Monday, May 15, 2017

5 with Laurel Snyder--Author of Orphan Island


"Nine on an island, orphans all, any more, the sky might fall."


Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder pulled me in from the very first page. It begins with the ringing of a bell, and we learn that Jinny's life on the perfect island with the other 8 orphans is a about to change. The small green boat with a new orphan has arrived again. Every arrival on the island also means a departure--the Elder orphan, Jinny's best friend Deen, must leave. Now Jinny is the Elder with the newest, youngest arrival "her Care."

Orphan Island has a beauty in the language that begs you to linger paired with a story that compels you to race ahead. Since finishing I find my mind wandering back to the magic of the island. This is a book to treasure and share with many readers.

Today Author Laurel Snyder stopped by to answer my 5 questions.

On Sale: May 30, 2017

Welcome, Laurel, thank you so much for visiting LibLaura5!


1. Orphan Island is a very special book for readers. I understand it was a special book for you to write as well. What made writing Orphan Island unique?


Oh, thank you!


When I started writing poems and stories, I was 8 years old, and I wrote because I wanted to get the words and ideas. It was an entirely creative project. As I got older, and writing became my job, something in the process changed for me. It was still creative, but writing also began to feel like producing. Wordcounts and deadlines.


I knew that I wanted to get back to my 8 year old writer-self, and when I started Orphan Island, that was the goal. I sat down with a pencil and a yellow legal pad, and promised myself I wouldn’t think about writing a book I could sell, or pleasing an editor, or getting good reviews. It had to be personal. A book I needed to get OUT.

So it felt important to go back to the tools of childhood. To step away from my laptop.  I was actually talking about this with Emily Hughes (who is illustrating another book of mine) yesterday, and she said something about how important the sound of a pencil scratching on the page can be.  That feels true to me. That I wanted to call back the ghost of what it felt like to write when I was a kid. And that tactile sensations like sound or smell are probably helpful in that.


2. The Island… is not a place you can ever revisit.


3. Do you believe in magic?


I do!  

Well, I mean that I believe in the potential for magic. I believe in the potential for anything to happen. I have never seen a unicorn, but I refuse to rule out the possibility of unicorns. It seems to me that science is what we call magic when we figure out a way to explain it.


4. What question have you been asked the most by Orphan Island readers so far?


Oh, everyone keeps asking me what happens next. The book leaves a lot of questions unanswered. It’s interesting how people respond to that ambiguity in different ways.

The book that was really the initial inspiration for Orphan Island was The Little Prince. I remember talking with my kids about it after we finished reading, and they spent hours discussing the ending. Did the prince die? Did he go home? How could he have gotten there? How far was his home?  Was the snake evil? That book drove them nuts, but it also inspired so many great conversations.


5. Sharing the books we love is a way we share about ourselves and connect with each other. What is one book that has been important in your life?


One of my favorite all-time books is Dicey’s Song, by Cynthia Voigt. I think about it more and more, as the years go by. It’s so sophisticated, emotionally. And yet the book feels simple.

It’s really just about this girl living her daily life. The sophistication comes from allowing all aspects of that life into the book. It isn’t ABOUT boys, but there’s a boy. It isn’t ABOUT responsibility or family loyalty or anger or poverty or abandonment or social unease, but all that stuff is in there. The book trembles and bristles, the way I remember trembling and bristling in those years.


I’m very focused right now on the need for more good upper middle grade. I could spend an hour talking about it, but I feel like it’s a gap we need to fill. Dicey’s Song is one of my models for what upper middle grade can be.

Thanks again for visiting LibLaura5!
Thanks for having me!








Orphan Island Teaching Guide


Visit Laurel Snyder's Website: laurelsnyder.com






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May 20: Book Monsters











Monday, May 1, 2017

5 with James Ponti--Author of Framed!


Framed! by James Ponti is the first book in a fun and fast-paced mystery series about two friends Florian and Margaret who solve mysteries using T.O.A.S.T (the Theory of All Small Things). I flew through Framed! and an early copy of book #2 Vanished! and have found myself T.O.A.S.T.-ing ever since.

Today Author James Ponti stopped by to answer my 5 questions.

In Paperback May 2nd

Watch for Vanished! this August
Welcome, James, and thanks for visiting LibLaura5!


Thank you so much, Laura! It’s a real treat for me.


1. First, T.O.A.S.T (the Theory of All Small Things) is how your characters Florian and Margaret solve mysteries--Where did T.O.A.S.T. come frome?

The idea of T.O.A.S.T. is that people lie and deceive in big, overt ways but often overlook smaller details about themselves that are inconsistent with those deceptions. So if you skip the obvious and only add up the details, it can expose otherwise hidden truths.
I think I’ve been on the lookout for clues and little details ever since I read the Encyclopedia Brown books as a kid. But T.O.A.S.T., as it is in the books, is the product of being stuck in airports for my day job as a television producer. I’ve spent way too much time in terminals waiting for flights. One of the ways I pass the time is to study the people around me and try to see what I can figure out about them that they might not realize is evident. It’s not meant in a prying way, but more as a fun mental challenge. But in this game was born the concept for the mystery series.

