Middle Grade Book Love: Stef Soto, Taco Queen

I read Jennifer Torres’s Stef Soto, Taco Queen as an ARC at the end of 2016 and loved it. I was making a list of some of my favorite middle grade characters the other day, and Stef Soto (and her family’s taco truck Tia Perla) came to mind almost immediately. There’s so much to love in this heart-warming debut novel. It’s a must read for middle grade kids and for their taco-loving parents and teachers.

Middle Grade Book Love | stef-soto-taco-queen | www.patriciabaileyauthor.comSeventh grader Estefania “Stef” Soto is itching to shake off the onion-and-cilantro embrace of Tia Perla, her family’s taco truck. She wants nothing more than for her dad to get a normal job and for Tia Perla to be put out to pasture. It’s no fun being known as the “Taco Queen” at school.

But just when new city regulations are proposed, and her family’s livelihood is threatened, she will have to become the truck’s unlikely champion.

 

 

Stef Soto, Taco QueenStef Soto, Taco Queen by Jennifer Torres
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A wonderful debut that’s sure to be a hit among middle graders. Stef Soto is a perfect middle-grade heroine – determined to get out from under her overly-protective immigrant parents’ thumbs, endlessly embarrassed by the family business (delightful Tia Perla, the taco truck), struggling to fit in at school – and full of love and support for her family and friends. This book is full of great friends, a fun goal, and an authentic portrayal of middle grade life. And tacos! A beautiful book that teachers and students are sure to love.

View all my reviews

For readers

  • A kid you can totally relate to.
  • Great friendships (and believable rivalries).
  • Tacos!

For teachers

  • A bilingual protagonist
  • A true-to-life financial problem that will make for a good discussion topic.
  • Author-created Activities and Resources.

STEF SOTO, TACO QUEEN is available now. You can pick up a copy online or at your nearest independent bookseller.

PB | www.patriciabaileyauthor.comTrishSignatureblue

Mary Oliver

Mary Oliver | Sunflower| www.patriciabaileyauthor.com

I didn’t realize how much I have been leaning on Mary Oliver and her work the last two years until I read that she had died. The news struck me – the way hearing an old friend has died always does – swift and hard. A front kick to the chest.

I did what we all do when we hear of of a death – I felt sad. For her, sure. For the people who knew and loved her, of course. But also, selfishly, for me. Because I wanted more. More of her thoughts. More of her poems. More of, well, all of it. All that she’s learned. All that she’s seen. All that she’s willing to share.

What I really wanted was another book that I could read in the early morning hours before the cats and the husband and the sun showed up. Another book to keep me company and to remind me to keep living my “one wild and precious life” as best as I can.

Isn’t that what we all want?

Someone close to me has been reckoning with immortality lately and asked me my advice. As if I have any. I’m not religious. Not philosophical. Not particularly deep or wise or even all that opinionated. But I offered what I could. I offered poetry. “Poets seem to be closer to it than the rest of us,” I said. And the poet I was most thinking about when I offered this “cure” was Mary Oliver.

She’s helped me better see a world I recognize, and to appreciate what I love about it – the land, the animals, the quiet, the joy, and the heartbreak. I thought that she might help him. I hope that she does.

In her piece in The New Yorker, Stephanie Burt writes:  “Oliver’s decades of litanies and rediscoveries provided so many readers with what Kenneth Burke called “equipment for living,” tools to fight gloom, to open the front door, to lead wilder or more precious lives.”

I know she did this for me.

Thank you for the tools, Mary, and the message. You will be missed.

MESSENGER

My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird —
equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be
astonished.
The phoebe, the delphinium.
The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.
Which is mostly rejoicing, since all ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart
and these body-clothes,
a mouth with which to give shouts of joy
to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,
telling them all, over and over, how it is
that we live forever.

—Mary Oliver

PB | www.patriciabaileyauthor.comTrishSignatureblue

Bringing in 2019

Bringing in 2019 | leave-the-dishes | www.patriciabaileyauthor.comIt’s here. 2019. Another ride around the sun and another trip through our crisp, clean new planners. A bright and shiny new year full of new chances, new hope.

I spent the last moments of 2018 finishing the novel that refused to be. It was rough. Ugly. A Hail Mary effort to have something to show for a year that was full of stress and fear and a pressing sense of deep unease. And, it worked. Kind of. Just as the neighborhood erupted in celebratory fireworks, I wrote the last words of a draft I honestly did not think I would ever finish. Then I went to bed, exhausted by the work and the doubt, yet exhilarated by the knowledge that what I thought was going to work won’t because now I understood why. Now I can do something about it. I have hope – maybe only a smidge, but hope just the same. It’s a feeling I haven’t had in quite a while.

