December 20, 2012


I'm delighted to announce the sale of my new middle grade novel, DEATH BY TOILET PAPER, to Michelle Poploff, Vice President and Executive Editor at Delacorte Press/Random House Children's Books.

Michelle Poploff

I'm forever grateful to my agent, Tina Wexler, at ICM Partners for helping me find the story I was trying to tell and selling it to a wonderful editor. 

Tina Wexler

 I've worked on versions of this story for years, and it's going to be a DOOZY!!!

Here's the announcement from PublishersMarketplace:  Donna Gephart's DEATH BY TOILET PAPER, about a contest-crazed seventh-grade boy whose attempts to save his family from eviction result in battling a bully, keeping a difficult promise and creating a wedding gown made entirely from toilet paper for his zany zeyde to wear.

Publication of DEATH BY TOILET PAPER is slated for FALL 2014.

And in other good book news:  OLIVIA BEAN, TRIVIA QUEEN comes out in paperback March 2013 -- in time to celebrate Jeopardy's! 50th anniversary and Alex Trebek's 30th anniversary as host.  


December 10, 2012


You'll love this endlessly entertaining, fun and intriguing year-end, "Best of . . ." post by Travis Jonker, who is an elementary school librarian and then some!

Travis Jonker

December 3, 2012

Dog vs. Shoe . . .

"That looks delicious."

"Shoe?  What shoe?  I don't see any shoe."

"You can't pin this on me.  Do you have any witnesses?"

In the epic battle of Dog vs. Shoe . . .

Dog = 1

Shoe = 0

November 27, 2012

Guest Blogger -- Hammy the Hamster

In honor of Hammy's world-famous YouTube video hitting over 30,000 views, I invited him to create today's blog post.  Take it away, Hammy!

I'm Hammy the Hamster.  That's me on the cover of How to Survive Middle School, written by What's-Her-Name.  She's busy writing her new novel, so she asked me to write today's post.  And she's not even paying me.  Cheapskate!  And I don't even have fingers.  Just really cute paws.

Anyway, here I am in this video created by the awesome team at Page Turner Adventures.

"I'd like to thank my mom and dad and my 17 brothers and sisters and--"

"Ahem, Hammy, could you please get back to the post?"

"Sure.  Sorry."  Bossy writer lady!

Because I LOVE books about hamsters (They're DELICIOUS!), I wanted to let you know about some other hamster books I think are yummy, er, super fun to read . . .

Try Betty Birney's Humphrey books.  Check out the entire series . . .

Also, there's the I, Freddy series by Dietlof Reiche . . .

Need a dose of pun fun?  Try Bruce Hale's Chet Gecko mystery series book, The Hamster of the Baskervilles . . .

You might even like The Great Hamster Massacre by Katie Davies about, gulp, hamster homicide.  I don't!!!  Even the cover gives this hamster hives.

Rev your engines for the awesome Hot Rod Hamster by Cynthia Lord . . .

Cynthia Lord has some cute photos of her guinea pig, Cookie, on her blog

I like guinea pigs.  They're funky!

And this video (for Scholastic Book Fairs) by Page Turner Adventures proves it . . .

"Now, I'm going to recite for you my 12-page hamster ode that I created to--"

"Say good-bye, Hammy."

"Good-bye, Hammy."

November 16, 2012

Should Adults Read Children's Books?

An opinion piece from The Huffington Post made me think about this.  The author's point was that books for children shouldn't have a "Young Adult" designation. 

Actually, her post isn't what got me thinking. 

Scroll past the short post and read the comment by BlackJAC, who states that once you're old enough to vote/gamble/drink, you shouldn't even be reading young adult books.


There's a hidden (or not so hidden) implication that one's emotional growth must be stunted if one is reading children's books. 

If you're not an educator/librarian/children's book author/parent, should you be reading children's books?

Personally, I read both children's and adult literature.  When I bring our adult children to the library, they head to the adult section and I to the children's section. 

