[Author Chat + Giveaway] Mara Rockliff on Gingerbread for Liberty!: How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution


I have picture book envy. I wish I wrote Mara’s books!

Originally posted on Jama's Alphabet Soup:

All illustrations © 2015 Vincent X. Kirsch.

There’s nothing more delicious than learning something new about a well-loved food.

When I think of gingerbread, I think of Emily Dickinson lowering basketfuls to the neighborhood children, Laura Ingalls Wilder setting out a pan to cool at Rocky Ridge Farm, or Emily Brontë baking a family parkin. I’d read about gingerbread’s long and interesting history, marveling that Queen Elizabeth I was essentially responsible for the gingerbread boy cookies we now bake every holiday season. But I never imagined a gingerbread baker could be an unsung hero in Revolutionary history.

Officially hitting shelves today, Mara Rockliff’sGingerbread for Liberty!: How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution (HMH, 2015), introduces young readers to Christopher Ludwick, a German-born American patriot living in Philadelphia, who as Baker General of the Continental Army, fed General George Washington’s troops and even snuck off…

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I Got You Chris Barton for Christmas! Enjoy!

Chris_Barton_author_photoLook everyone! It’s Chris Barton! The one who wrote Shark Vs. Train! That guy! Visiting Literary Friendships to close out the year!

Ready, set, go!

Talk a bit about Attack! Boss! Cheat Code!: A Gamer’s Alphabet (available now!). What made you want to write a lightly ironic gamer book?
What made me want to write the book, period, was my realization through my clueless conversations with my own kids of just how baffling contemporary gaming lingo can be to the uninitiated — and also the realization that the decades-old culture and history of video games may be lost on gamers who aren’t tuned in to all that came before Minecraft and Angry Birds. I saw Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! as a fun opportunity to spread the knowledge and understanding around a bit more evenly among gamers of varying levels of experience.

attack boss cheat stackBut the lightly ironic tone? That came from trying to figure out the ideal narrator. Who would have the authority and inclination to bring readers up to speed on all these gaming terms? I came to see that narrator as a knowing, benevolent teenager — someone who’d be willing and able to explain things to the reader, cool enough to do so with a sense of humor and secure enough to share what they know without being condescending about it.

Now on to The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch (spring 2015), which marks the first but not last time we’re sharing an (amazing) illustrator, Don Tate. How did you come to learn about Lynch and what about his life inspired you to write this book? What do you think Lynch would make of American in 2014?
John Roy Lynch final coverSeveral years ago, I saw the PBS documentary Reconstruction: The Second Civil War (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/reconstruction/). The early life of John Roy Lynch — his 10-year journey from enslaved teenager to U.S. congressman — was one of the lenses through which the documentary told the larger story of Reconstruction. John Roy Lynch made such huge strides at such a young age, and I was captivated by the glimpses of his engaging personality that came through in his autobiography.

But the book is as much about Reconstruction as it is about this one man. Most of what little I’d learned in school about Reconstruction, I’d forgotten until I saw that documentary. After seeing it, I was consumed by the desire to try to explain why the Civil Rights movement occurred nearly a century after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation rather than in the years immediately following the end of the Civil War.

I think John Roy Lynch would be taken aback by how much inequality persists in the United States in 2014, but he’d possibly be even more surprised by the low levels of political engagement among young people. I hope he’d appreciate the potential for his own story to inspire improvements on both counts.

What character from children’s lit would you like to spend a day gaming with? What would that day be like?
By “character,” I can consider real people with character, right? Because at the YALSA Symposium in Austin last month, I met a librarian who was over-the-moon enthusiastic about Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! because a video game – The Legend of Zelda — had been the thing that turned her into a reader when she was a kid. She got tired of relying on a (perhaps not entirely reliable) older sibling to read the narrative text to her, so she learned to read it herself.

Ernie the dog

Ernie, the dog.

So, she and I could probably have a good conversation while gaming. But spending an entire day gaming isn’t for me. I’d get fidgety after an hour, tops, and suggest we take my dog for a walk.