I allowed 2019 to ease in without a lot of fanfare, hoopla, resolutions, or even my traditional goal-setting session. I spent the first week of 2019 resting. I read. I fiddled with end of the year tasks. I ran errands, rediscovered old TV shows, watched the snow fall, and even worked out a bit. And I didn’t set a single goal or make a single plan.

I already know what I want do and what I want to accomplish. The list hasn’t changed. But one thing I’ve learned in the last year and a half is something the poet Robert Burns knew long ago –  that“The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft a-gley.”  I’ve also learned that so many of my goals rely heavily on things outside of my control. So, instead of making goals, I listed what mattered to me in the world. The reasons I sit at my keyboard every day. The things I’m trying to do with my writing. The actions that make me feel like I’m on the right path.

I hope to remember what matters to me this year and to shape my days accordingly. To ease-up, on myself, on my desires, on my day-to-day worries, and even on those around me.

A friend reminded me of a poem this week. One that lives on my refrigerator as a reminder of a brave and unconventional way to be in the world. I’m moving the poem from my refrigerator to my desk this week. I’m moving my energy from desperation to ease.
And, I’m taking Louise Erdrich’s wonderful advice to “Leave the dishes.”

Maybe you will too.

PB | www.patriciabaileyauthor.comTrishSignatureblue

Merry Christmas!

merry-christmas | www.patriciabaileyauthor.com | https://crmrkt.com/WbVGQ0
Wishing you all the happiest of holidays and all the best in 2019!

PB | www.patriciabaileyauthor.comTrishSignatureblue

Goals and Possibilities

Some days it’s easy to forget how far you’ve come. We humans have a tendency to look ahead. To focus on the next goal. The next project. The next big dream. And I think this time of year dials that urge up. My email box is filled with newsletters, webinars, and links to YouTube videos all promising to help me meet my 2019 goals. Planning. Vision Boarding. Goal Setting. There’s nothing wrong with any of it, but this year, I’m just not feeling it. Maybe it’s because all of my big goals for 2018 took a backseat to trying to keep my little family healthy and myself sane. Maybe it’s because I am finally starting to realize that that old quote about making god laugh has a little bit of truth to it.

But even with all the hard stuff this year, good came. KIT won awards. I made new friends. I visited a new place, and took some beautiful walks in some old ones. I even wrote some new words. Not a whole novel, yet, but most of one, and with some focus, a little bit of grace, and a whole lot of luck I could still finish it this year. (Here’s me looking forward again).

When I look at it all with adult-me eyes, it doesn’t feel like much. But, luckily, I spend a lot of my time looking at the world through the eyes of  a child, or at least trying to. And kid-me would not believe the year I’ve had. She wouldn’t have even imagined it was possible.

Earlier today I fell down a rabbit hole of research. (Well, part research, part avoiding the hard and scary work of putting words on the page). I was looking up old board games my characters could play on a rainy day. I was trying to remember which ones I had – the good ones and the bad – and this one came to the top of the list.

What Shall I Be Game | www.patriciabaileyauthor.com
I remember picking this game up at a yard sale. It was old-timey even then, but I grew up in a small town out west. Everything came a few years/decades late there. Music. Movies. Mocha lattes. And, yes, even possibilities. And this is nothing if not a game of possibilities. Six to be exact. Ballerina. Actress. Flight Attendant. Teacher. Model. Nurse. Those were the career choices kid-me was given in the the late 70’s/early 80’s.

The only one I thought was remotely possible was teacher. So that’s what I became. It was also the only job other than nurse, bank teller, house cleaner, store clerk, beautician, and secretary I had ever seen a real-life woman hold.

I have no idea if this game influenced my decision in any way. Maybe those awful pink and orange cards that said you were too overweight or too bad at makeup to be an actress or a flight attendant had a impact. Maybe not. It wasn’t very fun to play, so I didn’t spend that much time with it, but you never know what’s going to stick to you. I do know that it wasn’t until I was in my late 30’s that the idea that I could be a real-life writer seemed possible. That it was even an option.

Which takes me back to kid-me who would be looking back at my year with wide-eyed amazement. I did all that, and I did it with my hair in a ponytail and no makeup? (Too things those awful little pink hearts and round orange cards deemed unworthy for most careers). Who would have imagined it?

