lost supernatural race, and Hayden’s own dark dreams of strange symbols and rituals in the Colorado woods where she grew up.”

The Disasters by M.K. England 
(HarperCollins, December 18, 2018) Save on your Goodreads page by clicking here.

From the publisher: “Hotshot pilot Nax Hall has a history of making poor life choices. So it’s not exactly a surprise when he’s kicked out of the elite Ellis Station Academy in less than twenty-four hours. But Nax’s one-way trip back to Earth is cut short when a terrorist group attacks the Academy. Nax and three other washouts escape—barely—but they’re also the sole witnesses to the biggest crime in the history of space colonization. And the perfect scapegoats. On the run and framed for atrocities they didn’t commit, Nax and his fellow failures execute a dangerous heist to spread the truth about what happened at the Academy.”

Want to follow these authors on Twitter?  They are tagged in this tweet: https://twitter.com/bkshelfdetectiv/status/1068511797194309632

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Starbucks and Rafflecopter Learning Curve Giveaway

Because teachers, librarians, authors, illustrators, parents, published people, pre-published people, and most humans like COFFEE, and because I need to learn how to use Rafflecopter, I'm creating this coffee giveaway!  One winner will walk away with a $10 Starbucks gift card, and I'll walk away so much wiser. Please help me as I make it through the Rafflecopter learning-curve.

Why this matters? Because I'm planning an epic giveaway in December, and I want to be ready💚💙💓

Good luck!

No matter who you are, please play along! The more the merrier. I think if a lot of people participate, I'll have a better chance at figuring out the quirks. I think Rafflecopter will select one random winner, afterwards I will verify if the winner followed these simple instructions:

1. Follow me on Twitter @bkshelfdetectiv
2. RT my tweet (it's pinned to the top of my Twitter page)
3.  Use the Rafflecopter link at the bottom of this blog post to enter: 

Umm, okay, so that's it!

p.s.  Be on the lookout:  From December 1 through December 12, 2018, you'll also have a chance to enter my epic baker's dozen STEM book giveaway to be announced on Twitter (click here for my account) . Also

Hint: My 2019 debut picture book Guitar Genius will be one of the books in the giveaway!


a Rafflecopter giveaway

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Preparing for a Writing Conference

Don't wear your regular "uniform"!😅
1.      How to Dress:  Dress for a conference in business casual. You want to be relaxed, but yoga clothing isn't the right outfit for this event.Conferences are packed with long days and exciting classes and sessions. You’ll want to feel comfortable, confident, and professional. Sometimes rooms are hot and sometimes they’re over air-conditioned, so be  dressed for all options. Specifically, I like to wear casual dress pants or even a nice pair of jeans and a shirt/blouse that I feel good in, plus I bring a light jacket or sweater. If you didn’t break the bank paying for the conference, buy yourself something cute, so you can add to your confidence quotient!