What are you working on now?
I’m working on a new school-visit presentation. I’ve gotten really good at “Bob and Joe and Shark and Train,” my standard presentation based on The Day-Glo Brothers and Shark Vs. Train. But in addition to Attack! Boss! Cheat Code! and The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch, I’ve got four new picture books coming out in the next 15 months, so it’s time to set the tried and true aside and come up with something that does right by my new books as well as my older ones.

idea-fileOnce I’ve got that done, I have a couple of nonfiction projects that I’m at the very early stages of researching, and I hope to mainly spend the month of January playing with new fiction picture book ideas. Do you have any you’re not using?

Chris, of course, is just kidding, because he knows the fun to be had, seeking new ideas in a new year.

Happy holidays, everyone! And all the best in the new year!

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Spies with Bad Breath and B.O. Issues: Peter Millett Interview

PeterMfullversionSure, it’s December and this is my first interview of the year. Your point?

I’m returning in very high style with international flavor. I am very pleased to welcome writer Peter Millet. He’s from NEW ZEALAND. He writes fun books. Read on.

What led you to write about Johnny Danger?

My wife is a sixth-grade teacher and she asked me to write another middle-grade comedy series to read to her kids. We both share a similar sense of humor and she appreciates the jokes I hide away in my stories just for her. Anyone who is a fan of The Office or The Simpsons will be able to spot what game I’m playing behind the scenes. I am an eternal prankster and I love surprising people with the unexpected.

JohnnyDangerI also love sending up institutions that have become overly serious. We don’t need another brooding, sophisticated, muscular teen spy – we need a spy with bad breath, BO issues, wearing his dad’s old prom suit, and being genuinely confused about saving the world or finishing off an intense session of Minecraft.

Do you think living in New Zealand informs your writing and/or illustration? If so, how?

I’ll answer this question in a slightly different manner. After the Great Recession of 2009-11, New Zealand’s book scene was reduced to one specialist children’s publisher, one specialist children’s editor and no literary agents. (For the entire country!) Sadly many authors were forced to give up their writing dreams and do something else. A very unfortunate situation indeed. Prior to the recession my writing was influenced by our remoteness, wildness and uninhibited Kiwi attitudes. However, after the recession, everything has changed. Now it’s about overcoming staggering odds to continue the dream of writing children’s books.

mrgum If you could collaborate with any living children’s author or illustrator, whom would you choose and why?

Easy answer – an English children’s writer called Andy Stanton. He is the king of UK comedy with his outrageous midlde-grade series called Mr Gum. Working with Andy would be like goofing off on a SNL set or hanging around with younger, less portly member of Monty Python. I asked him about collaborating on a book one day and he flat out said no.

Hah, that Andy, he’s always the joker…

If a children’s book character, past or present, could move next door to younger you, which one would want it to be?

It’s a toss up between Peter Pan and Charlie Bucket (from the chocolate factory).

Firstly, Peter is my namesake. So that’s the logic behind that decision. I think flying would be seriously cool fun. Or maybe it wouldn’t. Just how does one take a lavatory break at 2,000 feet wearing tights? I’m honestly not sure.

Charlie BucketSecondly, I spent many years of my life searching for a golden ticket amongst sticky chocolate bar wrappers. Potentially this accelerated the over pimple-ization of my face. Befriending Charlie would have avoided that unpleasant scenario. In turn, it also would have led to me meeting my writing hero Roald Dahl.

What are you working on now?

Three things:

I’ve just finished a three-week project filming a high tech, over the top, computer animated trailer for Johnny Danger. I pulled out all the stops on this one. The idea is to have kids share and enjoy the entertainment factor of the trailer alone. It includes a new story line created just for the trailer. I love to innovate and hopefully this quirky trailer is a hit. See for yourself:


I’m also working on a rhyming picture book and a possible dramatic middle grade story featuring an abandoned elephant.

Here is my website:   www.petermillett.com

I’ve published around 30 books over 16 years and it still feels like day one of my career. Hopefully I’ll feel this energized 16 years from now!