Not me.

But here I am. Even on the hard days, the no words days, the no hope days, I’m here, doing a job that didn’t even seem possible. Living a life I never even imagined.

And even on those days, if I take the time to stop looking forward, I can see that it’s pretty awesome.

(If you’d like to read a fun article about the game mentioned above, there’s one here).

Thankful

https://pixabay.com/en/thanksgiving-parade-snoopy-newyork-2428514/

Thank you. <3

PB | www.patriciabaileyauthor.comTrishSignatureblue

Author Spotlight: Emily Whitman Talks About The Turning

Author Spotlight | Emily Whitman Talks About The Turning| www.patriciabaileyauthor.comToday I’m shining the Author Spotlight on Emily Whitman and her middle grade novel THE TURNING.

Title:  The Turning

Genre: Middle-grade novel

Age Range: 8-12

Launch Date: July 24, 2018

 

Please tell us a little bit about your book.

Aran is a selkie and lives on the open sea with his clan. All he’s ever wished for is a pelt, which will turn him into a sleek, powerful seal like the other selkies. Then Aran discovers that his clan has been keeping a secret from him. And the secret means Aran may never get his pelt. That he’s a danger to the entire clan. That maybe he doesn’t even belong to the sea at all. Aran’s desperate quest for a pelt lands him in the bewildering and dangerous world of humans. He has to learn their strange ways to pass as one of them. Land holds wonders: trees and birds’ nests and cookies and, most surprising of all, friends. Yet the land is dangerous, too. When the unimaginable happens, Aran will be forced to choose: Will he fight for his place on land, or listen to the call of the sea?

What inspired you to write this story and/or these characters?

I’ve always loved mythology and folklore. They’re truth and magic tangled up together! I was on a boat to Ireland’s Skellig Islands when an image of selkies flashed into my mind. In Celtic lore, selkies can slip off their seal pelts to take human form. I started to wonder what would happen to a selkie boy living at sea who’d never had a seal pelt. It grew into a story about belonging, bravery, and self-discovery. I’m also fascinated by cusps, those thin edges where one thing is about to turn into another and you can step in either direction. A selkie tale is the cusp of our human nature and our animal nature, of ocean and land, magic and reality. Pretty cool!

Everyone says writing is a process. Could you share a little about your writing and/or research process?

I start with a spark that’s pure imagination. Something on the page surprises me and I decide to follow up. The story takes surprising turns. I’ll do bits of outlining as I go, but mostly I uncover flashes of character and story as I write, and then I do what my friend Amy brilliantly calls “Frankenstein-ing it together.” As I write, I’m always researching, and the research keeps feeding me new insights. I love adventure research: going out in search of sense perceptions and experiences that feed the story. For The Turning, I visited a seal colony, and spent time on the shore and in aquariums. When I found out that orcas will work together to splash a seal off a rock, I knew that had to become a scene in the book!

We know no writer is created in a vacuum. Could you tell the readers about a teacher or a librarian who had an effect on your writing life?

This is such a good question! I’m grateful for the wonderful guides along my way. I can start all the way back in first grade, when Mrs. Johnson had us write nonstop. Every Monday we’d write what we did over the weekend. We listened to Peter and the Wolf and wrote our own versions—maybe that was the start of my lifelong love of retellings and making a classic tale my own! And then there was the Whittier school librarian Mrs. Wolzien. I was a library helper from 4th-6th grades. When I graduated I got to choose any book I wanted. Here’s a picture of the one I chose, The Animal Family.
animal-family-cover-medium

What makes your book  a good pick for use in a classroom? Is there any particular way you’d like to see teachers use it with young readers/teens?

 Take a great adventure story, set it in a magical, atmospheric ocean world, and give kids someone they connect with as they struggle with what it means to belong, and with finding the courage to face new situations. Then give teachers tools that make it easy to use the book in the classroom—discussion questions, activities, lesson plans, and links to great sites where kids can explore marine mammals, ocean life, and folktales. The Teaching Guide and links on my website will give you lots of ideas!

I love interdisciplinary approaches where kids’ interest in one area pulls them into others. I’m really excited how The Turning can enrich units on myth and folklore, ocean science, and writing with all your senses.

I’m a little dog obsessed here at www.patriciabaileyauthor.com. Would you tell the readers about  your favorite dog (real or imaginary)?