2.     Question Two:  What three things I wish I knew before going to my first conference:  
  • Make Authentic Connections:  Do investigative homework on people with whom you'd like to connect (the faculty), so you can have authentic conversations—that means something deeper than "please love my work". For example, you may research the faculty on the internet and find out that Mr. Blue loves yoga and so do you—Awesome! There’s a connection! Mrs. Green grew up on Mars and so did you—Bingo! Another connection. Mrs. Orange’s favorite show is "My Cat from Hell" and what? So is yours!  The faculty members are humans (shocker, right 😊), and at conference events where everyone wants a piece of them, they are craving real conversation. It's nice for both you and them. Plus, when you follow up with a query, it makes it easy for that faculty member to remember you. You’ll open your letter with a reminder, “Dear Mrs. Green. It was fun meeting you at XYZ conference and discovering we both attended Rocket Middle School on Mars.”
  • Be prepared with questions: If you've signed up for a one-on-one critique, go into it like a business meeting rather than a hope for an offer of representation. That sort of hope leaves you nervous and jittery, so instead, approach the meeting like you would with anyone else who you’d hire to consult. THAT MEANS show up prepared with a list of questions about your work—for example, questions I’ve asked in the past (since I write kid-lit) included "Can these words be used in a middle grade novel?" and "Is this skewing middle grade or young adult?"  or "Am I achieving the inciting incident quickly enough?" or questions on voice or plot points or  "Can you recommend any comparable titles?" For me, it helps to know which current books my project would be shelved next to; for you it might be which books you could look at as mentor texts. Other questions could include, "What do you recommend as next steps" and—the biggie—"Would you be interested in seeing more?" Why not go for that question—but save it for last so it doesn’t mess with your brain. It’s okay if they say no.
  • Remind Yourself: a “Pass” from an individual is not a Rejection from the Entire Industry   Every book is not everyone’s cup of tea. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter was rejected by 12 publishers before it was picked up. Kwame Alexander’s book, The Crossover, was shopped for almost seven years before it was published. It ended up winning the Newbery Award and easily became a New York Times Bestseller! Bruce Cameron’s novel, A Dog’s Purpose, was rejected by one publisher after the next because the year before, Marley and Me was released, and so since Marley and Me was a smashing success, publishers thought they couldn’t compete. Publishers rejected A Dog’s Purpose with a note saying it was “too similar”—but then a new and naïve assistant editor found the manuscript in the slush pile and championed it to publication. The novel soared to the top of the New York Times Bestseller’s list. So there you have it. A “pass” from one person is not a rejection from the entire publishing industry. You must be diligent in reminding yourself that taste is subjective. The PARADOX: it’s also important to listen to what the critiquer has to say. They are industry professions and have solid and sound advice—it’s why you sign up for a one-on-one critique. Here is the guidance I received from two brilliant ladies, Anna-Maria Crum and Hilari Bell: If one unbiased critiquer gives you advice, you can consider it and then keep it or toss it if the advice speaks to you; if two unbiased critiquers who are not speaking to one another give you the same advice, you must seriously consider; if three unbiased critiquers who are not speaking to one another give you the same advice, you must make the change in your manuscript.     
  • Come Prepared:
    Buy a special notebook and pens/markers—I’m a paper nerd and love doing this before a conference! Bring these items to your critique and write down key points. You think you'll remember what you're critiquer says, but the time flies by and you'll wish you took notes. I promise! Also, take notes during conference sessions—your brain is going to tell you that everything you hear is so life-changing that of course you'll remember it, but trust me when I say you won’t! Not only do I take notes at every conference, but I took fantastic notes at my first event and still enjoy referring back to those tidbits today.  
  • CONFESSION—And why I give you this advice: I didn’t take notes at my first one-on-one critique, because I was so star struck and hopeful that the editor would want to publish my manuscript. I stayed in a daze the entire critique time, and so I didn't walk away with ways to improve my manuscript. Prepare for your critique like you would any business meeting. Accept that it is highly unusual for an offer to be made on the spot—not because your writing and projects isn’t brilliant, but because so much more goes into an agent’s decision to represent than just the single project.
  • More on Agents:  Finding the right agent/author (or agent/illustrator) relationship is critical, because essentially, it’s a life-long match. As such, the agent needs to vet you and it’s important that you vet them. The vetting process can be like dating, both parties are considering the working relationship and an offer of representation is the marriage proposal. New authors tend to want “someone—anyone” to get their work out there, but you should consider that agents come in all forms. Take time at a conference to meet and talk to agents to discover their style and determine if that is the right style for you. For example, some agents are editorial and they'll work to help you edit the manuscript prior to submitting to publishers—I personally wanted and needed that kind of agent (shout out and mad-love for my agent, Jen Rofé!). Some agents are not editorial—that works better for many of my friends. Some agents are new and energetic but have not fully established their reputation. How do you feel about that? Some agents have HUGE names because they have major clients. You’ll need to decide if that’s important to you. As a newbie, if you land with that type of agent, it might mean you end up as their lowest priority, or it might mean the agent has tons of experience and big-time clout and can take you and your work far (I’ve seen both happen to authors).  For me, as I attended conferences and met agents or listened to them on agent panels, I discovered who would be right for me and who would be a horrible match.
3.     Have I participated in seminars/intensives offered at conferences, and what seminar/intensive was the most helpful?