Johnny Danger will be published by Penguin Australia and it comes out in approximately nine weeks time:


For those readers who can’t wait that long, I have three free copies of my earlier superhero comedy series ‘Boy Zero’ available on a first in – first served basis. All I need is an email address and confirmation you have access to Kindle software.


Thanks, Peter!

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Why I Should Shower More Often

I have to learn THE SAME THINGS over and over. This is not a metaphor or a deep insight; it’s a sad truth. Especially with writing novels. There is no carry over from one book to the next.

Take today, for example. Go on, take it! I kept putting off my shower, using it as a reward for hard work accomplished. We Vernicks are hosting a whole mess of people for Thanksgiving and our house has gotten a little over-cluttered. Understatement. And so I’ve been trying to get little writing tasks and big house cleaning tasks done, along with the myriad errands and details of daily life. With the promise of a hot shower when all was done. Or maybe when some was done.

I was vexed–vexed, I tell you–by the fact that I needed this THING to happen in my novel. And my ideas for making it happen were so pathetic. I felt bad for me. And I wanted a hot shower.

buffalo snowBecause it is COLD. SO COLD! I’m not complaining, exactly, because I think all weather complaints should rightfully go to Buffalo, New York at this point in time. But I WANTED that hot shower, and kept pushing it back.

So when I finally took it, moments before starting dinner, I had worked for it! And it was good! It was so hot! And while I was thinking of nothing more complicated than rinsing shampoo from my hair, a sentence came to me that very matter-of-factly explained how that important thing would happen in my novel.  I didn’t even ask my brain to think about that!

I have never been able to find the exact quote, and I’ve probably mentioned it before, but the director Mike Nichols once said the greatest thing in an interview. It was something like this: “You know what’s so great about your subconscious? It has the same sense of humor as you.” I know what he means. My own personal subconscious sometimes delights me. It can be also be so thoughtful, on occasion, when considering the plots of my book. And it is very, very partial to hot showers.

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How To Knock Off Your To-Do List

Hi. I’m back. At least for today.

spamI figured I could send you all a spammy email about my Promising New Technique For Getting Things Done!!!!!!!!! Or I could post this on my long-dormant blog. I’m guessing you deduced which route I took. Because you’re all super smart like that.

Have you been meaning to, say, vacuum? Exercise? Straighten up or at least eliminate the tumbleweed problem in your dining room? Post on your long-dormant blog? I have figured out a way to get all that done. And more!

Decide to write a novel.

And then, when it’s time to sit down and do the actual writing, you’ll find yourself accomplishing feats you never thought possible!

IMG_0247I took a wonderful class with Patti Gauch at the Highlights Foundation two weeks ago and I came home raring to go. For that whole hilly drive home, ideas and excitement, plot lines and emotional growth were bursting with impatience to get out of my head and onto paper.

Patti is a uniquely brilliant teacher. She taught us (there were eleven of us) what I would have guessed was unteachable–first showing examples of very particular techniques in books she admired–mostly by Gary Schmidt–and then sending us off to write. And she keeps sending us these lovely, inspiring emails. It’s almost enough to make me actually sit down and write!

I came home wanting to ignore the demands of daily life. I wanted to lock myself away and write, write, write. But days passed before I found the time to sit. And then I realized it was really important that I vacuum. And start to clean my office. Also, Thanksgiving’s really soon and we can’t have dinner for 27 with our house looking like THIS.

Edith HoughtonNow you, too, can be super-productive like me. It helps if you say it out loud, too. Like, “Hey friend, I’m planning to work on my novel today.” And then just wait! You might even do some not-novel-writing writing. I did! I handed in the probably-not-even-due-yet Author’s Note for my next nonfiction picture book, With a Baseball in her Hand. About this girl right here, Edith Houghton. I could look at that picture all day. And I might. Did I mention I’m writing a novel?

It’s simple. You can “write a novel” too!  Try it!

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Wait. I have a blog?

