The Meaning of Maggie Blog Tour with Interview & Giveaway

Thank you to Chronicle Books and Megan Jean Sovern for inviting me to be a part of this Blog Tour for The Meaning of Maggie.  

So, first can I say where was this book when I was a couple of years older than Maggie and my mom was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis? 

If THE MEANING OF MAGGIE had existed way, way back then, it would have been my favorite book and you would have been my favorite author. (I still think you are really cool. =>) I really felt that no one understood especially since my mother's MS wasn't as visible in those early years but it still significantly impacted my family and me.

It’s just so curious because I really struggled with whether or not it should ever be revealed that Maggie’s dad has MS. I just didn’t think enough people would be able to relate to it. I was always the only kid with a parent who had it. And to be honest, I never felt a real connection to the illness. I heard those two letters a lot around my house but I never really knew what they meant. My dad could have had a really prolonged case of the chickenpox for all I knew.

But in the end it seemed most right to share that he had MS. We didn’t want to keep readers in the dark especially when we were asking so much of them. This story is a big emotional investment. That’s why I advise reading it with chocolate in close proximity.

As you were writing the story, were you thinking about the story that you wanted to tell or did you also think about how it might resonate with other readers who had their own experiences with a family member with MS?  I know that everyone's story/experience is different but when I meet someone who had a parent with MS I feel a certain connection with them. 

When I started writing I didn’t consider the reader as much as I considered the story. And how this story about these people being challenged by this disease was one worth telling. I didn’t think as much readers because I didn’t know if there would ever be any readers. It was just a Word Document for such a long time. One that I kept coming back to not knowing if I would ever let it see the light of day.

This story was in my bones because I lived it in many ways and because I just couldn’t walk away from it. No matter how hard I tried.

But now that it is out in the world, I’m so happy people with similar stories feel connected to it.

You chose to set the book in 1988 (not sure if that makes it historical fiction or not?!), but was there a reason to tell the story in that time period vs. the present day? From reading some things on-line and in the acknowledgements, it seems that the story is very autobiographical and I was wondering if that played a part in the decision for the time period? 

I mostly set the book in 1988 because I didn’t want Maggie to be able to Google every single thing. There’s a lot of mystery surrounding her life that could be easily solved with the Internet. I also set it in 1988 because that’s when Spaceballs came out on VHS and it was really important to me that Maggie like Spaceballs.

In one review on-line, someone mentioned that it felt odd that Maggie's family would have kept her in the dark about her father's condition. Since my mother tried to keep her diagnosis hidden for a while, I could relate to Maggie and also to her discovery of what MS is. Do you feel that families are more open to talking about these kinds of issues or concerns with children today than they were 20+ years ago? 

I don’t know if families are more open about sharing big issues today because they want to. I think it may be out of necessity. Again, kids just have access to so much information and I think you want them to be informed in an educated and responsible way. The Internet is a scary place for everybody. Except for cats. I feel like cats have a really safe and cozy home on the Internet.

I noticed that Chronicle has included the soundtrack ( ) for the book? How did you select the music?  

Every book should have a soundtrack. We should really try to get this signed into law. The music we chose is pulled from the pages of Maggie. Her dad is such a dedicated hippie fan of rock n’ roll and the scenes they share over music are some of my favorites. I also listened to so much of it while I was writing. The Rolling Stones have some mellower melodies that are perfect for writing. Just put on Wild Horses and heat up a muffin and you have a perfect day of revising ahead of you.

To shift directions some, do you have other stories that you plan on sharing with readers? Any projects that you are working on that you can share with us? 

Oh gosh, I do have another story I am working on but it’s in the very early Post-It note and scrap paper stages. But I have high hopes it will take shape. Other than that I am doing my best to share Maggie with the world. I am also trying to keep three tomato plants alive. I don’t have such high hopes for them.

Finally, were there any questions that you wish I had asked? If so, what was it and what would be your answer? 