YES! I’ve participated in a few after-conference intensives (usually a three-hour seminar) and I’ve chosen different ones led by all levels of professionals—agents, editors, and authors. For me, the most useful intensives have been the author-led workshops. What is best for you depends on what stage you’re at in your writing and publishing process. Early in my process, I attended a three-hour roundtable where participants read the first five pages of their manuscript and received instant feedback from the agent. That was extremely informative —not because of the feedback I received on my work, but because hearing feedback on fifteen different projects helped me grow my own writing. At that point in my writing career, I found it easier to discover or recognize mistakes when it didn’t feel personal, and then I used that knowledge to fix my own writing problems. Another seminar I attended was “How to do School Visits” with Suzanne Morgan Williams and Bruce Hale—Wow! That was fantastic and so helpful since The 11:11 Wish was due to release soon, and I had no idea how to handle school visits. Another workshop I attended was with award-winning author Linda Sue Parks. It truly helped me dig into my work and improve my craft.  My favorite thing about seminars/intensives is how they small and personal feeling, since they are usually limited to a small handful of participants.
4.      How did you refine your pitch 

Practice with people. Practice with strangers. Practice with your barista. Say, “I’m writing a book, can I tell you about it?” And then be prepared to talk for thirty seconds, saying something substantial that will hook the listener’s interest. It’s tough. You write a 50,000 word manuscript, and then you need to be able to cull it down to something meaningful and with meat in a few short sentences. The book Save the Cat by Blake Snyder has an entire section about pitches. Read it! He says to read current movie pitches and he says pitching to strangers while you’re in line at a coffee shop or grocery store can be your best gauge of true interest. It can also help you become less nervous when it really matters. If you practice your pitch to a stranger and their eyes glaze over, you’re not ready, but nothing is lost. If you say it and the person asks you questions, awesome! You’ve captured their interest. I might get this quote wrong, but Andrea Brown, founder of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, likes to say a pitch should be like a skirt: long enough to cover everything, but short enough to keep it interesting. Keep the listener engaged and curious. For fiction, I love to start crafting my pitch with the Save the Cat formula: On the verge of a Stasis=Death moment, a flawed protagonist Breaks into Two; but when the Midpoint happens, he/she must learn the Theme Stated, before All Is Lost.
5.       Is there anything else?
Yes! Read the faculty members’ work (their books, their clients’ books) prior to attending a conference. Here’s my article on WHY this is so important: http://kimscritiquingcorner.blogspot.com/2016/07/top-five-reasons-reading-prepares-you.html

Carry a water bottle,  bring healthy snacks to keep your energy up, and treat yourself with kind words, a grateful heart, and believe you are deserving of good things to come!


Saturday, July 21, 2018

Sticking up for STEM-Girl Protagonists and WHY this Matters

If you're coming to #ILA18 in Austin, Texas, I hope to see you at my poster session (Saturday July 21, 2018 from 11:30 am - 12:30 pm) where you can see a giant 4'x6' poster of this image. I'd love to chat with you about why STEM-girls need to show up in books!

Monday, June 18, 2018

Interview with Samantha M. Clark THE BOY, THE BOAT, and the BEAST (June 2018)

I recently had the pleasure of reading an advance copy of The Boy, The Boat, and the Beast (Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster June, 2018) by author Samantha M. Clark. When I closed the final chapter, I couldn't stop thinking about the story, so with no more pages to read, I reached out to the author. Samantha was kind enough to grant this interview.

1.       Where did the idea for The Boy, The Boat, and the Beast come from?
When we lived in Houston, the main road of our neighborhood ended at a lake. I was walking our dog one day and wondered what it would be like if someone woke up there and didn't know who he was or where he was or how he got there. When we got home, my husband and I brainstormed the idea for an hour, but I didn't really know what the book was about until I got to the end of the first draft. I had this "ooohhh" moment, and the real story began in revisions.