There will be lots of exciting stuff going on in 2014:

Screaming at the Ump comes out March 4. I get extra nervous awaiting reviews of a novel. (The potential for meanness is greater. It really is.)

Water Balloon, the paperback, comes out in April.

Edgar’s Second Word, illustrated by the purely brilliant Priscilla Burris, hits shelves in June.

And I’m doing a bunch of interesting things—teaching a picture book revision workshop this month at a Michigan SCBWI event. Speaking with three brilliant educators at NCTE in November. Celebrating one of those big birthdays with my sisters in Puerto Rico in February (even though my birthday is in April).

But right now, I’m working awfully hard at treading water. So I think this blog is taking a little break. (It had already been taking a break. But now I’m announcing it.)

I’ll miss you. But I’ll be back.

Anything below this line is not part of my blog–wordpress sometimes slaps an ad or video here.

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Girl Meets Squash: Pat Zietlow Miller Interview

I’m feeling very prescient. When I created this blog, I pictured it as a place to explore all kinds of literary friendship, but most especially those of the inter-species variety. While I did not specifically envision it as a place for discussion of the bond between a human child and well, a squash, I am delighted beyond measure that it is playing exactly that role. I also didn’t know that A) I’d find this picture online or B) be inexplicably charmed by it. But I digress. As I am always wont to do.

MeToday it is my great pleasure to welcome the fabulous Pat Zeitlow Miller to the blog. Her debut picture book, Sophie’s Squash, has been honored with no fewer than four starred reviews. FOUR! STARRED! REVIEWS!

You’ve taken interspecies friendship to a new dimension! Please tell us how you came to write about a girl who develops a close, personal relationship with a squash.

I owe it all to my youngest daughter, Sonia. When she was still small enough to sit in the front of the grocery cart while I shopped, she latched on to a butternut squash. When we got to the checkout, she was rocking it like a baby, and it was very obvious that particular squash was never going to be dinner.

CoverI took her friendship with that squash and made it more permanent and more intense, and Sophie and Bernice were born.

While Sonia liked her squash, she was never as attached to it as she was to her blue blanket and her stuffed pig. After her relationship with her squash ended, she did temporarily develop feelings for a bag of Gold Medal all-purpose flour, which she creatively named “Goldie.” I could sense disaster looming, so I ended that relationship before my living room was covered with flour. Not all love is meant to last.

Did you ever get attached to an inanimate object?

Not the same way that Sophie gets attached to Bernice, but I did have a little blue stuffed dog that I took along on a family trip to Michigan because, as I told my family, “He’s never seen it!” My parents still recall this fondly.

Are there any characters from books you read as a child that you think of as your friends? Any you wish had moved next door to childhood-you?

 I really liked Anne of Green Gables. She was a more adventurous child than I was, but I think she would have been a great next-door neighbor. I could have been Diana. I read the whole series several times, and liked learning about Anne and Gilbert’s children too.

And, when I read The Boxcar Children series, I identified with Violet. I think I would have gotten along very well with her. We were both quiet and bookish.

What can you tell us about your forthcoming books, Sharing the Bread and The Quickest Kid in Clarksville?

Sharing the Bread is a story about how an entire family works together to get a mouth-watering, old-fashioned Thanksgiving dinner on the table. It’s got a lot of warmth and love and togetherness. And everyone cooks, from the youngest to the oldest. It’s coming out in fall of 2015 from Schwartz & Wade.

The Quickest Kid in Clarksville is about two girls who idolize Olympic sprinter Wilma Rudolph. They start out by competing to see who’s faster, but end up coming together to support each other and honor Wilma’s achievements. It’s coming out from Chronicle Books.

What are you working on now?                           

I have several picture books in process. One is an ode to rocks. Another features a duck and a detective, and the third is about a very young and very determined football fan. And I just wrote a first draft that could be about a boy or a bear. I’m still trying to decide.

Thanks so much for stopping by Pat! You can learn more about Pat Zietlow Miller by visiting her website.

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