When I research a topic, I always begin in the children's non-fiction section to get a solid overview of the topic before heading to the adult non-fiction section.

Yesterday, I got an e-mail from someone who said she enjoyed Olivia Bean, Trivia Queen and flew through its pages.  The author of that e-mail is 31.  

Why limit oneself?  A great story is a great story.

I'm a richer person for having read Patricia McCormick's SoldIt gave me context for watching the documentary, Half the Sky, about abuse and oppression of females turned on its head by hope-filled, can-do people.  Jerry Spinelli's Wringer, allowed me to see inside the cruelty of the annual Higgin's Pigeon Shoot, which used to take place near my home.  And Patrick Ness's A Monster Calls allowed me to have a cathartic cry about my mom's death from cancer.

Children's literature contains a wealth of timeless/ageless themes -- surviving loss, cultivating individuality, creating compassion, responding to injustice, etc.  It would be a great loss to dismiss the entire canon of children's literature because one "should outgrow it." 

Has a children's book made an impact on your adult life?  Is it okay to read children's books at any age?  I'd love to know what you think.

November 12, 2012

Why I Write for Children . . .

When I was a kid, my parents divorced.  My mom worked full-time.  My sisters were older and mostly out of the house.  Friends were scarce. 

I spent a lot of time here . . .

The Northeast Regional Library in Philadelphia.  (The children's department was in the basement.)

I made friends with Mr. Popper and his penguins.  I enjoyed the adventures of Ben Franklin and his trusty mouse, Amos, in Ben and Me by Robert Lawson.  But it was Wanda Petronski in Eleanor Estes' The Hundred Dresses that made me feel understood.  Less alone.  Like I had a friend.  Wanda was broke.  She didn't have a lot of clothes.  Or friends.  But she was imaginative and creative.  She was like me.  I was like her.

I hope the books I write help young readers feel less alone.  More understood.  Provide a few hours or days or a lifetime of literary friendship.

That's why it's such a delight when I open my P.O. box and find (not mail for the previous owner) but a letter from a young reader or a large envelope of letters from students at a school, which is what happened last week.

Here are some gems from 7th grade students in Illinois who read How to Survive Middle School:

"I would like you to write about in your next book, maybe about a boy that is having girl problems and doesn't know how to deal with them.  I would want it to be a comedy."  (Idea noted!)

"I really enjoyed this book.  I hope you make a squeal to this."   (How sweet is this misspelling?)

"It was one of the few books I could read, and not bore me.  The only bad part was how many characters there where.  If you fixed that then this book would be perfect.  I guest that nothing is perfect."  (My future editor.)

"I did not really connect to any of the characters."  (Love the honesty.  The young reader went on to tell me all the reasons he enjoyed the book.)

This letter from Emily, had me tearing up . . . 

"I relate to David because, just like him, I got bullied.  After Tommy gave him a "birthday gift," he said "Even though I could turn on my computer and read dozens of fan messages from people all over the world, I feel more alone than ever."  To me, that was the saddest part of the book, but the most relatable because when I was bullied, it seemed like I was all alone, and no one cared or understood what was going on.  I felt like no one knew how to help.  After I read that part of the book, I realized there is someone who is feeling the same way, and someone who was hurt just as bad as I was.  I learned not to give up hope."  

Thank you for your letter, Emily.  It's why I write for children.

November 6, 2012


I was honored to be one of the authors presenting at the 40th annual F.A.M.E. (Florida Association for Media in Education) Conference this past weekend.

Imagine being in a room with over 600 media specialists.  For this book-loving nerd, it was a terrific experience!

I enjoyed reconnecting with old friends and making lots of new ones.  Finally got to meet the awesome Shannon McClintock Miller.  Her F.A.M.E. blog post is here.  Shannon gave the opening keynote:  "Be the Change You Want to See in the World."  It energized, inspired and featured a great photo of "Pig Day" -- a program she did in conjunction with the amazing Mr. Schu and his students.

Sharon Draper was presented with the Sunshine State Young Reader Award for 3-5 and 6-8 grades for her book, Out of My Mind.