I wish you would have asked me my favorite thing about cinnamon rolls. And I would have said I love EVERYTHING about cinnamon rolls.

By the way, I truly appreciate your choice and the choice of Chronicle Books to donate a portion of the sales of the book to the National MS Society. 

I think I cried more buckets when Chronicle Books told me about this generous donation than when they actually bought Maggie. It just means the world. They are good people. Yes, indeed.

Side note: The nature of this book just hit me on a much more personal level then most books do that my questions were of a much more personal nature and I appreciate Megan's willingness to answer them. Here was her final comment...

I just can’t believe there are others out there like us! I really hope you felt at home in this story. It has been such a nice thing for me to come back to whenever I need to revisit all those many moons ago. MS is a terrible, horrible thing. But it does offer a few beautiful moments. Watching my dad give it his all shaped my whole entire life. I’m sure you feel the same way about your mom. Thank you so much for sharing your story.

by Megan Jean Sovern
Chronicle Books (May 6, 2014)
Audience: Ages 8-12

About the book:
As befits a future President of the United States of America, Maggie Mayfield has decided to write a memoir of the past year of her life. And what a banner year it’s been! During this period she’s Student of the Month on a regular basis, an official shareholder of Coca-Cola stock, and defending Science Fair champion. Most importantly, though, this is the year Maggie has to pull up her bootstraps (the family motto) and finally learn why her cool-dude dad is in a wheelchair, no matter how scary that is. Author Megan Jean Sovern, herself the daughter of a dad with multiple sclerosis, writes with the funny grace and assured prose of a new literary star.

A portion of the proceeds of the sale of this book will be donated to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Read a chapter here:

Meaning of Maggie by ChronicleBooks

Watch the Official Book Trailer:

Additional resources: Discussion Guide
click on image to go to PDF

About the author:

Megan Jean Sovern is a purveyor of fine teas, old time-y music and hugs. Recently she was in a bad break-up with muffins and her life hasn’t been the same since. She’s often mistaken for a seventh grader but don’t be fooled, she is very grown-up. A grown-up who watches television past ten o’clock and everything.

Before her first leap into fiction, she was an advertising copywriter for many moons where she worked with top-notch talent mostly named Matt or Karen.

She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband Ted and his near complete collection of Transformers. He doesn’t like it when she says, “Zoinks.”

Her website: 

Additional Blog Tour Stops:

5/13/2014          Chronicle  
5/14/2014          VVB32 reads   
5/15/2014          Mother Daughter Book Club    
5/16/2014          Actin' Up with Books   
5/17/2014          The Haunting of Orchid Forsythia       
5/18/2014          Kid Lit Frenzy 
5/19/2014          The Children's Book Review    
5/20/2014          Let's Get Busy podcast

Thank you to Chronicle Books, one lucky reader will be selected to receive a copy of The Meaning of Maggie plus a set of Maggie buttons.  You must be 13 years or older and have a US or Canadian mailing address.  Please enter the giveaway by filling out the Rafflecopter below.

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Always Emily Blog Tour, Guest Post & Giveaway

Today, I welcome Michaela MacColl to Kid Lit Frenzy. She shares with readers about The Forgotten Bronte.

Michaela MacColl
Thanks for hosting a stop on the Always Emily blog tour. I’m having a blast writing about the Bronte family and how I placed Charlotte and Emily Bronte in the middle of a mystery on the moors. I have found that so many people are fascinated by the Bronte sisters – and rightly so.

The Brontes were a close-knit family who lived in a parsonage at the edge of the moors in Haworth. Their father was a reverend and they had very little money. The four children (there were originally six, but two daughters died of tuberculosis at an early age) couldn’t afford to go to school so they were educated at home. Charlotte was the eldest, followed by the only boy, Branwell, then Emily and Anne. The children began writing from an early age, devising complex poems, novels and plays about imaginary worlds. They bound their stories in tiny books that require a magnifying glass to read.

