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I got the opportunity to attend the annual Arizona English Teachers Association conference yesterday, and it was fantastic. Yes, I learned things in the breakout sessions. Yes, I connected with other teachers from around the state. Yes, I felt that I had some ideas to contribute to the discussions. Yes, I saw some colleagues I hadn’t seen in quite a while. All of that would have been worth it, but none of that was the highlight.

For me, the highlight was hearing some of my favorite authors speak, especially the marvelous Meg Medina. Her keynote presentation was fantastic, and she shared with us so much about her own upbringing and her childhood and teen years. It was fascinating to listen to her experiences, and how they related to the experiences she wrote for her characters, especially in her award winning novel Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass.

If you haven’t had a chance to read Ms. Medina’s work, what are you waiting for? She’s also the author of Burn Baby Burn and two picture books, Mango, Abuela, and Me, and Tia Isa Wants a Car. Additionally, she has a short story included in the collection Flying Lessons, where she’s in very good company with the likes of Walter Dean Myers, Kwame Alexander, Matt de la Peña, and other phenomenal writers. She was gracious, engaging, and fully present throughout the event, participating in round table discussions and sharing her perspective. It was a pleasure and honor to meet her and learn from her.

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I also had the pleasure of enjoying a panel of local writers of middle grade and young adult books. They are a thoughtful group, and are so generous with their time and talent. Several of them have volunteered to teach workshops with my summer writers in the past, and two more enthusiastically agreed to teach next summer. The willingness of the writers in this community to share their experiences and knowledge is so impressive and appreciated.

Conferences like this one are inspiring to me, both as a teacher and as a writer. I feel fortunate to have had the experience.


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Don’t Tell Me I Can’t Love This Book

I recently read a book that really spoke to me. Actually, that’s not strong enough. I fell in love with it. I hated to leave it when I had to, and I kept thinking about picking it back up in my free moments. It was beautiful.91VE2fSH9iL._SL1500_

That book took me places I had never been, yet it made those places familiar and comfortable. As I read, the book transported my heart too, and I felt as though I were living someone else’s life, at least for a little while.

It sounds magical, doesn’t it? It was. In fact it was an almost spiritual experience. I read and read and read and didn’t want the story to end. Sadly, though, like all books, it eventually came to a close. A lovely, satisfying close, but a close all the same. How unfortunate.

So why would anyone tell me that I couldn’t love this book?

Well, there are a few reasons that come to mind. First off, it’s technically not a story for adults.  It’s not my story. It’s not my life. It’s not my history or my culture or my race or my religion. But does that matter?

As a writer, I hope that my readers can find some connection to the stories I tell. I hope that something on the page resonates with them. As I writer I don’t care that your history and mine are different. I want you to immerse yourself in mine, and see if any of it feels familiar. If it does, great, we may share some sort of connection. If it doesn’t, that’s fine too. We compare our experiences and make note of their similarities and differences.

I was a young girl growing up during the same era as the author. I chewed Bubble Yum. I listened to the O’Jays on the radio. I remember hearing about babies suffering the damaging effects of eating lead paint. I wondered why a baby would eat paint. I loved my grandparents and I made friends in school. My life was not so different in so many ways, but our paths were light-years apart. I thank her for showing me her world, and doing it so beautifully.

Don’t tell me I can’t love this book. I already do.

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The book, of course, is Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming, and it is stunning.


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Loyal Dog vs. Zombies

Let me preface by saying I’m not a huge Zombie fan.

Oh sure, I do love Zombieland (yes, I know it’s gory and gross, but it’s freaking funny with some awesome actors), and I’ve enjoyed the entire Dayna Lorentz series. But somehow those fantastic YA novels set in the post Zombie shopping mall world seem different to me. Then there’s Sick, by Tom Leveen, another zombie YA novel, this time set in a high school, cool, huh?  So maybe I sort of do like Zombies. Or at least the Zombie genre.

Last summer I had the pleasure of attending a fantastic writing conference. The opening address was delivered by the author who just might hold the title as King of the Zombie Writers, none other than Jonathan Maberry.  He is a phenomenal speaker, and a prolific writer. His work is on my “to read” list, but frankly I’m a little scared of his books, even the covers are terrifying.

The good news is, he is not one dimensional. His facebook feed is full of happy, uplifting messages, and I enjoy following him.

Today, especially, I was in for a treat. This morning he shared this wonderful video, and it made my day. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. With thanks to Jonathan Maberry and the talented artists who created this film. Enjoy Steadfast Stanley.