Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Why I write for young people

   When I was an education writer for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette in Massachusetts, I often wrote about young people who needed a teacher or mentor to step forward and offer a helping hand - just as I needed at that age.

   And I'm still writing about kids like that.

   I'm grateful to the Boston Authors Club for interviewing me this month about why I write for children and for naming CHASING AUGUSTUS a finalist for the Julia Ward Howe Award last fall.  I got to attend the ceremony at the beautiful  Boston Public Library and share the honor with some incredible writers whose work I really admire - Cynthia Levinson (award), Lauren Wolk (finalist), and Mira Bartok (finalist).

Wednesday, August 29, 2018


CHASING AUGUSTUS is a finalist for the Julia Ward Howe Award from the Boston Authors Club.  I'm thrilled and honored to bring Rosie and Augustus to the Boston Public Library, Copley Square, for the celebration on September 26.

Hope to see you there!


Sunday, June 3, 2018

Pure Magic

Scholastic Book Fairs sent me on a whirlwind speaking tour this spring to introduce CHASING AUGUSTUS and BEHOLDING BEE to nearly 3,500 young readers in Lexington, KY, Chattanooga, TN, and northern Georgia public and private schools. I spoke in huge gymnasiums with 450-plus students and also in small libraries where all the children sat on the floor and shared from their heart. It seems every child has a dog story! And I shared mine:  How CHASING AUGUSTUS was inspired by the dog of our dreams, Sally. Here's a bit of my talks, and some pictures of the new friends I met. I will always treasure these memories.

The love we had for our rescue dog, Sally, sparked CHASING AUGUSTUS.

I shared with the students how I stuttered when I was their age and how my words didn’t come out right and how they got all jumbled up and speaking was very difficult for me.  Because of this I was incredibly shy. I turned to books to find strong characters who could survive, no matter what hurdles stood in front of them.

My new friend is telling me about his life and about the books he wants to write.

I made so many new friends!

Some groups were very large!

Some were in small school libraries. 

(These talks are wonderful because we can all share our dog stories!)

I shared how the hardest thing when I was young was saying my name and I couldn’t do it and so I stayed silent. I was teased and I tried to pretend that it didn't bother me. Even adults would say things like slow down, relax, take a breath, or sometimes they’d say: "What’s wrong, don’t you know you own name?"

Or they’d look away, embarrassed, and that was the worst of all. More than anything I wanted to hide.

So what was the miracle that turned my life around?


Of course, I had no idea at the time what an incredible and wonderful miracle they would become in my life, but it wasn’t long before they were as important to me as breathing.

I realized books made me stronger and my life better. And do you know what happens when you read a lot of books? Sometimes you start thinking, I would like to do that, I would like to write a book! And that’s just what happened to me, and that became the second amazing and wonderful miracle in my life. I found that when I wrote I was happy and peaceful and my heart soared. 

Suddenly, in the sixth grade, I had a voice!

I let my pen do the talking for me! 

I started writing ALL THE TIME!

And teachers became the third miracle in my life. They noticed my writing and said I was talented, and they pushed me and encouraged me and believed in me. They showed me that my stuttering did not determine my destiny. I could choose my own destiny. And I decided it would be writing.

"Gripping...Magnificent." Kirkus starred review.

In college I began ten years of private speech therapy with an amazing speech pathologist who would help transform me into a fluent speaker. Today, I've given more than a hundred talks in classrooms, libraries, conference centers, auditoriums and gymnasiums - and more requests than I can handle come in every year.  Some gymnasium crowds have been as large as 750 young people!

When I share with students the stories about the hurdles I jumped over,  they want to talk about the mountains they face. 

It seems that we all have something to overcome, to deal with, to grow through.  Sometimes it’s on the outside for the world to see, like stuttering, sometimes it’s more hidden, like having trouble reading or losing a grandparent or a dog we love. But it seems to be universal that we all have something.

The miracle is that with family and extraordinary teachers and great mentors behind us, helping us, encouraging us, showing us that we matter and that we are important and that we have something to say, then we can rise up and reach our potential.

We can change the mental map in our heads that says, "I can’t," to "YES, I CAN!!!"

And that’s what Rosalita Gillespie discovers in Chasing Augustus.

