the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults Author Blog

April Pulley Sayre and FULL OF FALL!

Posted by Adi Rule on Wed, Oct 25, 2017 @ 07:10 AM

Pour yourself a mug of cocoa and slip on your woolly socks. We're celebrating the release of April Pulley Sayre's latest picture book, Full of Fall (Beach Lane/Simon & Schuster)!

Full of Fall.jpeg

So long summer, Fall is here . . .

Welcome, April Pulley Sayre!
What was the most difficult element to cut/change during the revision process and why?
Fall is such a beautiful season that it was very hard to choose which photos to use. As always with these books, there were many photos I loved as a photographer but which did not serve the trajectory of the book and design. As with writing, in photo illustration you have to set aside your ego and do what is best for the book.
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What's your writing superpower?
My writing superpower is flexible thinking in terms of wordplay.  For some reason I’m unusually good at coming up with titles and poetic and alliterative language. I think it’s like a muscle, though, and improves with use. Despite my early signs of talent in this area, it also helps that I just goof around and have done this work for over twenty years.
What was it like watching the illustrations/cover come together?
I’ve now photo illustrated nine of my books with photos so I’m deeply involved in the illustrations from the start. It’s an exciting process and yet has an intense amount of struggle and stress at points, handling the competing demands of text and illustration. The advantage is that because I am responsible for both sides of the book, I can decide  to chuck words or illustrations at any point when the book is not flowing well. All this occurs without bothering another person. Only my writing ego or professional photographer ego is bruised. Still ouchy, though, to discard words and photos I love! But then, when you feel it all come together with better pacing, it is worth it.
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How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?
Attending VCFA took me from being a very isolated full time writer to being more a member of the writing community. It connected me with colleagues who are still my friends to this day. They have supported me through many decisions and pathways both in the career and in life itself. VCFA is so valuable in support of career and quality of life as an artist/writer. VCFA stretches you in the best way possible.
What’s next in your career? 
Well, it’s been a wildly busy year in terms of book production for my 2019 photo books, Warbler Wave and Thank You, Earth. My husband and I traveled 5,500 miles to CA and back to photograph landmarks and wildflower bloom for these and other upcoming books.  And I’ve been stepping outside the usual with some books that mix nonfiction text with fiction illustration, such as my 2019 book Did You Burp: How to Ask Questions (Or Not). Between this work, and conference talk travel, this career keeps me on my toes.
Thanks so much for stopping by the Launchpad, April. Welcome to the world, Full of Fall!
Visit April Pulley Sayre online at and at her Simon & Schuster page.

Topics: nonfiction, picture book, Simon & Schuster, Beach Lane Books, 2017 release, April Pulley Sayre


Posted by Adi Rule on Thu, Sep 28, 2017 @ 08:09 AM

We're spookily excited about William Alexander's middle grade novel, A Properly Unhaunted Place (Margaret K. McElderry Books/Simon & Schuster)!


Rosa Díaz has a very special talent. She comes from a family of librarians who specialize in ghost appeasement. So she can't understand why her mother has moved them to Ingot, the world's only unhaunted town. What are they supposed to do there, with no poltergeists to quiet and no specters to soothe? Frankly, Rosa doesn't think anyone should want to live in a place where the biggest attraction is a woefully inaccurate Renaissance Festival.

But Jasper Chevalier has always lived in Ingot, working at the festival while his parents hold court. Jasper has never seen a ghost and can't imagine his unhaunted town any other way... until an angry apparition thunders into the fairgrounds and turns Ingot upside down. Jasper is astonished -- and Rosa is delighted.

Mist is building in the hills, and something otherworldly is about to be unleashed. Rosa will need all her ghost appeasement tools -- and a little help from Jasper -- to try to rein in the angry ghosts in this hilariously spooky adventure from National Book Award winner William Alexander.

Welcome, Will!

What was the spark that ignited this book?

One important spark was a conversation with my friend Rio. She taught Japanese at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design while I was there as an intro comp instructor. We got coffee between classes, geeked out about Doctor Who for a bit, and then started talking about ghosts.