Jake! Wonderful Jake! When I was in high school we got a German Shepherd puppy with floppy ears and gigantic paws. He grew into a gigantic, loving, playful, and very poorly trained dog. He’d jump up and put his paws on my tiny grandmother’s shoulders. I can still hear her saying “Down Jakie!” He could catch a line-drive tennis ball like you wouldn’t believe. After all these years I still miss him.

Author Spotlight | Emily Whitman Talk About The Turning| Jake | www.patriciabaileyauthor.com

Elsie, my cat and writing partner, asked to be mentioned, too. I told her you were interested specifically in dogs, but as a proudly independent creature she thought you’d like to see her picture anyway! (I’ll allow it – even though it will make my cats terribly jealous 🙂 ~ trish)

Author Spotlight | Emily Whitman Talk About The Turning| Elsie | www.patriciabaileyauthor.com

 

Author Spotlight | Emily Whitman Talk About The Turning | www.patriciabaileyauthor.comIn Emily Whitman’s novels, myth and magic are part of everyday life. The Turning is her first novel for kids. Her YA novels are Radiant Darkness, #1 on the IndieBound Kid’s Next List, and Wildwing, winner of the Oregon Book Award and a Bankstreet College Best Children’s Book. Emily teaches writing workshops and lives with her family in Portland, Oregon. Come say hi at www.emilywhitman.com, facebook.com/emilywhitman, and instagram.com/emilywhitmanbooks.

 

You can pick up a copy of THE TURNING at your favorite independent bookstore or online.

Thanks, Emily!

PB | www.patriciabaileyauthor.comTrishSignatureblue

Author Spotlight: Julie Leung Talks About Merlin’s Last Quest

Merlin's Last Quest | Support Independent Bookstores - Visit IndieBound.orgToday I’m shining the Author Spotlight on Julie Leung and her middle grade novel MICE OF THE ROUND TABLE:  MERLIN’S LAST QUEST

Title: Mice of The Round Table: Merlin’s Last Quest

Genre: Fantasy

Age Range: 8-12

Launch Date: 10/2/2018

 

Please tell us a little bit about your book.

Merlin’s Last Quest concludes my trilogy, Mice of the Round Table. After pulling the Sword from the Stone and saving Camelot from a mysterious plague, Galahad and Calib infiltrate Morgan le Fay’s lair to secure the Holy Grail from their enemies.

The stars are align for a final battle that determines Camelot’s fate. Calib and his friends must harness the magic of Merlin as well as the strength, bravery, and wisdom within themselves to become the mythical heroes they were destined to be.

What inspired you to write this story and/or these characters?

I loved the Redwall series by Brian Jacques with a fierce, probably obsessive passion. To this day, the mere description of potato leek soup and anything with the word trifle in it sends nostalgic shivers down my spine. And like any budding fantasy fiction fanatic, Arthurian legends were a gateway drug. These kinds of books made me who I am today. Mice of the Round Table is the perfect marriage of those two early loves.

Everyone says writing is a process. Could you share a little about your writing and/or research process?

Even though I find myself always changing my outlines, it has helped me immensely to set a destination in mind when writing—or even multiple destinations, like a road trip. I package my writing goals in small sprints, scene-to-scene, chapter-to-chapter. It keeps my fingers moving on the keyboard and makes drafting feel less daunting.

We know no writer is created in a vacuum. Could you tell the readers about a teacher or a   librarian who had an effect on your writing life?

I think often about my experiences growing up in the public education system—its many pitfalls, classroom distractions, and budget constraints. And yet, the English teachers who taught me gave it their all. In the 10th grade, one of my literature teachers read an essay of mine out loud to the class. It was a simple 5-paragraph glorified book report on the Elie Wiesel book, Night. However, it was the first time I’d ever heard my words being read out loud by someone else. It was the first time I thought I could make a career out of writing.

What makes your book a good pick for use in a classroom? Is there any particular way you’d like to see teachers use it with young readers/teens?

In the practical sense, I like to think of my series as a gateway to the Redwall series, as well as to the larger body of Arthurian legends. In a more poetical sense, I wrote Calib’s story as an examination on navigating familial, societal, and self-imposed expectations. How does one carve out one’s own legend against a backdrop of outside influences? How does one find the courage to become their own person?

I’m a little dog obsessed here at www.patriciabaileyauthor.com. Would you tell the readers about  your favorite dog (real or imaginary)?

My husband and I have a dream of getting a Boston Terrier one day and naming him, Admiral Ackbark. He exists only in our hearts and imagination currently.

