Monday, November 4, 2019

Bobbie Pyron is in the House!

Today I'm thrilled to have my friend, Bobbie Pyron, here to talk about her latest middle grade novel.

1.     Tell us a little bit about your new novel, STAY.

      STAY is the intertwined stories of Piper and her family, and a little dog named Baby, and his person, Jewel. Piper’s family has fallen on hard times and have just moved into a shelter for families experiencing homelessness. Piper misses her home and friends back in Louisiana and hates being called “the homeless kid” in her new school. Baby and Jewel are also experiencing homelessness. They can’t live in a shelter, though, because shelters don’t allow dogs. And Jewel would never give up Baby! But when Jewel gets sick and is taken away from the city park where she and Baby live, Baby is left on his own. Piper is determined to do everything in her power to get Jewel and Baby back together.

2.     You dedicated STAY to Girl Scout Troop 6000. Why?   

      One night after I’d started writing the first draft of STAY, I saw a story on the national news about a Girl Scout troop in Brooklyn, New York. All the girls in this troop live in a family shelter. Before they came to the shelter, some had lived with their families in cars, slept on relative’s couches, or lived in subway stations. Despite this, the girls were bursting with pride and enthusiasm! They were so strong, brave, and yet compassionate—just the way I wanted Piper to be.

3.     In all your books, geographical place plays an important role. In STAY, though, you never say where the story takes place. How come?   

      That’s very observant of you! The reason I didn’t ever say exactly where the book takes place is because I wanted the reader to feel like this could take place in any place, any city. Because that’s the way homelessness is: it can take place everywhere.

4.     Now that you’ve written six books, do you see a reoccurring theme in your stories?  

       I think I tend to write a good deal about loss and what makes a home, and how we define family. I experienced a great deal of loss at a young age (my father died in a car crash when I was seven), and we moved around a lot too. I think these early experiences in my childhood keep informing my stories. I probably always will, in some form or another.

5.     Half of STAY—the dog’s chapters—are written in free verse. What was that like?  

       It was fun! I love poetry and I love reading books written in verse, so I wanted to see if I could write that way. I like to challenge myself as an artist. I also feel like dogs probably think in free verse, don’t you?

6.     Since most of your books have adorable dogs on the cover, show us a picture of your adorable dog!    

       I’d love to! This is Sherlock, my 14-year-old rescued Shetland sheepdog. He’s my baby!

Thanks so much for stopping by, Bobbie!

Bobbie Pyron is the author of the award-winning A DOG'S WAY HOME, the critically acclaimed THE DOGS OF WINTER, among other popular middle grade books. She lives in Mars Hill, NC, with her husband and incredibly sweet Shetland Sheepdog, Sherlock. To find out more about Bobbie and her books, visit her website at

Monday, October 28, 2019

Constance Lombardo is in the House!

 Today I'm celebrating a fabulous new picture book by Constance Lombardo: EVERYBODY SAYS MEOW, hitting bookstore shelves on November 5!
And what a treat that Constance stopped by to answer some questions!

How does it feel to have your debut picture book coming out soon?
It feels as wonderful as being in a room full of puppies! And kittens, of course. And they’re not even fighting, it’s just one big love-fest.

Describe the story of Everybody Says Meow in ten words or less.
A kitten learns that everybody really does say ‘Meow’ – not!

Another book about cats, huh? Tell me about some of the cats in your life, past and present.  
1.     Childhood cat: a tuxedo named Max, who once bit my mother’s toe because she wasn’t feeding him fast enough.
2.     A kitten found in a garden who was so small we had to feed him milk with a Q-tip. We named him Phantom.
3.     A roommate’s gorgeous long-haired barley-colored cat named… Barley. Would sit on the kitchen counter surveying his domain.
4.     A yoga studio cat named Peanut who would meow along with our Ohm.
5.     Myrtle, the sweetest cat ever. Very vocal, especially when I was about to feed her.
6.     Gandalf the Grey, aka, G. G., the mischievous grey tabby. As a kitten, he never said a peep. When I fed them, and Myrtle would MEOW like crazy, I’d say, “See, G.G., everybody says meow!” That was the seed of this book. 


Gandolf the Grey, aka G.G.

The illustrations for Everybody Says Meow were called “…simple but zestily cartoonish…” by The Bulletin for the Center for Children’s Books.  Did you use traditional media or digital?
First of all…yay!! I wanted the art to be playful, above all. I used a technical pen and watercolor washes – totally traditional media. But I’ve recently been learning Procreate, a digital art-making app. I love working in watercolor, pens, colored pencils, and markers. But I must admit that Procreate is super fun!

What are some of your favorite picture books?
Classic favorites include The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf with amazing black & white art by Robert Lawson, Shrek by William Steig, and A Fierce Bad Rabbit by Beatrix Potter. Some contemporary books I adore are Interrupting Chicken and the Elephant of Surprise by David Ezra Stein, I am a Cat by Galia Bernstein, and Fox and Chick by Sergio Ruzzier.  

There are some non-felines in Everybody Says Meow. Which animal was the most challenging to draw?
I found it surprisingly difficult to draw the duck. But once I put him in a purple top hat, it all made sense.

