It’s a Seashell Day by Dianne Ochiltree


Looking for a perfect summer read picture book? Look no more!



It’s A Seashell Day by Dianne Ochiltree is a story about a child and mom spending a day at the beach, searching for shells and other treasures. The bright collage-like illustrations by Elliot Kreloff are a joyful companion to the rhyme that rises and crests like waves on the shore. A perfect beach read for parent and child.


Dianne Ochiltree is also the author of the picture book It’s A Firefly Night. Read both together! Read my spotlight interview with her for It’s A Firefly Night.

For more about Dianne and her books, check out her web site.

Happy summer!

Welcome to the Spotlight Jody Feldman and The Gollywhopper Games: Friend or Foe


I am very happy to shine the spotlight on Jody Feldman and book 3 of The Gollywhopper Games. If you or a reader you know are a fan of puzzles, this is the book to read! Stayed tuned below for a chance to win a copy!

9780062211286_p0_v1_s260x420The Gollywhopper Games: Friend or Foe by Jody Feldman

(Greenwillow Books/2015)

In book 3 of The Gollywhopper Games series, contestants are chosen for the third Games. All Zane wants is to play for his middle school football team, but a concussion has benched him at least for the season if not indefinitely. When he is chosen as a contestant for the third Gollywhopper Games, he’s intrigued but not as enthusiastic as other contestants might be. But his sharp mind and ability to figure out strategy makes him a strong contender in the games- run by the Golly Games Company, full of puzzles and games and one winner who walks away with a million dollar prize. Zane finds new enthusiasm for the game, his competitive streak comes out, and yet, at the same time forms an unlikely alliance and friendship with competitor Elijah, a brainy boy. In this book full of fun puzzles to solve, readers will cheer for Zane (and maybe Elijah, too) as the games get under way.

Spotlight on Jody:

This is book 3 of the Gollywhopper Games. What fun! Did you envision more than one book when you wrote the first one? How did book 3 come about and what were the particular challenges to writing a “follow up” story?

A person can dream, right? When you get an idea and put those first words on paper, you’re—or at least I am—a combination of starry-eyed dreamer and pessimistic realist. From the beginning, I thought I had a great premise for The Gollywhopper Games, and hey!, how awesome if this one book led to more! But I’d never written anything that long before. And how do you write something sort of complicated? And if I actually get through this first draft, wouldn’t that be an accomplishment in itself? But here I am, putting so much time into this, and what if it stinks? And while I was questioning and doubting, the energy that spurred me to write and rewrite and rewrite ad nauseam partially came from the daydreams that A). The book would get published; B). People would discover it, and; C). Readers would clamor for more. I consider myself so fortunate that  A, B, and C came true. This little stand-alone demanded more adventures.

And then.
And then when I got the green light to write books 2 and 3, well, have you ever truly seen a deer in headlights? I didn’t look in the mirror, and maybe I didn’t show it, but inside, oh no!, how can I escape? What did I get myself into? And wait! Look what I got myself into! Then came bouts of internal fist pumping, high leaping, happy dancing (and, yes, some external bouts of the above, except maybe the high leaping which I’m pretty much physically incapable of doing).

When I finally realized that, unlike most follow-up books, I couldn’t have the same cast of characters—that the Gollywhopper Games, themselves, were the focal point here—things began to fall into place. I knew these next two books would be more like seasons 2 & 3 of a reality TV show. And yet, I didn’t want each to exist on an island; I wanted something that would tie the stories together. The problem? I hadn’t planted those seemingly random bits that series authors often include and build on in subsequent books. I needed to play on something that didn’t exist before the first Gollywhopper Games (the fictional games themselves). That turned out to be extreme buzz and skyrocketing profits for the sponsor company. So I used the fact that great success often breeds great jealousy to connect the follow-up books to the first.

Zane, the main character, totally loves football. It’s because he’s out of commission that he’s drawn to the games once he knows he’ll be a contestant. How did Zane come about?

Before I answer, I especially need to address those of you non-football people. READ ON! Here’s what I tell kids all the time. Zane may love football and his whole world may center around the sport, but I’m actually writing about passion. What’s yours? Cooking? Dance? Sewing? Pets? Music? Art? I thought it would be fascinating to see how things would play out if I had a character with a real passion, and one not tied to the Games.