 

Author Spotlight | Julie Leung Talks About Merlin's Last Quest |www.patriciabaileyauthor.comJULIE LEUNG was raised in the sleepy suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia, though it may be more accurate to say she grew up in Oz and came of age in Middle-earth. She works in book publishing as a digital marketer. In her free time, she enjoys furtively sniffing books at used bookstores and winning at obscure board games. Her favorite mode of transportation is the library. You can follow he on these Internet tendencies: TwitterInstagram, and Goodreads.

 

You can learn more about Julie and the other books in the MICE OF THE ROUND TABLE series by clicking on this interview I did with her about Book 1:  A TAIL OF CAMELOT and this Guest Post Julie did about Book 2:  VOYAGE TO AVALON.

You can buy Julie’s books at your favorite independent bookstore.

Thanks, Julie!

PB | www.patriciabaileyauthor.comTrishSignatureblue

 

 

 

Middle Grade Book Love: Rules of the Ruff

If you’re a regular reader of this blog (heck, even if this is your first ever visit to my website)  you know I love dogs. I don’t own a dog (YET!), but I adore them, which is why I eagerly snapped up an ARC of Heidi Lang’s latest middle grade novel, RULES OF THE RUFF. It has everything I love in a middle grade book – family drama, friendships, a yearning for something just out of reach, and a bit of a mystery. Plus, it has dogs. Lots and lots of dogs!

MG Book Love | rules-of-the-ruff | www.patriciabaieyauthor.comTwelve-year-old Jessie is in for a long summer at her aunt and uncle’s house. Her cousin Ann has a snotty new best friend, which leaves Jessie all alone. But Jessie is industrious, and—not content with being ignored all summer—she convinces Wes, a grouchy neighborhood dog walker, to take her on as his apprentice.

Sure, dog walking turns out to be harder than she expected, but she has Wes’s dog-walking code, the Rules of the Ruff, to guide her, and soon she’s wrangling her very own pack. But when a charismatic rival dog walker moves to town, she quickly snatches up most of Wes’s business—and Jessie decides she isn’t going to take this defeat with her tail between her legs.

 

Rules of the RuffRules of the Ruff by Heidi Lang
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Such a fun book! Smart and funny in all the best ways – with a character who doesn’t always do the right thing, but is so easy to root for you can’t help but going along for the ride (or, in this case, the walk). Rules of the Ruff is a realistic look at how sometimes good intentions can lead you astray and how even the worst people may be better than you think.

View all my reviews

For readers

  • A pitch-perfect age-appropriate sort-of romance. Kinda.
  • A easy-to-relate to main character who is far from perfect.
  • Dogs! Lots of dogs!

For teachers

  • Some subtle lessons on growing up taught through dog-walking rules.
  • Complicated family and friend relationships that will prove to be good conversation starters.
  • Good descriptions of what’s required to be a responsible pet owner from the eyes of a kid.

RULES OF THE RUFF  is available now. You can pick up a copy online or at your nearest independent bookseller.

Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound

You can learn more about Heidi’s other middle grade books by checking out an interview I did with her and her writing partner here.

PB | www.patriciabaileyauthor.comTrishSignatureblue

KIT’s Out in Paperback!

THE TRAGICALLY TRUE ADVENTURES OF KIT DONOVAN is out in paperback!!

And it has a bright and shiny new cover. And it has a blurb from the legendary historical fiction writer Karen Cushman right there on the cover!

kit-donvan-paperback | www.patriciabaileyauthor.com

Isn’t it lovely? It totally reminds me of covers of books I read and loved when I was a kid. Plus, there’s just something so accessible about a paperback book.

Confession:  When I opened the box of hard cover books Albert Whitman & Company sent me last year, I couldn’t touch them. Seriously. I could barely look at them. They just seemed so real and so scary and so serious I couldn’t quite believe they were mine.

kit-in-paperback | www.patriciabaileyauthor.comBut when I got my box of paperbacks last month, I reached right in and pulled one out. I even flipped through it. I wasn’t afraid of breaking it, or making it dirty, or otherwise mishandling it. It felt familiar – in a way the hard cover never did for me.

I hope that readers find the paperback as enticing and as comfortable as I do.

If you haven’t picked up a copy of THE TRAGICALLY TRUE ADVENTURES OF KIT DONOVAN, now you can for the paperback price. (How fun is that?). And if you have bought a hard cover, thank you! You still might want to take a look at the beautiful new paperback, though. It’s so pretty and such a good deal, it’s hard to resist.

Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Powells | Indiebound

PB | www.patriciabaileyauthor.comTrishSignatureblue