2.     Your writing a beautiful mixture of literary prose with a touch of verse as well as fast page turns and a heart-felt mystery. What are the top three things you’ve done to hone your craft as a writer?
Thank you! I'm not sure what specifically points to this, except that the lyrical voice was there from the beginning, but it has been refined a LOT in revisions. So top 3 in craft:
a) Reading books like THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak, THE UNDERNEATH by Kathi Appelt and WINTERGIRLS by Laurie Halse Anderson showed me what was possible and encouraged me to push further.

b) Early on with this book, I did a three-month paid mentorship with author Bethany Hegedus. She taught me a lot about psychic distance. The manuscript also won a year's mentorship with Kathi Appelt through the Houston SCBWI chapter, and that helped me learn to trust myself and my instincts -- although I still falter all the time.
c) For plotting, the biggest thing that has helped me was watching Dan Wells' 5 Story Structure videos on YouTube. The midpoint was a game changer for my storylines.

3.     I love that the boy in your story has a piece of fabric in his pocket. What part of The Boy, The Boat, and the Beast did you borrow from the fabric of your life?
Nicely done on that question. ;)
I have always battled fear and feeling like I'm not enough, and those themes show up over and over again in my books. For me, BEAST speaks to the scared 10-year-old that I think is inside most people, no matter how old they are.

4.     Please complete this sentence: Once upon a time, there was a girl…
...who's terribly glad she's sharing this publishing journey with the awesome Electric Eighteens [fellow debut authors], because they help her to not be as afraid.

5.     What do you have planned for your debut year including book launch party and speaking engagements?
This has been an amazing and busy year, and I'm enjoying every minute of it. I'm signing copies of THE BOY, THE BOAT, AND THE BEAST for amazing librarians at ALA 2018. I'm on faculty at the Writers League of Texas conference, speaking at the International Literacy Association conference (where I'll see you! yay!), speaking to kids at a summer writing camp at my local independent bookstore, BookPeople,  and teaching a kids writing workshop at The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles on Aug. 4 (also with you! yay!). Plus I'll be celebrating the book with a launch party at BookPeople in Austin on July 28 at 2pm, a month after the release because of my busy schedule, but it's going to be amazing! Family and friends from out of town are coming, and we'll have cake, and chocolates, and cake, and chocolates... That's really all we need to make it wonderful.

Lightning round!
Tell us about your PET(s)
Two rescue dogs, who are amazing. We've had Annie for around 7 years and she's the sweetest, cutest dog. We just got Peanuts and had to keep his name because his foster mother's 4-year-old niece named him Peanut Butter Buttons. He's known as PBB on Instagram, and has quite the loyal following.

It’s your birthday dinner, what are we cooking and baking?
Oooh, probably an English roast with Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes and lots of veggies and gravy, followed by apple crumble. I'll make it all.

If you could have a Freaky Friday moment and swap places with any literary character for a day, who would it be and why?
Could I have 2? Charlie in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, because of course. And Alice in Alice in Wonderland, because who wouldn't want to meet a Mad Hatter and a disappearing, grinning cat? I'd just have to steer clear of the Queen of Hearts.

What were your favorite books from when you were a child?

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe all-time favorite. Charlie. Alice. Winnie the Pooh books. Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books. And anything by Enid Blyton.

Thank you, Samantha! I loved chatting with you!

You can meet Samantha at her launch party by signing up here: https://www.facebook.com/events/164713617522443/

Available for pre-order on IndieBoundPowell’sBook DepositoryBooks-A-MillionBarnes & NobleAmazonTargetWalmart and Samantha's fabulous local indie bookstore BookPeople.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Interview with Best-Selling Author Jennifer Bertman THE ALCATRAZ ESCAPE

The Alcatraz Escape by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman with illustrations by Sarah Watts (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt and Company May 1, 2018)

Legendary literary game-maker Garrison Griswold is back in action—this time with “Unlock the Rock.” For his latest game, Griswold has partnered with the famous–and famously reclusive–mystery writer Errol Roy to plan an epic escape room challenge on Alcatraz Island.
Emily and James are eager to participate, but the wave of fame they are riding from their recent book-hunting adventures makes them a target. Threatening notes, missing items, and an accident that might not have been an accident have the duo worried that someone is trying to get them out of the game at any cost.
When Emily’s brother is caught red-handed and blamed for all the wrong doings, Emily is certain Matthew is being framed. With Matthew’s record on the line, Emily and James can’t afford to leave this mystery uncracked.
Welcome, Jennifer! It’s such a treat to feature you on my blog. Congratulations on your latest release in the Book Scavenger series, and double congratulations because The Alcatraz Escape is a Junior Library Guild selection and also an Amazon Best Spring Book for Ages 9-12!