"American ghost stories are so strange," she told me. "They're all about trying to make ghosts and monsters go away forever. Nice ghosts have to find their peaceful rest and then go away. Mean ghosts are cast out, banished, and go away. All ghosts must go away. All monsters must explode. Boom. So strange."

She went on to say that, back home, ghost stories just aren't like that. Not in her experience, anyway. If a house is haunted, try to avoid it. If your house is haunted, then learn how to live with that. Don't go in thinking you'll be able to unhaunt the place.

UnhauntedTree.jpgNow, this was just one casual chat between a first-gen Japanese-American and a second-gen Cuban-American, so who knows what it may or may not mean about either Japanese or American ghost stories in a comparative folklore sort of way. But it stuck in the back of my mind, and other things started to stick to it. Margaret Atwood said writers are like magpies. We hoard shiny things in hidden places. That conversation was shiny to me.

American ghost stories are strange. Why? Maybe because of the way we look at history. Maybe because we teach history as though it were over. But history is happening. We are still haunted by it. We need to be haunted by it. Virginia Hamilton said that "the past moves me and with me, although I remove myself from it."

All of this sounds weighty, which might be misleading because my book turned out to be a goofy, swashbuckling thing set in a Renaissance Festival. But the initial questions are still there. What kinds of ghost stories would we tell if the ghosts never went away completely?

Maybe this kind.

What books do you love for their sentences? How about plot? Character?

I don't think I can separate rich characters from delicious sentences. The rhythms and cadences of good prose harmonize perfectly with the voices of the characters. I get to know those characters by listening to what they have to say.

I'll pick just one recent fav that I loved for all three: Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia. The sentences, characters, and tightly woven structure all delighted me, and I've never read better descriptions of music.

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

Trust your weird. Kelly Link gave that advice at the Clarion workshop. She also pointed out that "wyrd" meant "fate"--not so much in the sense of "exalted destiny," but in a much more pragmatic way. Trust that which is yours. Trust your own idiosyncratic combination of burdens and gifts.

That goes for books as well as authors, by the way. A story needs to trust its own weird.

Do you write in silence? If not, what’s your soundtrack?

Current favorites include Zoe Keating and The Parlour Trick. I also choose a theme song for each protagonist, but I'm not allowed to tell you what those are.

UnhauntedLagoon.jpgWhat was it like watching the illustrations/cover come together?

Glorious. I've been surprised and delighted each time. The interior illustrations by Kelly Murphy are especially beautiful. It felt like writing a play and then watching the full production on opening night.

Most authors have painful stories about cover art. We have so little input or control over that process. Practically none. My first glimpse of my very first book cover was on Somehow they never got around to showing it to me earlier. But I can't complain. Luckily I've loved every single cover so far.

How does teaching at VCFA affect your writing life?

During residencies I get to be a stealth student and soak up all the knowledge, wisdom, and enthusiasm. During each semester I get to be a teacher and a working writer at the same time, which is logistically remarkable. Describing aspects of the craft to my students also forces me to articulate those same aspects to myself. That's tremendously valuable.

What is your favorite VCFA memory?

A kiss on the cheek from Rita after my very first lecture. She made me think that maybe this could be home.

What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?

Trust your weird.

Visit William Alexander online at, and stop by his blog here. For more info on A Properly Unhaunted Place, check out its page. You can also visit the book's awesome illustrator, Kelly Murphy, at

Topics: middle grade, Simon & Schuster, Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2017 release, William Alexander

Ingrid Sundberg and ALL WE LEFT BEHIND

Posted by Adi Rule on Tue, Dec 15, 2015 @ 11:12 AM

Today we're celebrating Ingrid Sundberg's evocative debut novel, All We Left Behind (Simon & Schuster/Simon Pulse)!


For fans of Simone Elkeles and Courtney Summers, this haunting debut novel is about two teenagers battling their inner demons as they fall in love for the first time.

