the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Author Blog


Posted by Adi Rule on Wed, Jun 10, 2015 @ 07:06 AM

Put on your best school clothes, because today we're celebrating Jill Santopolo's newest Sparkle Spa book, A Picture Perfect Mess! 


The Tanner sisters must find a way to outshine some not-so-friendly competition—and keep the Sparkle Spa in the spotlight!—as school picture day approaches. 

It’s almost time for picture day at Auden Elementary School, and the Sparkle Spa will make sure everyone looks picture perfect. But Aly Tanner’s arch rival, Suzy Davis, decides she knows how to make everyone look even better than Aly and Brooke do. Suzy will set up “shop” in the girls’ bathroom at school and let everyone use lip gloss and blush and mascara. Will Suzy’s plan really outsmart—and out sparkle—the Sparkle Spa?

We're delighted that Jill stopped by for some picture perfect celebrations. Here she is (with some special guests)!

When I sat down to write the sixth Sparkle Spa book, A Picture Perfect Mess, which is about what happens in the spa during the lead-up to school picture day, I realized that I had a problem. I hadn’t had a school picture taken in years—I think my last formal one was in college, and I’m not even sure if that counts—and I wasn’t sure if picture day was still similar to what I’d experienced 15-30ish years ago. So I decided I needed to do some research. I’d learned way back in elementary school that primary sources were the best kind to have, so I though an interview might do the trick. Luckily, I had the perfect subject right in my family. My 3-year-old niece Lily had recently experienced her first picture day, and agreed to an interview. My mom, Lily’s nana, was on hand too, to help out. I learned a lot—especially (and unexpectedly!) about the fact that Ariel nail polish is pink. Since it’s fun to give readers a glimpse of what happens during the creation of a book, I thought I’d share a piece of the transcript here:

Jill: Hey Lily, I’m going to write a book about picture day and I was wondering what I should put in there. Could you help me? What happens on picture day?

Lily: Tomorrow is dance class.

Jill: Oh that’s fun! Could you tell me what happened on picture day though? I need some help for my book.

Lily: They um took a picture of me and they gived me flowers actually.

Jill: Flowers! That’s nice. What was your favorite part of Picture Day?

Lily: When they called my name.

Nana: Why did they call your name?

Lily: To take my picture. You get to put the picture on your hand.

Jill: Your hand? Really?

Lily: Yeah, on your finger. I don’t have any nail polish on right now. It came off.

Jill: It came off? What color was your nail polish?

Lily: Um Ariel nail polish. It was pink.

Jill: I didn’t know Ariel was pink.

Lily: Just her nail polish.

Jill: I see. So when it was picture day, did you get to pick out a special outfit?

Lily: I picked out my um…Yesterday Josh and Sarah came and bringed me to Stella’s birthday party.

Nana: That wasn’t yesterday. That was a while ago. Did you pick our something special to wear on picture day? Did you pick out a special shirt?

Lily: Yes.

Nana: What was it?

Lily: The shirt that I made at Stella’s birthday party.


Jill herself, looking good for picture day!

And now, of course, all I’m thinking about is whether I can somehow work a shirt decorating party into book nine…or maybe book ten. And if I do, whether Lily will let me interview her again. Because I haven’t been to a shirt decorating party in years either!

*Note: I did ask questions to parents of kids who are currently picture day age, and got some information for my book from them. For the rest of it, I relied on my own memories. It turns out picture day hasn’t changed much in the last 30 years at all.

We can attest to that! It seems like only yesterday Robin and Adi were getting their own portraits done . . .



Find out more about all the Sparkle Spa books at! And visit Jill at her website,!

Topics: 2015 release, chapter book, Jill Santopolo, Simon & Schuster

Jill Santopolo and Sparkle Spa - Bad News Nails

Posted by Lisa Doan on Tue, Feb 17, 2015 @ 07:02 AM

Can't a girl even get her nails done without having to defeat an arch rival? Not in Jill Santopolo's nail-tabulous Sparkle Spa series. The VCFA Launchpad welcomes the newest entry into this chapterbook series - Bad News Nails releases today through Simon & Schuster/Aladdin.

About Bad News Nails: Trouble is coming to the Sparkle Spa, in the form of Aly Tanner’s worst nightmare: her arch rival since kindergarten is joining the salon! Know-it-all Suzy Davis has plenty of ideas about how the nail salon should be run and isn’t shy about telling the sisters what to do and how to do it. How can Brooke and Aly get Suzy out of their hair—and their business?

Here's what Jill had to say about writing books full of sparkle:

Sparkle On!

resized bad news nailsI was asked recently, after someone had read an article about the fact that girl toys are all about pink and purple and glitter and boy toys are all about blue and green and dinosaurs, how I felt about writing such a “girlie” book series, one that seems to promote the sparkle-fication of little girls. It was an interesting conversation, because that's something I actually think about a lot when I write the Sparkle Spa books, mostly because it feels to me that what gets lost in the dichotomy of tomboy vs. girlie girl is that it’s okay to be both. It doesn’t have to be an either/or decision.