As the world knows, Charlotte went on to write Jane Eyre and Emily wrote Wuthering Heights. Anne wrote The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. These novels were acclaimed and talked about during the girls’ lifetime. But what about Branwell? What about the only boy of the family? What did he accomplish.

Not much. Although considered bright and a fine conversationalist, he struggled to find his way. He wanted to write but couldn’t get his stories accepted to his favorite Blackwood Magazine. He eventually had some poems published in a local newspaper under another name. He had some drawing skill (see the self-portrait he drew).

But he wasn’t able to make it as an artist. He went to London to go to the Royal Academy as a painting student, but he lost his nerve and drank away his tuition and returned home with his tail between his legs. He tried working as a railway clerk (but was fired for incompetence ) and as a tutor (but was fired for having an affair with his employer’s wife). He ended up becoming addicted to opiates and drinking too much before he died of tuberculosis at the early age of 31.

To many biographers Branwell represented the perfect Romantic hero. His early promise seems so wasted. Some clever researchers decided that Branwell must have helped his sisters with their famous novels. This claim has been thoroughly debunked – there’s no evidence that he even knew that the novels had been published before his death. Daphne DuMaurier, the author of Rebecca, tried to rehabilitate Branwell in her The Infernal World of Branwell Bronte. But even du Maurier who was a brilliant storyteller couldn’t make Branwell’s story compelling. She loses patience with him by the end of her biography – no doubt just as his sisters did.

Charlotte and Emily have become renowned authors, whose work is still relevant and beloved today. Branwell has been more or less forgotten. I had fun using him in Always Emily as a rather pathetic figure who needs to be protected by his big sister. But perhaps Branwell had the final word: he painted the most famous portrait of the Bronte sisters. Originally he had painted himself in the picture, but then (in a fit of 19th c. style photoshopping) he edited himself out of the picture, leaving a conspicuious void. Poor Branwell!

It’s been a pleasure. Please visit me at or follow me on Twitter at @MichaelaMacColl or check out Author Michaela MacColl on Facebook.

Check out the Official Book Trailer for Always Emily:

About Always Emily:

Emily and Charlotte Brontë are about as opposite as two sisters can be. Charlotte is practical and cautious; Emily is headstrong and imaginative. But they do have one thing in common: a love of writing. This shared passion will lead them to be two of the first published female novelists and authors of several enduring works of classic literature. But they’re not there yet. First, they have to figure out if there is a connection between a string of local burglaries, rumors that a neighbor’s death may not have been accidental, and the appearance on the moors of a mysterious and handsome stranger. The girls have a lot of knots to untangle— before someone else gets killed.

To purchase a copy: Chronicle | IndieBound | KoboApple iTunes

To read an excerpt of the book on Scribd.

To download a CCSS aligned teacher's discussion guide, click here.

Follow the Tour:

Tuesday, April 8: Actin’ Up With Books
Wednesday, April 9: vvb32 reads
Thursday, April 10: The Children’s and Teens’ Book Connection
Friday, April 11: Teenreads Blog
Saturday, April 12: Caught Between the Pages
Sunday, April 13: The Bookish Daydreamer
Monday, April 14: Forever Young Adult
Tuesday, April 15: Kid Lit Frenzy - You are here!
Wednesday, April 16: Tales of a Ravenous Reader
Thursday, April 17: YA Book Shelf
Friday, April 18: The Book Cellar
Saturday, April 19: Mother Daughter Book Club

To enter to win a signed copy of Always Emily, please fill out the Rafflecopter below.  Open to those with US or Canadian mailing addresses.

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Going Over Blog Tour - Interview with Author Beth Kephart & Giveaway

Beth Kephart stops by to talk about her new book, GOING OVER, and shares with us about her own writing journey, favorite Indie Bookstore, and more.

GOING OVER takes place in 1983. Do you see this as a story that is told in the recent past or historical fiction? Does the difference even matter? 