When Marion Taylor, the shy bookworm, meets sexy soccer captain Kurt Medford at a party, what seems like a sure thing quickly turns into a total mess. One moment they’re alone in the middle of a lake, igniting sparks of electricity. The next, they’re on dry land, pretending they’ve never met. But rather than the end, that night is the beginning of something real, terrifying, and completely unforgettable for them both.

As Marion and Kurt struggle to build a relationship from the fractured pieces of their pasts, every kiss they share uncovers memories both would rather keep buried. Marion desperately wants to trust Kurt and share the one secret she’s never told anyone—but some truths aren’t meant to be spoken out loud. Kurt is also still haunted by his mother’s death, by the people he hurt, and by the mistakes he can never take back.

Explosive together and hollow apart, Marion and Kurt seem totally wrong for each other—but could they turn out to be more right than they ever thought possible?

Welcome, Ingrid! Tell us about how you sold this book. What was it like when you found out? Do you have an agent? Were there a lot of revisions along the way?

I do have an agent, and there were three major rounds of revision with my agent before we went on submission. It took around eight months from signing with my agent to actually going on sub. Once we went on submission, it miraculously only took two weeks to sell All We Left Behind! I think that goes to show that you just have to find the right person who loves your story. I was really surprised when I heard the news. It had taken so long to get an agent, then revise, that I was ready to wash my hands of this book and move on. It was spectacular to realize that after ten years of writing, I was finally going to have a published book!

Ingrid_Signing_Books.jpgIngrid signing at the AWLB book launch!

What was the most difficult element to cut/change during the revision process and why?

All We Left Behind was originally written in poetic vignettes from two different characters' POV’s. It was similar to a verse novel, with short scenes that created emotional moments. One of the biggest revisions was with my agent. We decided to change the book from vignettes to longer sections of prose within each character’s viewpoint. The biggest challenge was creating transitions and deciding which character POV a scene should be told in. In the early drafts, you flipped between each POV so quickly; you got both sides in each scene. Now, I had to choose which character perspective would be the most effective. 

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

There’s so so so many! But the biggest one was probably from my semester with Amanda Jenkins. She told me to forget what was happening in a scene. Forget about the plot, and focus on how my character feels in a scene. This caused me to finally get inside my character’s skin and be honest. 

My writing mantra became: “What does your character feel in this scene. Now what do they want to do about that feeling.” What’s amazing is that the plot takes care of itself when you do this. Your characters start to act in honest, surprising, and powerful ways. 

Tell us about something special you keep on your desk/wall as you work.

Remember those class photos we took at residency? Well, I have mine hanging up next to my desk! My class is always looking over me and helping me keep my momentum!


Ingrid's class, the talented and photogenic Dystropians.

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

Laura Kvasnosky, Amanda Jenkins, Mary Quattlebaum, and Shelley Tanaka. All of my advisors taught me so much and were instrumental in helping All We Left Behind become the book it is. But I never would have written this book without Amanda Jenkins. The novel is actually dedicated to her.


How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

It completely revolutionized my writing. It showed me how much I had left to learn, and then gave me the tools to address any problem that came my way. It broke down my bad habits. It made me brave in a way I didn’t know how to be before. It was transformative. Plus, it gave me an incredible community that I will always be grateful for.

What was special about your VCFA graduating class?

My graduating class is very close. We’re the Dystropians, named after the impending Mayan apocalypse that was supposed to happen when we graduated in 2013. But we also had a lot of challenges that caused us to be very close: class members dropping out, deaths in the family, divorces, house floods, and more. Coming together every residency was a ray of sunshine for all of us! The Dystropians have become some of my best friends. In fact, three were bridesmaids in my wedding! We all really adore one another and we try our best to meet up once a year as a class to keep supporting each other’s writing.

Ingrid_with_gift_from_Dystropians.jpgSome love from classmates at the AWLB book launch.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Ingrid. Congratulations on your amazing debut! Welcome to the world, All We Left Behind!