What about dogs? Do you even like dogs?
I LOVE dogs!!! My big news is I adopted a dog last year. He’s a 10 year old beagle named Louie. We love roaming around the neighborhood, while Louie smells all the things, and eats whatever he finds, even if it’s not exactly edible. I even did a cartoon about it using Procreate!

Thanks for stopping by, Constance!
Thanks for hosting me on your blog, Barbara O’Connor! 

Constance Lombardo is the author/illustrator of the middle grade Mr. Puffball series (HarperCollins.) Her first picture book, Everybody Says Meow, publishes on November 5. She loves visiting classrooms and talking to kids about writing and drawing. 

Friday, September 13, 2019

Jo Hackl is in the House!

 Today I'm celebrating the summer publication of the paperback edition of Jo Hackl's terrific middle grade novel, Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe.

Set in an overgrown Southern ghost town, Smack Dab in the Middle of Maybe takes readers on an adventure with 12-year-old Cricket, who sets out to survive on her own in the woods of an overgrown ghost town to try to solve a clue trail left by an eccentric artist, with a logic all his own, all
to try to find a secret room that may or may not exist. Cricket must use her wits and just a smidgen of luck to live off the land and solve the clues. With the help of a poetry-loving dog and the last resident of the ghost town, maybe, just maybe, she can do it.

Jo stopped by to answer some great questions. Enjoy!

What were your favorite books as a child?

My two favorites were My Side of the Mountain and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. I admire how My Side of the Mountain draws readers into the natural world and makes surviving in the wild a quest of its own. Spending time outdoors also changes the main character. I love how From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler immerses readers in the intriguing setting of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and takes them into an art mystery. For Smack Dab, I challenged myself to combine those two elements—outdoor survival and an art mystery clue trail—in one novel. 

How did you go about crafting Smack Dab

I began the first draft in a class offered through Emrys, a local literary arts organization in Greenville, where I live. I attended writing workshops and read books about the craft of writing. I studied and wrote poetry. I wrote the first draft in five months and spent seven more years revising, refining and polishing. I completed at least nine full drafts. I was on at least the fourth draft and several years into the project before I started sending it out. 

What kind of research did you do for the book? 

I trained on everything from fire starting, shelter building and water gathering, to foraging for edible and medicinal plants. I camped out in the woods and recorded information about sights, sounds, and textures. I studied which edible foods are available during each part of the year. I researched the behavior and diet of woodland animals, the migration patterns of Southern birds. I reached out to entomologists and experts on human behavior and the natural world. I studied information about Leonardo DaVinci, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, and used that all in constructing the clue trail. 

What kind of a response to Smack Dab have you gotten from readers?

I love to hear from readers and I’ve been thrilled with their response to the book. One reader reported that she read the book 14 times. Many others have written to say how much reading about Cricket’s journey has helped them in their own. So far, half of the readers from whom I’ve heard have been students and half have been adults. The book has layers and it’s interesting to see what layers spoke the most to each reader. 

What are you reading these days? 

I read mostly middle grade and I have about five books going at once. I’m currently reading Shadows of the Lost Sun, the latest in the Map to Everywhere series by Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis, The Law of Finders Keepers by Sheila Turnage, Serafina and the Seven Stars by Robert Beatty, Grenade by Alan Gratz, and re-reading When I Crossed No-Bob by Margaret McMullan.

What advice can you give to aspiring middle grade authors? 

You can do it! Start an idea journal and use it write down ideas for things such as character names, quirks, details that help show character traits, and plot ideas. Give yourself permission to write a really bad first draft. The goal of the first draft is just to get your ideas down on paper. If you get stuck, leave a blank. You can always brainstorm with a friend and fill in the details later. Once you have your draft, you have something to work with. Go line by line and look for ways to make your work better. Try to imagine how each character would feel in each scene and give your readers details to make them feel as though they are right there in the scene with your characters. Make sure that each word is the best word and that each scene keeps the story moving. Cut any unnecessary words. Read your story aloud to make sure that the rhythm of the language feels right. Keep writing, looking for ways to make your work even better. Don’t be afraid to take risks. As my character Cricket would say, “sometimes it’s time to start taking chances on yourself.” 

Thanks so much for stopping by, Jo!


Jo Watson Hackl was born in Biloxi, Mississippi, not far from Ocean Springs, where her favorite artist,
Walter Anderson, lived and once painted a secret room. When Jo was eleven, she moved to a real-
life ghost town, Electric Mills, Mississippi. Mr. Anderson’s secret room and the ghost town were Jo’s inspiration for this debut novel. She lives with her family in Greenville, South Carolina. You can find her online at Jo is also the Founder of


Monday, April 15, 2019

Adventures with Flat Avery

I received a "Flat Avery" from a charming 3rd grader in Kansas.

She asked me to take Flat Avery along on some adventures with me.

Here is Avery with my dog, Rocket
Here is Avery at a tea room in Asheville, NC

Avery at the airport

Avery on a flight to Houston, Texas, with me
Avery flying to Houston
Avery at a hotel in Houston
Avery in the library of an elementary school in Houston
Avery in the library
Avery helping me sign books in Houston
Avery with students in Houston

Hiking in the Blue Ridge Mountains