Thursday, March 27, 2014

Discussion Questions for Stakeout by Bonnie J. Doerr

A surreal encounter with an ancient sea turtle propels Kenzie into peril in the Florida Keys… 

A haunting promise compels Kenzie to save sea turtles. When thieves rob the turtle nests, she determines to stop them. Fearless, wheelchair-bound Ana and savvy, island native Angelo assist Kenzie in an undercover sting operation. But as the stakes get higher, Kenzie fears losing her best friend and her own life.

Stakeout includes notes on the endangered hawksbill and loggerhead turtles as well as information about the Turtle Hospital in Marathon, Florida.

If your class or group is reading Stakeout, here are some questions about the book:

Discussion Questions for Stakeout by Bonnie J. Doerr
Created by Mary Helen Sheriff

1.     What did you like about the book?  What did you dislike?  Why?

2.     What did Kenzie and Key Teens Care do to help the turtles?  Can you think of other things they could of have done?  Are any animals endangered in your community?  Are there organizations that support them?

3.     Describe the relationship between Angelo and Kenzie?  What do they have in common?  What is the source of trouble in their relationship?

4.     How does Kenzie’s relationship with Mike change over the course of the novel?

5.     Describe Fisher.  Describe Edna.  In what ways are they similar?  In what ways are they different?

6.     Give some examples of Kenzie’s dishonesty and explain why she was dishonest.  Would you have made the same choices as Kenzie?  Why or Why not?  How would you have handled Kenzie if you were her mother?

7.     List the clues that led to pinpointing the culprit.

8.     Describe Big Pine Key.  How does the setting influence the story?

9.     Shalima sells a product that promises luxurious hair and flawless, radiant skin.  Does this product actually provide this? Do you have any experience with buying products that aren’t all that they are advertised as?  What can people do to protect themselves from false advertising?

10.  What interesting facts did you learn about turtles from reading this book?

Answer Key can be found here.


Mary Helen Sheriff lives in Richmond, VA with her husband, two children, and two cats. She has an MFA in children’s literature from Hollins University and is an experienced teacher of elementary, middle grade, and college students. Her most recent publishing credits include four middle grade short stories for a reading comprehension website and a YA short story for an anthology written for Ethiopians learning English. She is currently writing a novel and maintaining a blog where you can read her thoughts on writing and education. 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Crystal Ball Predicts...

photo PatriceA Skype visit from Patrice Lyle.

 With her Spells & Spies sign in the background and crystal ball in hand, Patrice is ready to discuss her tween mystery in the Poison Ivy series, The Case of the Invisible Witch. Other props include items from her paranormal collection (the figure she used to inspire the series) and surprise visits from two of her three cats.

On a recent Skype visit with an elementary class interesting information about herself, such as the fact that her father was a detective and she used to snoop in his files. That's how she learned so much about solving mysteries. She also gave the schools a pdf with discussion questions (authored by Mary Helen Sheriff, along with some great Common Core activities) and writing prompts.

And just to clarify, the pink room is her writing room, not her daughter's bedroom, as one student guessed.

Interested in a Skype visit with Patrice? You can contact her through her website. Learn more about her at her Leap Books author page or Twitter (@Patrice_Lyle).

Poison Ivy Cover ABOUT THE BOOK

Thirteen-year-old Tulip Bonnaire, Witch PI, runs Spells & Spies out of her dorm room at Poison Ivy Charm School, a school for polite witches and warlocks. She has only 72 hours to figure out her latest case, or her classmate, Missy, will never be seen again. Literally.

When Missy shows up in Tulip’s dorm room around midnight, she’s invisible. As in not even x-ray vision could spot her. The mean triplets who call themselves The Belles have cast an invisibility spell on poor Missy. But if Tulip can’t break the spell in 72 hours, Missy will remain invisible forever.

It’s a case Tulip can’t resist — between her mom’s annoying new boyfriend and her own secret crush at school, Tulip understands how much it stinks to feel invisible. Luckily for Tulip, her two best friends and her cute, techy guy friend help dig up clues on a case that turns out to be her freakiest one ever.

Monday, March 10, 2014

A Chance to Work with Editor Kat OShea

Upcoming Workshop at Savvy Authors

Handling Backstory the Right Way with Editor Kat OShea

Registration Information
Click to register
March 17 - April 6, 2014

About the Workshop

One thing that puts off many editors—and most readers—is lengthy passages of backstory dumped into a manuscript. Putting too much background information in the first few chapters can slow down the story and prevent readers from bonding with your main character. Yet that same information, used at the proper time, can build tension and provide dramatic conflict. Learn to distinguish between essential and nonessential backstory, and discover ways to use your character’s past to add dramatic tension to your manuscript.