As to the name T.O.A.S.T., I wish I had some great origin story about eating breakfast, looking at a piece of toast, and having a eureka moment; but it was much more mundane. I’m a big fan of acronyms and thought it would be good if I came up with one for this so that they could discuss it in dialogue. I said to myself, “Theory of All Small Things - TOAST.” It was pretty boring.

As a side note, I do love the name they use for the French editions. My request was that the acronym be something silly or food-related and the translator came up with GRATIN - Guide de Recerche et Analyse de Tout Indice Negligeable. So, in France, it literally is cheesy.


Reading in front of the self-portrait of van Gogh
where Florian first teaches Margaret about TOAST

2. After I read Framed! I found myself starting to use T.O.A.S.T. 
Do you use T.O.A.S.T.?

I use T.O.A.S.T. all the time, although now it’s usually a case of me looking for ways that Florian and Margaret can use it in the books. That is the hardest part of writing these mysteries because they use it all the time and I want to make the examples varied and different.

What I love, and was completely unexpected, is that I’ve had people tell me that their kids use it. Stuart Gibbs, who writes the Spy School books, is a friend and wrote a blurb for Framed! so he got it early and the next time we talked he said his kids were playing T.O.A.S.T. all the time.


With Marcie in St. Paul, Minnesota
Near the hometown of Liblaura5!

3. Florian and Margaret are such wonderful characters and great friends. Is there any of them that came from you or those in your life?

For me the entire series is about Florian and Margaret’s friendship. The foundation of that friendship is that Margaret sees in Florian all that is special that everyone else, including Florian, overlooked. She understands him better than anyone ever has. And while Margaret is more socially skilled and a star athlete, she has zero interest in being popular, which she sees as superficial. She is about substance and Florian sees in her the far more important characteristics that make her amazing. I think that’s the same dynamic of the relationship I have with my wife who I met in college nearly thirty years ago. So that’s probably a big part of the inspiration.

As to their individual character traits, Florian borrows pretty heavily from my son and me. Awkward on the surface, but a friend for life. Clever, but sometimes too clever for his own good. While Margaret is a mix of what I imagine my wife was like in middle school combined with the confidence, athleticism, and intelligence I see as a hallmark of the current generation of girls.



4. Washington D.C. is almost its own character in your books. What was your process for creating such a rich setting?

I LOVE Washington, D.C. I have ever since I was a kid and have taken countless trips there. I also feel like the city belongs to all of the people, so it’s relatable to readers everywhere. As a writer of kid mysteries, however, Washington is a treasure trove.

There is an endless stream of international characters who pass through the city. There are oddities, such as the law that makes embassy grounds a foreign country. There is a superb mass transit system, which allows my characters access to the entire city without having to call their parents for a ride. And, perhaps best of all, there are so many iconic cultural institutions that provide settings that are both practical and meaningful. So I get to set the mystery in Framed! around the National Gallery of Art among masterpieces of French Impressionism. And I get to set book 2, Vanished!, at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, which brings along its own history and symbolism.


The Romanian embassy while I visited researching Framed! There was someone working at the entrance. When I asked if I could peek in, they were not happy about it. Maybe they knew the Romanians weren't the heroes in this story.

As to the process, I’m a firm believer in research and try to be thorough. The characters in the book go to Alice Deal Middle School, which is in fact a real school in Washington. I work in conjunction with the school and try to go there once a year so the kids feel ownership in the books. They tell me about their lives and show me around the school so I can get that part right.


The entrance to Alice Deal Middle School where Florian and Margaret are students

I also travel around the city looking for settings and talking to people at these various institutions. For example, the Kennedy Center gave me a behind the scenes tour as I was writing Vanished! This not only helped me create a more vivid setting but it also sparked plot points for the mystery.


Backstage at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts during my research trip for Vanished!

5. Sharing the books we love is a way we share about ourselves and connect with each other. What is one book that has been important in your life?

I think the one book that has been most important in my life was From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg. I was quite the reluctant reader as a kid, but for some reason this book slipped through the cracks and captured my imagination. I loved the adventure and the fact that the settings were real and these traits have been part of both series that I’ve written. It’s so ingrained in my writing DNA that I’m sure it had something to do with the museum elements of Framed!

Interestingly, when my first book, Dead City, was published I wanted to send a copy to E.L. Konigsburg to tell her that I would never have written it if it hadn’t been for her. Much to my surprise, I learned that she lived in my hometown of Atlantic Beach, Florida and had been there throughout my entire childhood.


Thanks, James! 
I'm am excited to hear that book 3 of the series is already in the works!


Visit James Ponti's Website: jamesponti.com





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