I happen to love football and have loved it since I was three years old and became mesmerized by the oil derricks on the Houston Oilers helmets. (I’ll spare you the full story for now.) The skills required of a smart, able football player partially match the skill set necessary for success in the Gollywhopper Games. And so, Zane was born.

Readers who love puzzles will absolutely adore this book, although one doesn’t have to solve or even love puzzles to get sucked into this story. There’s a mystery involving possible sabotage, and friendships and competitors form as the games commence. (Come to think of it, in this day and age of reality TV and competition shows, this would make such a cool movie!) Tell us a little about coming up with the puzzles for this book. Was it challenging? Did you enjoy it? What kind of puzzles do you like?

I’m not sure what I started loving first: football or a good mental challenge. I’d always been fascinated with riddles. And I was one of those weird kids who secretly looked forward to workbook pages. No, I did not appreciate the drudgery of regurgitating answers. I was always hopeful the particular assignment that day might include the occasional pages of puzzle-style learning.

Thanks to my love for all means of brainteasers, word puzzles, and yes, occasional math challenges, it was like I’ve been training all my life to write puzzles. Sometimes, puzzles just come to me like a bolt from the blue. Other times, I need to work at creating them. Every time, however, I take care to craft puzzles with my characters in mind. Because these characters are skilled enough to advance far in the Games, it follows that they need the intelligence, resources, cleverness, and/or background to solve many of the challenges they face. And so, the puzzles I choose and the characters I develop have a sort of interdependent relationship.

As for a Gollywhopper Games movie? Let’s figure out how to turn that daydream into reality. Thanks, Debbi!

Jody Feldman, the award-winning author of The Gollywhopper Games series and The Seventh Level (both from HarperCollins/Greenwillow), never knew she always wanted to be a writer when she grew up. If you’d cornered her as a kid, she’d have mentioned doctor or teacher, but that was just an answer. Her passions ran more toward treasure hunter, codebreaker, movie director, or inventor, but her practical side couldn’t imagine how to get there.

Her path to writing meandered through the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a short career in advertising. She wrote a lot about shoes. And then a lot more.

A lifelong resident of St. Louis, Jody likes to travel, cook, watch football, and solve crossword-type puzzles. And she loves knowing she can explore any dream, career or adventure with the characters in her books.

For more about Jody and her books, check out her web site, like her on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter!

For a chance to win a copy of this book, for yourself, a friend or child, or a library/school, just follow the directions below! Good luck!

1. Comment on this post. And for fun tell me what your favorite kind of puzzle is. I’m not much of a puzzle person (I’m impatient and get easily frustrated) – but I do like those puzzle video games like Tetris.

2. Comment by Saturday June 27th by midnight EST. A winner will be drawn at random and announced here on Tuesday, June 30th.

3. Entrants must have a US mailing address.

Thank you and good luck!



Jerry Spinelli -Reboot


I just learned that Little, Brown plans to release a special edition of Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli, in honor of its 25th anniversary. Has it really been 25 years? Wow!b22FM1jniFuAtyu8gCpAO3jj6GbDrotaGnBtiXjuVM4

I cannot wait to get my hands on this special edition with an introduction by author Katherine Applegate. I have long loved this book, and its author.



Jerry Spinelli and me, New York SCBWI conference, winter 2005

In honor of Maniac Magee’s 25th anniversary, I’m reposting a fun interview that I conducted back in 2010. Enjoy!

What was your first published title and what was it about?

SPACE STATION SEVENTH GRADE. Fractured life of a thirteen-year-old boy.

How long did your journey take to publication and what were some significant events along the way?

SPACE STATION was the fifth book I wrote. The first four nobody wanted. Somewhere along the line I stopped being so precious about every word and began writing faster. The faster I wrote the better I got. Those four failures were my training ground.

Were there bleak days when you felt that you’d never get published?  How did you deal with that?