There’s so much I want to know, so let’s begin:

1.      Many “pre-published” authors who read this blog love hearing the “HOW” an author’s career path began. How did you get started writing and what did you do that shifted your career from wanting to be published to landing a book deal?
Being an author was something I’d dreamed about as a kid, but I stopped believing it was possible for me in junior high and high school. Then, when I was a freshman in college, I was given the option of taking a creative writing class instead of the standard Research Writing 101. Creative writing sounded way more interesting, so I took it, and loved it so much I never stopped writing stories after that. I went on to take the maximum amount of creative writing classes that UC Irvine would allow me. One of my professors, Michelle Latiolais, made me feel I had real potential for a career as a writer, and so I went on to get my MFA in Creative Writing from Saint Mary’s College.
During graduate school, I realized children’s books were my passion. I went to the Book Passage Children’s Book Writer & Illustrator conference (where I met Lois Lowry—one of my author idols when I was a child!), and I joined SCBWI.
Throughout all those years, I was only focused on learning the craft of writing. I didn’t try to get anything published. Even after I graduated with my MFA, I still didn’t feel my writing was ready to be published, so I kept writing and meanwhile juggled multiple part-time jobs, then I started working full-time at McGraw-Hill Higher Education as a production editor for college textbooks.
I wrote a lot of picture books and revised and revised and revised until I finally felt a few were ready to send out to publishers. They all got rejected, but one was very close to being accepted two different times. The last rejection felt especially defeating—it had been my second revise and resubmit for an enthusiastic editor, and I’d thought for sure that would be my big break. But it wasn’t.
By that point, I’d been taking my writing seriously for close to ten years and was consistently getting feedback that my writing was strong. I felt like I had a good handle on the craft, and so it seemed like a matter of finding the right story for me to tell. I thought about the books I loved most when I was young, and Book Scavenger grew out of me trying to write what would have been the ultimate book for my younger self.
I spent ten years working on Book Scavenger—six different drafts—before it sold. (I continued to work on picture books and started a few other novels that went nowhere, but Book Scavenger always felt special to me even though I struggled with how to best tell the story.)

When I was working on Draft #4, I received an email from Ammi-Joan Paquette, an agent with the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. She’d visited my website and blog and read the brief description I’d posted about the book I was working on. She wanted to read it! Fantastic! Only, my latest draft wasn’t done, but Joan was happy to wait until it was.
When I finished my fourth draft, I felt like the story was really solid. I sent it to Joan, who loved it, but thought it needed one more revision. The daunting part of her revision request was that she thought the draft was too long for the middle grade market at that time and wanted me to cut 100 pages from the story. Eek!
I wasn’t sure right off the bat how to tell my story with 25,000 less words, or if I’d even be able to figure it out, but Joan’s advice rang true to me. When I read her feedback, I knew she was envisioning the same best version of my story that I was. I knew it would serve the story I was trying to tell if I followed her advice. So I dug in and got to work.  
I managed to pare the story down so it was pretty close to 50,000 words. I sent it back to Joan and Oh Happy Day! She liked it! She wanted to represent me and after careful consideration, I agreed.
Before Book Scavenger went on submission, Joan suggested one more change to the ending of the book. Once again, she was seeing something that had always bothered me about the story on a subconscious level, and I knew she was spot on. I did another revision and then, finally, we sent Book Scavenger out.
We heard back with positive interest within a week, and after two weeks I had a pre-empt offer from the fabulous Christy Ottaviano who I have been thrilled to work with these past few years.