I was a girl who climbed trees in rhinestone be-dazzled sneakers and played soccer with ribbons in my hair. I’m a woman who installed an air conditioner while wearing a cocktail dress and heels and spent hours choosing an outfit for a sprint triathlon that would both function well and look good. And I chafe at the idea that if I enjoy a day getting pampered at a spa, I couldn’t possibly enjoy taking those perfectly polished nails on a hundred-plus-mile bike ride. Because I like doing both of those things.

The girls in my Sparkle Spa series are entrepreneurs, they’re athletes, they’re not afraid to take risks or stand up for themselves. But they also love pretty clothes and fancy hair-dos and sparkly nail polish. At the end of book one, All that Glitters, the girls come to the realization that they can be smart and strong and sparkly all at the same time. The message I hope girls get from reading my books isn’t that all girls should love sparkly nail polish, but that girls can love sparkly nail polish and it won’t define them. They can embrace everything they enjoy unapologetically and create their own definition of what it means to be a girl. Whether their sparkle is coming from glittery nail polish or the glimmer of an exciting idea or the glow of satisfaction after achieving a goal through hard work and dedication, I say power to the sparkle, girls! Sparkle on.


resized Jill.Follow.AuthorPhoto


Jill Santopolo is the author of the Sparkle Spa series, the Follow Your Heart books, and the Alec Flint mysteries. You can follow her on Twitter @JillSantopolo or find her on Facebook at /jillsantopoloauthor.

Topics: 2015 release, girlie, chapter book, Jill Santopolo, Aladdin, Simon & Schuster

A New SPARKLE SPA Book AND Do-It-Yourself Polka Dot Pedi!

Posted by Adi Rule on Tue, Oct 07, 2014 @ 10:10 AM

Happy, glittery launch day to True Colors, the latest book in Jill Santopolo's Sparkle Spa series

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Jill was kind enough to stop by with a special treat -- our own Launchpad Do-It-Yourself Polka Dot Pedicure! So get your polish out (may we suggest VCFA Green?). Here's Jill:

One of the best things about writing a book series set in a sparkly nail salon is that I’ve gotten to practice giving myself manicures and pedicures. And I’ve learned a lot of tips along the way. The pedicures are much easier, because my non-dominant hand—my left—doesn’t have a lot to do, but I’ve been practicing manicures enough that lefty is getting better at polishing. And since it has, I’ve gotten a little more adventurous with my nail designs.  

In fact, when the Mod Cloth website contacted me a few months back asking me to participate in their nail art promotion, I said yes and came up with this polka-dotted manicure that I was able to do all by myself. Though I now think it might be more fun as a pedicure…

In the back each Sparkle Spa book, there are tips from the characters—Aly and Brooke—about how to do give yourself different kinds of pedicures. So this is my version of that, based on my experiences with polish while working on this series, written from my own perspective instead of theirs.

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How to Give Yourself A Polka-Dot Pedicure

By Jill


What you need:

Paper towels

Polish remover

Clear polish

One color polish for the base (I suggest something dark)

A nail art pen (I suggest white)

Cotton balls (optional)


What you do:

First, put some paper towels down on the floor. (I’m serious about this, because nail polish stains. Or if the polish itself doesn’t stain, the remover you use to try to get it off whatever it dripped on will take the color out of your rug or couch or the shellac on your wood floor….)

Second, use a cotton ball or a wad of paper towels dipped in polish remover to get off any polish or dirt currently on your toenails.

Third, rip off two pieces of paper towel. Twist them into a tube-shape and weave them back and forth between your toes to separate them. (This is so the polish you’ve done on one toe doesn’t rub off onto the next one.)

Fourth, do a coat of clear on each nail, then fan them for a little bit (maybe 30 seconds) so the polish isn’t too liquidy.

Fifth, do a coat of your base coat on each nail and fan again.

Sixth, repeat step five.

Seventh, wait a while for the polish to dry a bit—maybe five or so minutes.

Eighth, now open the nail art pen and make sure the color comes out when you push it down on a piece of paper towel. Once you’re sure, make dots by pushing the nail art pen down in different places on you nail. (The longer you push, the bigger the dot.) 

Ninth, fan your toes for about a minute, and then apply a top coat of clear. 

Now your toes have to dry completely. I’d give them at least 15 minutes—and that quick dry spray isn’t a bad idea either. (I’ve heard sticking your nails in the freezer helps them dry faster, but can’t say I actually tried this out.)

And then enjoy your pedicure! 

(Oh, two final tips: Make sure you don’t polish your nails too close to bedtime, because even if they seem dry, you might wake up with pillow creases in your polish. Also, make sure you wait a few hours before you take clothing out of the dryer (otherwise—disaster).)

So there you go—things I learned while writing the Sparkle Spa.  And if you’d like to see some of the pedicure tips Aly and Brooke have, you can click over here:


Happy polishing—

Jill Santopolo


Thanks, Jill! Our feet look awesome!

Jill chatted with us about her Sparkle Spa books earlier this year -- click here to check it out!

You can also learn more about this fun series over at Simon & Schuster, and visit Jill at her website,

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Topics: 2014 release, middle grade, guest post, chapter book, Jill Santopolo, Simon & Schuster

Stephanie Greene and PRINCESS POSEY #8!