Ingrid_Sundberg_Author_Photo1_Square.jpgIngrid Sundberg holds an MFA in writing for children from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman University. She grew up in Maine, but now lives in sunny California, where she misses the colors of autumn. She loves polka dots, baking, and dying her hair every color of the rainbow. All We Left Behind is her first novel. Find her online at:

You can also catch up with Ingrid on Twitter (@ingridsundberg), Facebook (ingridsnotes), Instagram (@isundberg), and Pinterest (ingridsundberg).




Topics: young adult, 2015 release, Simon & Schuster, Ingrid Sundberg, Simon Pulse

Meg Wiviott and PAPER HEARTS

Posted by Sarah Johnson on Tue, Sep 01, 2015 @ 02:09 AM

Today we celebrate the release of PAPER HEARTS, a young adult novel by Meg Wiviott.


An act of defiance.

A statement of hope.

A crime punishable by death.

Making a birthday card in Auschwitz was all of those things. But that is what Zlatka did in 1944 for her best friend, Fania. She stole and bartered for paper and scissors, secretly creating an origami heart. Then she passed it to every girl at the work table to sign with their hope and wishes for happiness, for love, and most of all, for freedom.

Fania knew what that heart meant, for herself and all the other girls. And she kept it hidden, through the bitter days in the camp and through the death marches. She kept it always.


Paper Hearts is based on the true story of Fania and Zlatka, the story of the bond that helped them both to hope for the best in the face of the worst.

Welcome, Meg. What was the spark that ignited this book?


I read an online article about the release of the documentary film, “The Heart of Auschwitz” in November 2010 and was immediately intrigued. In January 2011, before going to my fourth Residency at VCFA, I visited the Montreal Holocaust Memorial Centre, saw the Heart on display, and then met with one of the filmmakers, Luc Cyr from Ad Hoc Films. Then I knew Fania and Zlatka’s story had to be told.



Who was your favorite character to write and why?


I can’t say that she was my “favorite” but writing Fania’s voice was easier than Zlatka’s. I am not sure why, perhaps it was simply because I could hear her more clearly in my head. For researc

What was the most difficult element to cut/change during the revision process and why?

 I relied heavily on the film “The Heart of Auschwitz” in which both Fania and Zlatka appear. Fania speaks in English while Zlatka speaks in Spanish with subtitles. I also had several conversations and emails with Fania’s daughter, so perhaps I felt closer to Fania for those reasons. Perhaps, also, I see more of myself in Fania than Zlatka.

I originally wrote this story as a middle grade nonfiction during my fourth semester at VCFA. After putting it in a drawer for a year, I decided it needed to be written for older readers, so I began writing it as a “traditional” young adult novel. I was committed to telling the story as honestly and accurately as possible, including the gruesome truths of Auschwitz. Prose quickly became restrictive, so I switched to free verse. The problem was (see answer below) I knew nothing about poetry—reading it or writing it. I had a lot to learn. 

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

Caroline Carlson, one of my classmates at VCFA and one of my early, early readers, kindly suggested that if I was going to write in verse it would be a good idea for me to read some verse. That was when I stopped writing and started reading.

Tell us about something special you keep on your desk/wall as you work.

I have a bulletin board where I keep images, notes, maps, photos relating my to my wip.

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

I had the pleasure of working with Sharon Darrow, Alan Cumyn, Shelley Tanaka, and Rita Williams-Garcia. I was working with Shelley when I first started researching this story. Her advice was, as always, invaluable. Rita was my advisior when I wrote the first, and now forgotten, middle grade version. 

How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?

Before I attended VCFA, I heard people say that it "changed their lives," and I thought, really? But I can say that it did change my life. Not just my writing life, but my life. The bonds made at VCFA are forged in communal bathrooms, in shared dorm rooms with uncomfortable twin beds and no privacy, in the dining room over questionable cafeteria food, in lectures, in readings, and in the late hours in wine pit. They are forged in something stronger, more subtle, more durable than iron. They last a lifetime. And how can such friendships NOT change one’s entire life?