A quarter of a century passed from the time I decided to be a writer till my first novel was published. How did I deal with it? I noticed that the morning after each devastating rejection–I could have papered my apartment with the slips–a funny thing happened: the sun came up. The world took no notice. Why should I? I kept writing.

Who/what were your sources of inspiration along the way?  How did it/ he/she/they help you the most?

Eileen was my biggest booster. vid. STARGIRL

What was the best thing about getting your first book published?

Having readers.

What was the hardest thing?

Stop celebrating.

How have you changed from your first published book to now? (note: “now” was in 2010)

If I’ve changed it’s probably evident only to others. I’m still the same to me.

Bit of wisdom to share: (a recommended book on craft, a favorite book, advice, warning)

Book: WALKING ON ALLIGATORS by Susan Shaughnessy

Advice: Write what you care about.

(Interview conducted on 3/3/10)



And The Winner Is…


Thanks to everyone for stopping by to welcome debut author Sarah McGuire to the spotlight.


It’s too late to enter to win a copy of this clever re-telling of The Brave Little Tailor, but you can definitely check out her interview and buy your own copy. It’s worth it!

Using a random number generator, the winner of a copy of Valiant by Sarah McGuire is:

Carl Scott! You’re on a roll! Let me know if your mailing address remains the same and I’ll get your prize to you ASAP!

Stay tuned for another interview and give-away in the very near future!

Happy reading!

Welcome to the Spotlight Sarah McGuire and Valiant!


I’m very happy to welcome debut author Sarah McGuire to the spotlight. I had the pleasure of meeting Sarah at a writing retreat in Vermont. When she read from her manuscript, I had a very strong feeling she’d get it published – and she got an agent and a sale soon after! So thrilling! It is with great joy that I introduce her and her debut novel:

9781606845523_p0_v3_s260x420Valiant by Sarah McGuire (EgmontUSA/2015)

Stayed tuned below for a chance to win this adventurous retelling with a twist of The Brave Little Tailor!

Saville is the daughter of a talented, yet arrogant, tailor. She hates that her father loves bolts of cloth more than her and she despises sewing, though she is gifted at it. When her father falls ill after they arrive at a new town, Saville disguises herself as a lad, as the Tailor’s apprentice, in order to feed them. She endears herself to the King and sews his clothes, but when giants and a cruel duke threaten the kingdom, Saville uses her wits and becomes a loved champion. Her secret is soon discovered, that she is a she and not a he, which does not make the people of the kingdom happy. Will she be able to save those she loves?

Spotlight on Sarah McGuire:

What was the spark of inspiration that led you to craft this retelling of The Brave Little Tailor? What were the joys and challenges of writing this story?

I was flipping through Grimm’s for a fairy tale to retell for a whole novel workshop. The Brave Little Tailor is towards the beginning of my collection of Grimm’s, and I remember thinking how I didn’t like that story and how would you change it to retell it anyway? And there was some sort of flash when I realized that the tailor could be a girl. I couldn’t get the story out of my mind after that– I kept wondering who this girl might be. Then I started telling myself that if I wrote this story, I wouldn’t have stupid giants.

And then I realized I’d spent a lot of time thinking about how I’d write this retelling if I decided to write it. Which meant, of course, that I needed to write it. :)

The joys? Chasing those aspects of the story that most intrigued me- this determined girl and these wondrous giants that besieged a city carved out of a cliff. There are many days where you slog through your draft, but on its best days, writing a novel is a joyful adventure into new territory.

The challenges? Getting the giants just-so, trying to capture a sense of what it what it would be like to stand beside one, setting up and weaving all the threads of the story so that everything made sense by the end. And the showdown! Don’t get me started about the showdown. There were so many characters to have in one place. I rewrote that scene a million times.

Saville is such a full and vibrant character – clever and brave, stubborn to a fault, and so full of love. I adore her and her relationships, particularly the one with Will, the young homeless boy she takes in. How did this relationship come about and how did you develop it?

I love this question! I originally created Will because the only reason that Saville would challenge two giants would be if someone was in danger. So I suppose (I’m trying to remember exactly how I found this dear boy…) I just knew he needed to be someone you couldn’t help but love. And when I found him, he became this carrier for all these moments I’d had nannying or teaching or just with my own sisters and brother. The scenes between Will and Saville were, hands down, some of the easiest and most fun to write.