Cost: Premium Member $20 / Basic Member $30

Where:  The Savvy Forums

About the Instructor

Kat O’Shea is Editor-in-Chief at Leap Books. She has 20+ years of editing experience with a variety of publishers and also does freelance editing and critiquing. Kat has been published under several pseudonyms in both the YA and adult markets.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Do Adult Gatekeepers Affect Teen Book Sales?

Publishing books for children and teens is a bizarre, fickle thing. I’ve come to the opinion that you have to be very brave or a little crazy (or both) to take it on.

You see, there is nothing straightforward when publishing for the under-18 set.

With adults, it’s all pretty common sense. If you publish romances or gothic mysteries or airplane centric real crime novels, then you know your audience is going to be romance fans or mystery enthusiasts or airplane crime novel devotees. Nothing too extraordinary there.

But the minute you publish for the children’s market (and that includes teens), you find yourself having to please two audiences. Oh, yes, there are those actual children and teens the phrase “children’s publishing” implies. But, and this is a big but, there is a second audience, a more powerful audience, the audience with the actual money paying for the books: adults.

And the biggest problem for the publisher is that these two audiences often don’t have the same tastes. What a thirteen-year-old finds fascinating is not necessarily the same thing I find fascinating in my thirties. (This is probably a good thing. Having the exact sensibilities as a thirteen-year-old is probably not in my best interest.) To take on both a child and adult audience simultaneously can only best be described as courageous.

I salute Leap Books on their foray into the nutty dual audience world of children’s publishing. Whether you are a child/teen or an adult (or adult with the heart of a child/teen), their books will find an audience in you.


Madeline Smoot is the publisher of Children's Brains Are Yummy Books, a micro publisher of fantasy and science fiction for children and teens.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Big Schnoz and All

Recently I started reading the Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang. It's from his colored fairy books series. It was recommended to me by one of my teachers at Hollins University, and I am super excited about it. Clearly all of the stories contain fairies, some play significant parts and some have not so significant parts. As I've said before, I really enjoy the hardbound classics from Barnes and Noble so when I saw this edition I grabbed it. So excited! I expected it to be like Grimm's or Hans Christian Anderson, but it is definitely not. Some of the stories are very silly, and they’re written in modern English, so they’re very easy to read.

Last night I read a story about a prince named HYACINTH, which immediately made me think of the British sitcom Keeping up Appearances, and I couldn't stop giggling. Hyacinth Bucket (who insists her last name be pronounced Bouquet) is a social-climbing snob and absolutely hilarious. Anyway, Prince Hyacinth (bahaha) is born with a big nose. I am talking HUGE. However, everyone in the kingdom tells him it's handsome, and they hang paintings all through the castle of people with huge noses. When he finally goes out in search of his princess, and people start staring at him, he's thrown off a little. Eventually he finds his princess, but she is kidnapped and he seeks the help of a fairy. This fairy has a very, very small nose. Throughout the entire time they speak with one another, she constantly refers to his schnoz. Eventually, the prince finds the princess locked up in a glass castle and tries to kiss her through the glass but can't because—you guessed it—that big nose. Once he admits that his nose is ginormous, the fairy breaks the spell, and the glass castle disappears. It was a great story, short and hilarious, because it dealt with something as simple as a nose.

This is what got me thinking. Fairy tales are absolutely wonderful, but how many of us go back to the simplicity of things. Big noses are funny. Runny noses are funny. Noses in general are pretty hilarious if you use them to your advantage. No matter how old someone is, that humor from first grade is still hanging around inside them somewhere, so why not play on it?

So here is a writing challenge: Create a story. There must be a fairy, it must be silly, and it must use some body part. Go back to the basics. Sometimes we make writing too hard on ourselves and forget that we are writers in the first place because writing is a part of it. Once you put pen to paper and the words start coming, it's a cakewalk. Don't overthink, don't erase. Just have fun. And remember the hilarious Prince Hyacinth and his big nose.


Courtney Warren is a writer for her local newspaper, as well as a graduate student at Hollins University where she is pursuing a degree in Children’s Literature. She has a bachelor’s degree from Delta State University, the home of the Fighting Okra (which she is incredibly proud of). She loves to read just about anything placed on the shelves but has a special place in her heart for the Harry Potter series.

When she is not writing about herself in third person, she loves to write stories about middle schoolers with spunky attitudes who intend to save the world, as well as drinking Earl Grey tea from a very prissy teacup.

Check out her blog, Tea, the Spirit, & a Pen.