Posted by Adi Rule on Thu, Jun 26, 2014 @ 08:06 AM

Today we're celebrating the launch of Stephanie Greene's latest early chapter book, Princess Posey and the First Grade Boys (Putnam). This is Posey's eighth adventure, with more fun on the way! WOW! What a great opportunity to throw pink, sparkly confetti and learn a little bit about writing a series.

PP and First Grade BoysAbout Princess Posey and the First Grade Boys:

The first grade boys are driving Posey crazy! They can’t seem to sit still, they make rude noises, and sometimes they are just plain weird. When Posey makes up a silly song about Henry, her friends all think it’s funny. But it isn’t so funny to Henry – or to Miss Lee.

Can Princess Posey’s sparkly tutu help her find a way to fix this mess?

Welcome, Stephanie! Tell us about the spark that ignited this book.

The spark that ignited this book was the same kind of spark that has ignited most of my books: an emotional reaction to something I saw, heard, or could draw upon from my own life. In this case, it was a sign in front of an elementary school that said “Kiss and Go Lane.” My gut reaction was that that could be hard on a child: to have to say good-bye to a parent, close the car door, and walk into the school – all by herself. I’m sure I was thinking about my own son and his days in elementary school, but I heard a little girl’s voice say, “You’re leaving me,” and it became the first sentence of the book.

Did you always envision Posey starring in a series, or did you think of the first book, Princess Posey and the First Grade Parade, by itself? 

The amazing thing about this journey is that what I intended as a one-off book has grown into a ten-book series. That was never what I had in mind. Turns out that what I’d created in that first book was a hook: the tutu the little girl wore that made her feel like a pink princess who could go anywhere and do anything, all by herself. (It was never intended to have anything to do with a little girl’s appearance. That’s important to me.) Susan Kochan at Putnam recognized it and Stephanie Roth Sisson drew the rough picture of a little girl who we all fell in love with. The rest, as they say, is a happy history of a series.

What do you find challenging about writing a series as opposed to a standalone book?

Sustaining both the little girl’s personality, as well as creating authentic plots that reflected real emotions without falling into trite or predictable territory, was my greatest challenge.

How has VCFA affected your writing life?

The friends I made are among my most valuable results of attending VCFA. Plus that, the lectures I heard, the ten days of dorm life for five semesters, and, strangely enough, the critical essays. I loved writing those. [It's funny how that happens! :)]

To a prospective student I’d say: go for it. It will change your life, both writing-wise and personally.

Thanks a lot for chatting with us today, Stephanie! Congratulations on the launch of Princess Posey and the First Grade Boys!

Visit Stephanie online at her website,, where you can learn more about all her books, including the Princess Posey, Sophie Hartley, Moose & Hildy, and Owen Foote series!

You can also find Stephanie (and some other VCFA stars!) over at ReaderKidZ!

Topics: 2014 release, Putnam, Stephanie Greene, chapter book

Jill Santopolo, Two New SPARKLE SPA Books!

Posted by Adi Rule on Sun, Mar 02, 2014 @ 13:03 PM

We're celebrating the release of two sparkly new books in Jill Santopolo's SPARKLE SPA series (Simon and Schuster/Aladdin): ALL THAT GLITTERS and PURPLE NAILS AND PUPPY TAILS.

Welcome, Jill! Thanks so much for joining us.

sparklespa allthatglitters 215x320

What nugget of craft advice has been especially helpful to you? 

Outline! Because the publication schedule for the Sparkle Spa series is so fast (a book comes out every four months), I have to use my writing time as efficiently as possible. And that means knowing exactly where each story is going before I start writing. So outlining is crucial. With the big picture work done in advance, I can spend my time focusing on voice and details and dialogue and language when I finally put fingers to keys to write the story. 

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever Googled as research for your writing?

Hmm, I think it's probably a tie between What color are dog toenails? and Is human nail polish toxic if eaten by dogs? (In case you're curious, the answers, according to Google, are: black or clear and yes.)

Good to know! :) Who was your favorite character to write and why?

My favorite Sparkle Spa character to write was Joan--a grown-up manicurist in Aly and Brooke's mom's salon whom they absolutely adore. Joan always takes time to listen to the girls and values their opinions, and they really respond to her because of that. There were a lot of adults who made an impact on me as a kid for the same reason, and I tried to capture their essence in Joan.

sparklespa purplenailsandpuppytails 215x320

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?

I would tell that student that the relationships you'll make while you're at VCFA will prove to be just as wonderful as the skills you'll learn in lectures and workshops. So don't feel guilty if you spend time hanging out and eating chocolate-covered cherries and drinking wine until midnight instead of writing or reviewing your notes from the day. The conversations you'll have in those wine pits will be an invaluable part of your VCFA experience.

We couldn't agree more! Thanks for stopping by, Jill. Congratulations on your two glittery releases!

Visit Jill at! And for more SPARKLE SPA fun, visit the Sparkle Spa site!

Topics: 2014 release, middle grade, chapter book, Jill Santopolo, Aladdin, Simon & Schuster

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