Saville hates to sew, but she’s obviously very good at it. Do you have a talent that you don’t particularly embrace? If not, how about sharing with us a rare talent? (Can you whistle with a mouthful of crackers perhaps?)

I don’t feel I have so many different talents that I can afford to dismiss one– I need all the help I can get! As far as rare talents, how about the ability to make weird associations between math concepts I need to teach and random things in real life? For instance, I use Luwak coffee as an example of a composition of functions.*

*For the curious, in a composition of functions, a value, a variable, or a combination of both, is “run” through several functions. To get Luwak coffee, you have to run coffee beans through . . . well, you have to run those beans through several things as well.

Thank you, Sarah!

Sarah McGuire loves fairy tales and considers them the best way to step outside of everyday life. They’re the easiest way, at least: her attempt at seven to reach Narnia through her parents’ closet failed. She lives within sight of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, where she teaches high school creative writing and math classes with very interesting word problems. Valiant is her first novel.

McGuire, blog hop

For more about Sarah and her books: Check out her web site, follow her on Twitter, read her blog, and cruise on over to Goodreads.

For a chance to win a copy of this book, for yourself, a friend or child, or a library/school, just follow the directions below! Good luck!

1. Comment on this post. And for fun tell me about a “rare talent” you have. Of course now I have stumped myself. How about, I can write on a chalkboard/whiteboard with either hand.

2. Comment by midnight EST, May 2. A winner will be drawn at random and announced here on Tuesday, May 5.

3. Entrants must have a US mailing address.

Good luck and happy reading!




And The Winner Is…


Thanks for stopping by to help shine the Spotlight on debut YA novelist Sarah Tomp and


If you missed the interview you can read it here.

And now for the winner of a copy of My Best Everything by Sarah Tomp! I used a random number generator and the winner is (drumroll please)…

Cindy! Congratulations! Please email me at just kid ink at yahoo dot com (no spaces) with your mailing address and I’ll make sure your prize is on its way ASAP!

Thanks again for stopping by and stay tuned for another Spotlight!

Happy Reading!


Welcome to the Spotlight Sarah Tomp and My Best Everything!


I am delighted to shine the spotlight today on debut YA novelist Sarah Tomp and


My Best Everything by Sarah Tomp (Little, Brown/2015)

Stay tuned below for a chance to enter a drawing to win your own copy.

Lulu Mendez is counting down the days till she can escape her Virginia town to start college in San Diego. When she learns her father has blown her college savings, Lulu is desperate to raise the funds to get away. How desperate? Desperate enough to shed her Good Girl skin to brew illegal moonshine and sell it along with her best friends. But they need to find someone to help them with this new venture. Along comes Mason, a boy with a past, and Lulu hooks onto him as he teaches her all about moonshine. Lulu falls for Mason and he does for her, but good judgment isn’t Lulu’s strong suit that summer as she makes some hard decisions. Will she get out of her small town as she hopes? And at what cost?

Spotlight on Sarah Tomp:

Please tell us what sparked the idea behind MY BEST EVERYTHING.

I thought I was writing a simple love story. It was going to be about a girl leaving town and a boy who’d just come home, set in a fictional version of my Virginia hometown. They would have one summer together before they each headed off in different directions. But then Lulu turned out to be this feisty character who didn’t believe in love. She was all science and logic, and desperately impatient to get out of town and do big important things. More than anything, I knew she was a control freak who had somehow lost control, but I wasn’t sure of the details. I just knew she felt awfully guilty, even for a good Catholic girl. I also knew Mason had a bad history with alcohol—and he kept making all these casual references to moonshine.

While I was working on the romance part of the story, my youngest son became obsessed with taking things apart. When I met a woman whose father owned a junkyard, I knew we had to take him to explore one. All of a sudden, I gave Lulu and Roni jobs working in a junkyard. Bucky was already working at his father’s gas station. So then when my kids were watching Discovery Channel’s Moonshiners and asked, “Is that what it’s really like in Virginia?” so many of the necessary pieces and parts for making moonshine were already in place. Lulu and I suddenly had this great solution as to how she was going to get out of town.