I love that you ask — does the difference matter. Because I am just the worst of the worsts when it comes to labeling things. I think of GOING OVER precisely as you describe it—a story that takes place in 1983. Because I live inside that space in my imagination, it feels like right this instant.

What drew you to the story of Ada and Stefan? 

I had a conversation with my editor, Tamra Tuller, about Berlin—a city to which we have both traveled and a city with which we both fell in love. We felt it was important to tell a very personal story about the impact of the Wall. The Wall came first, then. And then I began to study geography, character, the historical record. Ada and Stefan emerged from that.

Authors doing research for books have some great tips and ideas for gaining information. Do you have one or two techniques that English teachers could adapt to make writing projects/prompts more interesting for students? 

There’s little I love more than doing the research. My gosh, it breaks my world wide open with the new. I think the trick lies in making the whole thing relevant, making it feel urgent. So, for example, Ada has pink hair. I needed to be sure that she would have access, in 1983, to pink dye, I needed to know how the pink hair would grow out, all of that stuff. I hopped on down to my hairdresser. Sat in her chair. Had her talk to me about hair color and its history. And then she began to talk to me about graffiti, believe it or not. And she gave me the details with which I begin the book.

What is your book story? (What was the book that made you a reader/writer and who was the person who recommended it if there was someone?) 

The book that made me a reader/writer! What a great question. Well. Let’s see. I was a writer (or thought I was) before I was a real reader, I hate to admit (since everything is wrong about that). Then again, I was only nine years old. But I have to say that it was a research project I did when I was sixteen (the subject: F. Scott and Hemingway) that turned me into a reader. You couldn’t stop me after that. For many years, I read only nonfiction—biography and history. (I majored in the History and Sociology of Science at Penn.) When I was in my early thirties I turned to memoir. Then I became a book omnivore.

Is there an author or authors that influenced your writing journey? 

I wish you could come to my house and see the hundreds upon hundreds of triple stacked books on my many shelves. (My house isn’t big, but my shelves are wide and long.) Every single book here has influenced me in some way — either because I loved it or because I didn’t and because, no matter what, I study the pages to understand why. But I happen to love Michael Ondaatje, Alice McDermott, Colum McCann, Chloe Aridjis, and many, many others. Really, the emphasis is on many.

What is your favorite indie bookstore? Where is it located? Why do you like it? 

I have visited many a great independent bookstore in my day. Locally I love, for example, that Children’s Book World, the Spiral Bookcase, Main Point Books, Harleysville Books, and Chester County Book Company are still here and near and proud. In Florence, Italy, I love Paperback Exchange. In California, I love Book Passage, Copperfield, and Kepler’s. In Decatur, GA, it’s all about Little House of Stories. In Larchmont, NY, it’s all about The Voracious Reader. When I’m on the Penn campus I always visit the used bookstore, The Last Word, and always bring something home (most recently Bill Bryson’s Mother Tongue). But I also have to mention the very first independent bookstore I ever frequented, as a young college girl. It’s called Joseph Fox Bookshop. Fabulously small and fabulously smart, in the city of Philadelphia. I bought every single architecture book they had, way back when. And today, at many Philadelphia events, you can count on Fox to be there.

Any new projects that you are working on that you can share with us? 

Gosh, yes. Many new projects. Next year, Chronicle will publish One Thing Stolen, a book that takes place in Florence, Italy, and West Philadelphia. In the fall, Temple University Press will re-release my river autobiography, Flow: The Life and Times of Philadelphia’s Schuylkill River, as a paperback—excited about that, because it’s such an odd, little book and because my river was just named PA River of the Year (woot) and because, after all these years, schools are beginning to assign the book in their science and literature classes. I’m also at work on an essay/photography collection about Philadelphia, based on my monthly columns for the Philadelphia Inquirer. And I have just started work on a new novel.

What is in your TBR (to-be-read) pile? Can you share a picture of it? 