Sharon is raising her hand to ask if she can use the bathroom.  Or to thank everyone.
My presentation the following days involved talking about male models and the essentials to pack when you run away from home at age five.  (Hint:  Books!)  It ended with a fun trivia contest with prizes.  Loved the energy from attendees.

Managed to snap one quick photo as attendees were coming in.

The book signings were a great opportunity to chat with uber-media specialists.  Amazing what they do for their students.  Most of the books I signed will be given as prizes for young readers in schools all over Florida.  This makes me very happy.

Blurry, but sincere. 

There were some crazy things going on . . .

The force was with me . . .

Thanks for the late night chat ANDREA BEATY and JAMES PONTI.  And the happy surprise hello -- HENRY COLE.

And HUGE THANKS to Andrea Parisi and Helen Zientek for inviting me and making sure I had a wonderful experience. 

What a FUNTASTIC weekend! 

Hope to see you all again next year.  Until then . . . see you at APRIL IS FOR AUTHORS!

October 31, 2012


It's time for our annual Halloween pumpkin post featuring the multi-talented David LaRochelle, who is an awesome author, speaker, puzzle creator, artist, pumpkin carver and all-around astounding human being.

Here's David's latest pumpkin . . .

It was created to celebrate David's new book . . .

Last year, David's new book was perfect for Halloween . . .

Now, onto the new pumpkins . . .

And David's original Halloween post from 2010. . .

TOMB it may concern: Halloween is my favorite holiday. And it's especially BOOtiful this year because the amazing pumpkin carver, David LaRochelle, is in the (haunted) house.

Before we get to David's astounding pumpkins, here are 6-1/2 things you should know about him.

1. His hilarious novel, ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY NOT, won the Sid Fleischman Humor Award.

2. This year, he is promoting TWO brand new picture books -- this one and this one.

3. Reese Witherspoon read his book, THE BEST PET OF ALL, at the WHITE HOUSE!

4. David and I have something in common. We both create puzzles and have been published in GAMES Magazine.

5. David has won some amazing prizes in a number of contests. (Watch the video link at the end to hear about a doozie!)

6. Once a teacher, David now does MANY school visits each year.

6-1/2. David is one of the nicest people I've ever met.


1. Choose the right pumpkin. Check it all over (including the bottom) for soft spots, especially if you buy your pumpkin a week or more ahead of Halloween. More than once I've lost a lovely pumpkin to rot because a teeny, tiny brown spot blossomed into a huge, mushy, rotten patch. And don't shy away from odd-shaped pumpkins or pumpkins with "warts"; these can be inspiration for a unique design.

2. Choose the right tools. Sure, you can carve your pumpkin with a kitchen knife, but for easier cutting and more intricate designs, buy yourself one of the inexpensive pumpkin carving kits you can get at the grocery store (I use PumpkinMasters, but there are other brands). For some of my designs I use a Speedball linoleum carving tool (you can get these at an art supply store) to scrape away just the outside layer of flesh rather than carving all the way through the pumpkin skin.

3. Clean your pumpkin well. Scrape the insides until the surface that you'll be carving is about an inch thick. You can test it with a pin. If it's thicker than that, it will be hard to carve a recognizable design; if it's much thinner, the design might collapse.

4. Be creative! As you plan your design, don't limit yourself to faces. I've carved pumpkins with dragons, snakes, words, a clock, the cover of one of my books, even a Halloween version of Grant Wood's painting "Amercian Gothic." Let your imagination go wild! And who says you have to limit yourself to Halloween ideas? Why not carve a flower, music notes, or even a happy hamster? And sometimes the simplest designs, such as a single question mark, can be the most striking.

5. Transfer your design to your pumpkin. I draw my designs on tracing paper, then tape the paper to my pumpkin and prick along the lines with a straight pin. When I remove the paper, the pin pricks show my design.