Book Scavenger and The Unbreakable Code are both New York Times bestsellers, Congratulations! I can’t wait to see The Alcatraz Escape land on that prestigious list, too. Since you’re a bestselling author and I am a lover of magic, please give me one magical tip that has helped your writing sparkle.
Thanks, Kim! Hmm, a magical tip . . . Every writer is going to have their own methods and style, but I am a patient and scrutinizing writer. I assemble my sentences and paragraphs and chapters like I’m putting together a jigsaw puzzle, piece by piece, questioning each word as I go. I’m always asking myself how a sentence or paragraph or chapter serves the story. I think this approach benefits my writing in general, although sometimes I get too stuck in my head, going in circles around something that maybe won’t end up being important. With my last two books I had to work with very tight deadlines. This taught me that I’m more capable of writing quickly than I had once thought. And sometimes racing forward can release really wonderful things, but there is always a point in the revision process where I have to go over what I’ve written with a meticulous eye.

3.     What do you do to research your novels (i.e. do you travel back to San Francisco and what else?)

For The Alcatraz Escape, I read a lot about Alcatraz, of course. I watched documentaries and visited Alcatraz in person, even though I’ve been there several times before. On my research trip to Alcatraz, I went with an eye toward what my characters would notice and experience while they were there. I took a lot of photos and videos to help me remember and capture details, but the Internet can also be helpful if there’s something I’m trying to remember but didn’t jot down or take a picture of. I also reach out to experts when I have questions or to verify details of my story. The third Book Scavenger was inspired by escape rooms, and so I did an escape room with my writing group and read up on other people’s escape room experiences. In general, I keep myself open. You never know when you will happen across a news article or something that relates to the story you’re working on.

4.     If you could have a Freaky Friday moment with one of your characters in any of your books (but for only one day), who would you swap places with and why?

Emily, so I could go book hunting around San Francisco for a day.

5.     You’re officially one of the great children’s mystery writers. What are the top three things you think a book needs to be a strong mystery?
Wow! Well, thank you for saying that. What a wonderful thing to hear. I’d say in the very best mysteries, you will often find:
1) Main characters who get drawn into the mystery in a compelling and believable way, making it hard to separate the plot from the character. Meaning, if somebody else had been dropped into the story instead of your main character, the events wouldn’t have unfolded in the same way. Your main character is the one making choices that drive the story (and therefore the mystery) forward.
2)  None of the characters feel like they are only there to offer a clue or act as a red herring.
3) Setting. Every great mystery I’ve enjoyed has also been rooted in a strong sense of place that’s added to the mood and plot in intriguing ways.

6.     What are some of your favorite children’s mystery novels?
Sheila Turnage’s Three Times Lucky series, Wendelin Van Draanen’s Sammy Keye’s series, Masterpiece and Shakespeare’s Secret, both by Elise Broach, Greenglass House by Kate Milford, The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin, When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead.  

Sneak question of sorts: I love that your blog Creative Spaces features writers in their work environment. Show us yours:

7.      If you could travel back in time, what is one tip you’d give your past writer self when you were pre-published?
Trust your instincts. Your hard work will pay off in the end so don’t beat yourself up too much. Have fun. Be more organized with your notes and files.

Thank you, Jennifer!

For more information about the book, to read an excerpt, or to join the game visit BookScavenger.com.

Bio: Jennifer Chambliss Bertman is the author of the New York Times--bestselling Book Scavenger series (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt) which includes Book ScavengerThe Unbreakable Code, and The Alcatraz Escape. Book Scavenger was an Indie Next Top Ten pick, an Amazon Book of the Year, a Bank Street College Book of the Year, an NCTE Notable Book, and has been nominated for twenty state award and honor lists, among other accolades. The series will be translated into thirteen languages. She studied creative writing and dance at UC Irvine and went on to earn her MFA in creative writing from Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, CA. She worked in publishing for over a decade before becoming a children’s book author. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Jennifer now lives in Colorado with her family.

Twitter: @jabertie

BOOK SCAVENGER (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt)
New York Times Bestseller |  Best Book of the Year: Bank Street, Amazon  | NCTE Notable Book

BOOK SCAVENGER 2: THE UNBREAKABLE CODE (Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt)
             New York Times Bestseller |  Junior Library Guild selection
  "Readers who loved the first volume will find this follow-up even more satisfying. Purchase extra copies where there are fans." --School Library Journal 

                Junior Library Guild selection |  An Amazon Best Spring Book for Ages 9-12

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