Well, you just opened up a huge can of words, I mean worms. Because my TBR pile is the oddest one in the universe. I teach memoir at Penn, and so there are some old and new memoirs in there (not to mention my students’ work). I review adult novels for the Chicago Tribune, and so I’ve got some stuff I cannot show you. I’m still fascinated by Berlin and by walls in general, so I’m reading some new texts like Within Walls and Border Patrol Nation. I’m reading about linguistics and environmental science, I want to read several grand new novels like The Flamethrowers. I’m halfway through Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle. And on my Kindle reader is Boy, Snow, Bird. Yep. I’m one confused, crazy person.

by Beth Kephart 
Chronicle Books (April 2014)

To read a excerpt:

What would Ada and Stefan have listened to on their Sony Walkmen?

Check out the blog tour schedule here

4/2/2014 My Friend Amy
4/3/2014 The Flyleaf Review
4/4/2014 The Book Swarm
4/5/2014 There’s A Book
4/6/2014 YA Romantics
4/7/2014 Teenreads Blog
4/8/2014 The 3 R’s Blog
4/9/2014 Forever Young Adult
4/10/2014 Kid Lit Frenzy
4/11/2014 Tales of the Ravenous Reader
4/12/2014 Addicted 2 Novels

Enter to win a copy of Going Over - the book and audiobook.  Please enter by completing the Rafflecopter below.  The winner must have a US mailing address and be over 13 years old. 

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Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday - Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker

Words by Patricia Hruby Powell
Illustrated by Christian Robinson
Chronicle Books (January 14, 2014)
Biography * Jazz Age * Women's History

"I shall dance all my life...I would like to die, breathless, spent, at the end of the dance." 
- Josephine Baker, 1927

Description from GoodReads:
In exuberant verse and stirring pictures, Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian Robinson create an extraordinary portrait of the passionate performer and civil rights advocate Josephine Baker, the woman who worked her way from the slums of St. Louis to the grandest stages in the world. Meticulously researched by both author and artist, Josephine's powerful story of struggle and triumph is an inspiration and a spectacle, just like the legend herself.

My thoughts on this book:
For Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesdays, I usually try to review only books that are current year releases.  It's just the way I set up the challenge.  However, when this book arrived in the mail from Chronicle Books, I just had to share it.

I first learned of Josephine Baker when I was exploring different African American writers, artists, and musicians that were part of the Harlem Renaissance for a project.  However, I wish I had had this book when I was working on that project.

Patricia Hruby Powell and Christian Robinson make a dynamic duo with this book.  Powell moves through Josephine's life beginning in St. Louis and traveling through her life as she journeyed from St. Louis to New Orleans to Philadelphia to New York and eventually Paris.  Josephine found a home and place where she felt accepted in Paris.  Throughout the book, readers discover Josephine as an entertainer and also some of the other aspects of  her life which included being a spy for France and her tendency to live in excess.  The story is told through quotes, poems, and verse in a manner that captures the essence that was Josephine. Robinson meticulously matches Powell's text with vibrant illustrations that perfectly captures Josephine's personality.

At the end, both Powell and Robinson include notes about their research, inspiration, and process in creating this beautiful tribute to Josephine Baker. 

This book is a must add to your classroom or school library biography collection for middle graders. Look for it at your local independent bookstore when it comes out in January.      

Pair it up with:

by Jonah Winters; Illustrated by Marjorie Priceman
Atheneum Books for Young Readers (January 2012)

Link up your nonfiction reviews:

Thirty Days of Thanksgiving - Day 10

I have a simple post today...I am simply thankful for getting through the day.  I had an assignment due for my online class, and I had book club today and a few other things.  At one point, I wasn't sure I was going to get everything done. But it is over and everything turned out okay and for that I am very grateful.

....and for my picture book recommendation for the day I have picked a parody of Little Red Riding Hood in honor of our book club theme of fairy tales (we read Far, Far Away by Tom McNeal):

by Joan Holub; Illustrated by Melissa Sweet
Chronicle Books (September 24, 2013)