6. Lighting your creation. I usually use multiple (up to six or seven) tea candles inside each pumpkin. It makes them glow like beacons, and in case one candle goes out, the pumpkin will still look good. I've also lit pumpkins with Christmas lights. A single blinking colored light inside a pumpkin gives a very creepy effect.

And finally, 6 1/2. Don't worry about perfection. If your knife slips while carving, it will probably give your pumpkin more character. Some of the favorite pumpkins I've seen in the neighborhood are ones with lopsided mouths or mismatched eyes.

To watch David carve a pumpkin and discuss some of his unique carving experiences and amazing contest wins, click here. To go to David's pumpkin-carving page on his site, click here. To learn more about David LaRochelle, click here.

Here's hoping everyone has a Halloween to DISMEMBER. (Insert evil laughter here.)

October 25, 2012

A Funny Thing About Mental Illness . . .

The other day, someone pissed me off!

I promised I wouldn't let her comments bother me.  I knew they were from outdated thinking and a lack of knowledge.


Our older son has bipolar disorder.  The years until we found help and hope were hellishly dark. That's why I'm so vocal about sharing our experience and the resources we've found.  That's why our son is so open about his illness and talks to everyone from fellow sufferers to mental health providers at seminars.

What did that woman say?  That it was probably my fault that our son was the way he is because I was too strict.  (I'm not even going to go into why that's ludicrous.)

Years ago, parents were blamed for their children's mental illnesses, especially mothers.  This is especially cruel as mothers often bear the brunt of finding help and hope for their children.  Now, we know mental illness is a brain illness.  And guilt over that is unnecessary and unhelpful.

People used to think (and some still do) that mentally ill people are just lazy.  If they'd only try harder . . .   Beep!  Wrong answer!  Mental illness is a brain illness like diabetes is a body illness.  Would you tell a kid with diabetes that if she'd just try a little harder her body would produce more insulin?

We're still working to dispel the shame, stigma and perceived weakness that often goes along with seeking treatment for mental illness.  Would you be ashamed to get dialysis if your kidneys weren't functioning properly?

This piece from the Washington Post, "My son is schizophrenic.  The 'reforms" that I worked for have worsened his life" is a must-read:  It's a great look at what sounds good on paper, but what actually works in real life.  The piece ends with excellent, concrete suggestions to make significant improvements.

These resources have been helpful to us:

1.  N.A.M.I.  (National Alliance on Mental Illness)--  The free "Family-to-Family" course from our local NAMI chapter educated us so much that it completely changed the way we think about our son's illness.  It was a lifesaver.  (N.A.M.I. has many free programs, support groups, resources, etc.)

2.  M.H.A.  (Mental Health America) -- Again, the local affiliate offered us many services and referrals.

3.  The non-fiction book:  Welcome to the Jungle:  Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Bipolar But Were Too Freaked Out to Ask by Hilary Smith, which is written in a fun, hip style and offers excellent advice and tools for living as well as possible with the illness.

So, what's the funny thing about mental illness?  Watch Ruby Wax, comedian, talk about it on this amazing TED Talk and tell me if you don't laugh (and learn).  (My favorite part is when she plucks off a piece of a Play-doh brain and tosses it over her shoulder.)

October 23, 2012

Why I Love Skype Visits . . .

Say hello to Ms. Porter's 5th grade class . . .

"Hello, Ms. Porter's 5th grade class!"  
(There are other awesome students outside the screen shot.  "Hello, other awesome students!")

Because How to Survive Middle School landed on the Rebecca Caudill Young Readers' Book Award list, Ms. Delvallee, a K-8 librarian from Illinois, contacted me about Skyping with Ms. Porter's 5th grade students.  Wow, did these kids have excellent questions!  A big THANK YOU to the sweet boy in the NIKE shirt, who kept giving me the most enthusiastic thumbs up signals.

Loved these kids.  Loved their energy.  Can't wait to send them some personalized book marks.

Thanks so much and happy reading!!!

October 10, 2012


Doctors have stethoscopes.  Teachers have Smartboards.  Accountants have calculators.

Writers have tools, too.