What advice would you give to a prospective VCFA student?


Thanks, Meg, for joining us at VCFA Launchpad today.

Meg Wiviott graduated from VCFA in July 2011 and is a member of the class of The League of Extraordinary Cheese Sandwiches. You can find her online at ehr website. and on facebook. She also blogs at Through the Tollbooth, a VCFA alumni blog.

Topics: young adult, 2015 release, Simon & Schuster, Meg Wiviott, Margaret K. McElderry Books


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

Dianne White and BLUE ON BLUE!

Posted by Adi Rule on Tue, Dec 09, 2014 @ 08:12 AM

Today we're just beaming about the release of Dianne White's new picture book, Blue on Blue (Beach Lane Books/Simon & Schuster)! The stars just keep coming, from Kirkus, Booklist, Publisher's Weekly and beyond. Here's a peek:

BlueonBluecoverIt’s a bright, beautiful, blue-on-blue day, but a storm is on its way, and soon …





Rain on rain on rain is pouring. Will the sun ever be back? 

We're thrilled to be talking with Dianne, a member of 2007's Whirligigs, on the blog today. Welcome, Dianne! So, tell us . . . 

What was the spark that ignited this book?

In large part, I credit Kathi Appelt for setting me off in a good direction. I’d submitted a number of manuscripts to her for my first packet of the post-grad Picture Book Certificate program and many of those used dialogue. Kathi asked me to Please! write something without dialogue. Blue on Blue was the result. It was quickly written one Sunday afternoon, the day before I was scheduled to share a manuscript with my VCFA picture book colleagues. Being under a time crunch, I fell back on a lesson I’d done with students many times – I collected “rain” words, thought about the beginning, middle, and end of my story, and wrote. I shared the manuscript with the group and some time later, after a few word-level tweaks, sent it off to Allyn Johnston, who had recently launched her new S&S imprint, Beach Lane Books. When she called a few weeks later to say she wanted to acquire the manuscript, I was over the moon!  

Tell us about your writing community. Are you in a critique group?

After living for years in Southern California where I had the opportunity to grow as a writer in the good company of my SCBWI colleagues from two different regions (LA and Cen Cal), I moved to Arizona and was left without a face-to-face critique group. I continued to share manuscripts by email with a few trusted friends from CA and VCFA, but I longed for a “live” group. Recently, some wonderful local writers and I have started two different critique groups that meet once every 3 to 4 weeks. 

FirstBookSigning 1

What authors do you love for their sentences? How about plot? Character?

Speaking strictly of picture book authors, I’ve been a long-time admirer of Cynthia Rylant’s work. Her versatility, language, and ability to get to the heart make her a favorite. Of course, my list includes many, many others. So to mix things up, I’ll mention just a few contemporary children’s poets whose work I admire – Joyce Sidman, Alice Schertle, and Rebecca Kai Dotlich.

Do you write in silence? If not, what’s your soundtrack?

I DO write in silence. Sort of. I read everything I write aloud, so I guess I write to the sound of my own voice. It helps, somehow. I even occasionally record what I write so I can hear the words in a slightly different way. Sort of like the auditory version of tricking yourself by changing the font or size in order to “see” a manuscript differently. I need to hear it differently. 

Who were your advisors at VCFA?

While I was at VCFA, I had the joy of working with some of my most favorite picture book authors – Phyllis Root and Marion Dane Bauer in my first and second semesters and Kathi Appelt during a post-grad semester in the Picture Book Certificate Program. I also had the pleasure of working with Jane Resh Thomas and Tim Wynne Jones in my third and fourth semesters. 

describe the imageWhat is your favorite VCFA memory?

My best of memory of VCFA is – dare I say it? – hanging out in the wine pit in the evening with my classmates. It was those many evenings spent laughing and enjoying one another’s company that cemented some very special friendships that continue to this day.  Those friendships have come to mean everything to me, both professionally and personally.

The value of the wine pit can't be overstated! :) Thanks so much for stopping by, Dianne! Welcome, Blue on Blue!