Fact is, there’s never just one idea that makes a story work. That’s why I say writing a novel is a little bit like making moonshine. A bunch of ingredients are thrown into the pot and start fermenting. It gets kind of messy for a while, and things are thrown out, but eventually all of it works together to create the final product.

What was the journey to publication like?

This was my third novel that I tried to find an agent for. I was oozing with self-doubt! But at the same time, I was really excited about this story. I’d had a wonderful time dreaming it up and hanging out with these characters I adored.

Once I finished the story, two of my trusted readers give me an enthusiastic thumbs up. So then I started querying agents. Again. Slowly. At that time author Nathan Bransford had a contest going on his blog where his agent, Catherine Drayton, was going to pick the best opening. I planned to enter, except then a friend happened to mention that Catherine gives really nice rejections—I decided to query her instead. I was desperate for a nice rejection!

Instead, her assistant responded almost immediately that she wanted to read the entire manuscript and three days later Catherine called and offered representation. A week later we went on submission and within the month we went to auction. It took a really long time for things to move quickly!

Lulu is desperate to raise money for college and to escape her small home town – desperate enough to do something illegal. How much research did you have to do on moonshine? What was the most fascinating thing you learned?

I had so much fun with the research! After watching several episodes of Moonshiners, I moved on to books—soaking up not only the process, but the lore and legend behind it. Early on I took a tour of Ballast Point Brewery and Distillery here in San Diego. Then, later, when I had a completed draft of the story, I visited Belmont Farm Distillery in Culpeper Virginia. They have a grand time making liquor in the spirit and tradition of old-time moonshiners. (And, it just so happened that Moonshiner Tim was there that day!)

Finally, once I knew my book was going to be published I went back to Ballast Point and had a personal tour and interview with their lead distiller, Derek Kermode. He was an enthusiastic—and generous—tour guide.

He was also the person who clued me in to the importance of yeast. I find it fascinating that so much of a liquor’s identity—both in flavor and strength—depends on the yeast. He sent me to White Labs who specialize in all kinds of yeast, but especially those used in brewing and spirit distillation. I love the care and passion that brewers put into their craft—they’re not so different from writers!

Okay, so Lulu had a rather unconventional way to raise money. What’s the strangest or most unusual thing you’ve ever done to make money?

How about writing? Does that count?

This is such a great question and I so wish I had an interesting answer! The truth is, I’ve never been properly motivated by money. And yet—or as a result—I’ve pretty much always had a job of some kind out of necessity. Sadly, nothing particularly glamorous or lucrative.

But My Best Everything is my second novel (the first is unpublished) that revolves around trying to make money in an unconventional way. The other one involved money for dares like streaking across the football field during half-time and selling voo-doo dolls, so yeah, my mind goes kind of out there when it comes to coming up with entrepreneurial ideas. Maybe I should start acting on these ideas! Except it never seems to quite work out as planned either…

Thank you so very much for having me on your blog, Debbi!

Thank you for being here, Sarah!

Sarah Tomp Author

Sarah Tomp has a MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She lives in San Diego with her family, but she learned to drive – and other important things – in the mountains of Virginia. 

For more about Sarah, check out her web site, read her awesome blog that she co-writes with Suzanne Santillan (note: this is how I first “met” Sarah), follow her on Twitter, and like her on Facebook.

For a chance to win a copy of Sarah’s YA novel, follow the directions below!

1. Comment on this post. For fun, tell me what was the most unusual way you’ve made money. I’ve had quite a few jobs growing up, but probably the strangest way I made money was my first “job” when I was in elementary school. Our neighbor owned a recording studio or maybe rented recording equipment? Anyway, I was paid 25 cents for every reel I put together. In our family room, my sister and I set up piles of the metal reels, the plastic “spool” for the center, and lots of screws. I got pretty good at putting those things together quickly!

2. Comment by midnight EST Saturday, April 18th. A winner will be drawn at random and announced here on this blog on Tuesday, April 21st.

3. Entrants must have a U.S. or Canada mailing address.

Good luck and happy reading!