Here are the ones I turn to when I write a book . . .

1.  Before I begin, I remind myself about story structure and character arcs with Robert McKee's excellent STORY:  SUBSTANCE, STRUCTURE, STYLE AND PRINCIPLES OF SCREENWRITING.  (I found this book so helpful that I made pages of notes and refer to the notes now instead of the original hefty volume.) 

2.  Early in the process, I create a synopsis -- a map, a blueprint, a guide -- that helps me navigate from the beginning through the murky middle to the inevitable ending.  For that, I need to ask and answer hard questions about my intentions.

I find those handy dandy questions in Appendix A:  Outlining Your Novel at the back of Donald Maass' WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL WORKBOOK.  (I enjoyed his WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL, too.  But I can summarize the main point of that book in three words:  Work incredibly hard.)

I find Cheryl Klein's SECOND SIGHT:  AN EDITOR'S TALKS ON WRITING, REVISING AND PUBLISHING BOOKS FOR CHILDREN AND YOUNG ADULTS helpful at this point.  This book has lots of useful exercises to help reveal your characters and story in a meaningful way.

Walter Dean Myer's has a great book for young writers called JUST WRITE HERE'S HOW.  In this book, Myer's offers a six-box system for organizing your novel or short story.  In the back are tips for writers, and I found his wisdom applicable for writers of any age.

3.  If I get muddled in the middle of a novel, I'll pull out Rochelle Melander's WRITE-A-THON:  WRITE YOUR BOOK IN 26 DAYS (AND LIVE TO TELL ABOUT IT).  Besides the practical advice throughout, there are perfect quotes at the beginning of each short chapter.

4.  While writing, if my character's keep smiling or gasping or their stomachs keep knotting or twisting, I grab THE EMOTION THESAURUS:  A WRITER'S GUIDE TO CHARACTER EXPRESSION to find fresh ways to show how they are feeling.  Thanks to authors Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi for this invaluable, easy-to-navigate guide. 

I can't wait for Ackerman and Puglisi to come out with their guide for creating characters, which I think is next on their list.  (Places hands on hips, taps foot, clicks fingernails against table, lets out a loud breath, glances repeatedly at clock and crosses arms . . . Oh, thank you page 94!)

5.  When the draft is done and revisions are in order, I'll revisit Cheryl Klein's SECOND SIGHT and I'll read Kate Messner's REAL REVISION:  AUTHORS' STRATEGIES TO SHARE WITH STUDENT WRITERS.  Besides great ideas, charts and examples, there are oodles of interviews with authors like Jane Yolen, Tom AngleBerger, Cynthia Lord, Kathi Appelt, me and many others.  Again, I found much of the advice and information applicable for writers of any age.

In addition to these great tools, I have an accountability buddy.  Each morning, my friend and I exchange a quick email sharing our day's writing goals.  We check in at day's end to share our progress and encourage each other.

What are YOUR favorite writing tools?

October 5, 2012


 10:01 P.M.  -- They meet for the first time . . .


10:03 P.M. 


September 24, 2012

Family in Town . . .

My sister and niece flew in from Philly for something special . . .

Happy 85th birthday, Dad!

My dad turned 85!  We had a dinner with friends and family at Mellow Mushroom.  (Just wish our California family could have been there for the big event.  We missed you Sherry, Ben and Ethan! )

We were celebrating more than a birthday.  We celebrated Dad's resiliency.  In the past year, he's broken his arm, had triple bypass surgery and lost his wife, Dorothy.  Sheesh!

I'm proud of the life he's created for himself here in South Florida.

We had a couple days to have fun together at the zoo, the movies, Busch's Wildlife Sanctuary, kayaking, strolling the beach, etc.

My favorite photo was when my niece threw a food pellet to a crow only inches away and it caught it mid-air.  

Then, before I knew it, my niece and I went for our good-bye breakfast at Lazy Loggerhead Cafe by the beach.

 And off to the airport to hug my sister and niece. 

The visit was great!  The leaving?  Not so much!

Come back soon!