Dianne White has lived and traveled around the world and now calls Arizona home. She holds an elementary bilingual teaching credential and a master's in Language and Literacy. In 2007, she received her MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

Visit Dianne online at!


Topics: 2014 release, picture book, Simon & Schuster, Dianne White, Beach Lane Books

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

describe the image
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.

IMG 0616 

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

Roundup - Bank Street Honors VCFA Authors, Book Deals & More

Posted by Tami Brown on Fri, Jun 13, 2014 @ 06:06 AM

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It may be Friday the thirteenth (and a full moon at that!) but at VCFA it's our lucky day!

Bank Street College of Education recently released its list of Best Books of 2014 and there are a slew of familiar Vermont College of Fine Arts names on the list. Check out this honor roll of VCFA writers!

senorpancho vampirebaby cowboyup yeslets robotgobot penelopecrumb psbeeleven thevinebasket describe the image parched formerlysharkgirl 45pounds

Señor Pancho Had a Rancho by René Colato Laínez, illustrated by Elwood Smith (Holiday House). Old MacDonald and Señor Pancho both have a lot of noisy farm animals in this festive, bilingual sing-a-long. Lively ink and watercolor illustrations

Vampire Baby by Kelly Bennett, illustrated by Paul Meisel (Candlewick Press). Big brother is certain that his baby sister—who chomps everything in sight—must be a vampire, so he tries to find the right home for her. Humorous mixed-media color illustrations.

Cowboy Up!: Ride the Navajo Rodeo by Nancy Bo Flood, photographs by Jan Sonnenmair (Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press/Highlights) A day of roping and riding competitions at a rodeo is depicted through photographs, poetry, and prose.

Yes, Let’s by Galen Goodwin Longstreth, illustrated by Maris Wicks (Tanglewood) A family trip to the woods, including a hike, a picnic, and swimming, packs a lot of fun into one day. Colorful, humorous illustrations.

Robot, Go Bot! by Dana Meachen Rau, illustrated by Wook Jin Jung (Random House). Simple words, in comic-style balloons, tell the engaging story of a bossy girl and her robot.

Penelope Crumb Never Forgets by Shawn K. Stout, illustrated by Valeria Docampo (Philomel Books/Penguin) When a quirky, spirited girl establishes her Ultra Museum of Forget-Me-Notters, her choice of objects to represent her loved ones causes havoc. Black-and-white puppet-like illustrations.

P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia (Amistad Press/HarperCollins) Life gets complicated for the Gaither sisters in 1968 Brooklyn—Dad’s in love, uncle Darnell’s home from Vietnam, and the Jackson Five are coming to town.

The Vine Basket by Josanne La Valley (Clarion/HMH) Mehrigul, a Uyghur farm girl and gifted basketmaker, longs to go back to school but must battle her aggressive father, her depressed mother, and the Chinese rulers who have invaded her homeland.

The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Kathi Appelt (Atheneum Books for Young Readers/Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing) Twelve-year-old Chap Brayburn, along with the Sugar Man and two raccoons, must save the Texas swamp and its rare inhabitants from animal and human predators. Fast-paced and funny.

Parched by Melanie Crowder (Harcourt Children’s Books/HMH) Sarel and Musa use their knowledge of the land to survive after the violent deaths of family members and abuse by gang members brought on by a devastating drought.

Formerly Shark Girl by Kelly Bingham (Candlewick Press) Jane, a high school senior recovering from the loss of her arm from a shark attack, discovers her special talents as well as her responsibilities to herself and others. Told in narrative verse. (Sequel to Shark Girl)

45 Pounds (More or Less) by K. A. Barson (Viking/Penguin) Emotional eater Ann has allowed her weight to control her life, until she is faced with her aunt’s wedding. She then acquires a greater understanding of her family.


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Hailed for its creepy cool cover (we think it's a twisted tip of the hat to Downton Abbey!) Fuse #8's blog at School Library Journal featured Julie Berry's upcoming release The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place (Roaring Brook Press).

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With months still to go before its publication date, Dianne White's Blue On Blue (Beach Lane Press) has received a starred review from Publishers Weekly. Way to go, Dianne! This is the first of many accolades this beautiful book will receive!


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Happy launch week to Makeover Magic, the third book in Jill Santopolo's delightful Sparkle Spa series! Jill stopped by The Launchpad to talk about this series back in March -- read about it here if you missed it!

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A. B. Westrick's critically acclaimed middle grade novel Brotherhood (Viking 2013) is out this week in paperback!

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Coretta Scott King/Steptoe Award winner Kekla Magoon's The Guerilla Life of Manolo Cabesas, the story of a rural teen's transformation into a hardened soldier for a rebel army in South America, to Andrea Tompa at Candlewick, by Michelle Humphrey at the Martha Kaplan Agency (World). Congratulations, Kekla!!

Cynthia Surrisi sold her debut middle-grade mystery, The Maypop Kidnapping to Carolrhoda. It's set in a small coastal Maine village filled with eccentric locals; when 13-year-old Quinnie's beloved teacher goes missing, Quinnie leads a relentless, sometimes misguided search – against her mother's orders and it's scheduled for publication in 2015! Hooray Cynthia!

Erin Hagar sold a biography that's sure to be near and dear to our hearts-- and tummies! Julia Child: An Extraordinary Life in Words and Pictures, beautifully illustrated and aimed at 8 to 12 year olds, will be published next spring by DUOPRESS Books. We can't wait, Erin. Bon Appetit! 

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And last but not least...

The deadline for the Katherine Paterson Prize at Hunger Mountain is fast approaching! (June 30th) Enter your Young Adult, Middle Grade, or Picture Book manuscripts (up to 10,000 words). This year's judge is Katherine Applegate, Newbery-winning author of The One and Only Ivan and dozens of other books. There's a $1000 first prize, and past winners have found literary agents and ultimately sold books to major presses following the publication of their winning pieces at Hunger Mountain. Please visit Hunger Mountain at for guidelines.

Topics: Candlewick Press, Holiday House, Elwood Smith, 2014 release, round-up, Shawn K. Stout, Philomel, Penguin Random House, Kathi Appelt, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, HMH Books For Young Readers, A. B. Westrick, Kekla Magoon, Kelly Bingham, Paul Meisel, Roaring Brook Press, Viking, 2013 release, Jan Sonnenmair, Maris Wicks, Cynthia Surrisi, Kelly Bennett, Nancy Bo Flood, Wordsong, Amistad Press, K. A. Barson, Random House, congratulations, Julie Berry, Melanie Crowder, Rita Williams-Garcia, Rene Colato Lainez, Jill Santopolo, Aladdin, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Dianne White, Valeria Docampo, Beach Lane Books, Boyds Mills Press, Highlights, Galen Goodwin Longstreth, Tanglewood, Josanne La Valley, Clarion, Dana Meachen Rau, Wook Jin Jung


Posted by Adi Rule on Tue, May 13, 2014 @ 08:05 AM

Congratulations to Carol Lynch Williams, whose YA novel Signed, Skye Harper launches today from Simon & Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books.


From the publisher: 

Life is just fine for fourteen-year-old Winston. She loves her dog, Thelma, and although she never knew her dad, and her mom left ten years ago in search of Hollywood fame, Winston has family with Nanny, who is in her forties, and that doesn’t even make her old.

But a “just fine” life gets a lot more exciting when a letter arrives from Skye Harper, aka Judith Fletcher, aka Winston’s mother. She needs help, and Nanny says the best way to give it is to take a cross-country road trip—in a “borrowed” motor home—to go find Mama once and for all. Winston’s not so sure about this plan, but with a cute stowaway named Steve along for company and an adventure on the horizon, this is sure to be a summer to remember.

Get more info here, and check out Kirkus's review!

Topics: young adult, Paula Wiseman Books, 2014 release, Carol Lynch Williams, Simon & Schuster

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