She might lose what she loves most, the true-blue-friend of her soul, her dog Augustus, but she finds him again through hope, perseverance, daring, and her own resourcefulness. She discovers within herself a resilience and courage she didn't know she had.  She is unsinkable.

Lining up after the talk, waiting patiently for a signed book. The thrill of signing a book for a child never, ever goes away.

I sign my books "Find Courage - Read!" or "Be Happy - Read!"

I am so grateful to the amazing school librarians all over the country who champion reading.

I am incredibly grateful to Scholastic field managers Les Kevehazi in GA and TN
and Logan Nance in KY, and their staffs, including Javonne Smith, Sally Otott, and Cris Sailers, for making these trips possible.  Also, huge thanks to Robin Baily Hoffman, Director of Sales & Product Programs for Scholastic Book Fairs, who pushes the books she loves out into the world.

Les Kevehazi and Javonne Smith in TN and GA.

Logan Nance in Lexington, KY

In front of the Chattanooga Choo Choo Historic Hotel

Back home again in Foster, RI, with our dog, Harper.

Already hard at work on a new novel! 

Monday, January 15, 2018


 When I visit schools I am almost always asked to list my favorite books, so I've been keeping a list for more than a decade. Here are my top books of 2017! (I already have many for 2018, but I'll have to wait to add them to my list...)

              Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder (middle grade)
              The War that Saved My Life
              The War I Finally Won both by
             Kimberly Brubaker Bradley (middle grade)

I also try and read several classics a year, and this year my favorites were a reread of:
 The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
and a first read of
My Antonia by Willa Cather

And for my writing friends, my favorite writing book of the year was:

  The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Maass

Monday, November 27, 2017

What a year!

Thank you to all the reviewers and booksellers and teachers and librarians and parents who are helping children find their way to Chasing Augustus.  It's been a wonderful year, and I am very grateful.

"Gripping, animated narrative...God's bones!  Magnificent." - Kirkus Starred Review.

A Junior Library Guild Selection.

"Excellent" - The Providence Journal.

Random House Children's Books Rep Spotlight Pick for the Fall 2017 list.

"The writing is smooth and evocative as well as folksy, making this an easy pick for readers who enjoyed Patrone's The Higher Power of Lucky." - The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books.

"Readers' hearts will ache along with Rosie's as she struggles to find not only her dog but also love and belonging...a heartfelt tale with a rewarding ending...a fleet of unforgettable personalities...will appeal to young fans of Kate DiCamillo..." School Library Journal.

“Rosie’s papa always told her she had grit, and here she shows as much of it as the sediment that covers the town and stings her eyes…she is a character who will remain with many readers after they turn the last page.” - The Horn Book 
"A clever plot twist, Rosie’s distinctive voice, and an intriguing cast of characters make "Chasing Augustus" a delightful, often heart-wrenching, and not-to-be-missed story.”
 - Christian Science Monitor

Sunday, November 5, 2017

My story

I didn’t talk much when I was a child.

I stuttered and because of that I was incredibly shy, and this made speaking very difficult for me.

What does it mean to be a child who stutters?

For me, it meant that when it was time for our daily read-aloud sessions in school, I panicked as I waited for my turn - and for my world to explode.

I would never raise my hand in class, because no sounds would come out of my mouth other than a repeating stutter. I tried to push words through my vocal cords that dread and terror had strung tight as barbed wire. I couldn’t give oral book reports and, in a million  years, I would never join the drama club or the debate team or run for office or volunteer for anything where there was any speaking required whatsoever.

The hardest thing was saying my name and I would avoid it when I could. I was teased and made fun of and I tried to pretend that it didn't bother me.  Just like in the movie, The King’s Speech, even adults would say things like slow down, relax, take a breath, or sometimes they’d say: "What’s wrong, don’t you know you own name?" 

Or they’d look away, embarrassed, and that was the worst of all.

I was very much loved by my family and I was encouraged to be whoever I wanted to be.  Long family hikes in the mountains and weekends on the beach at Cape Cod were fun and peaceful and nourishing and restorative. But there was no speech therapy in my small school in Massachusetts and I didn't know how to stop the teasing and most people outside of my family had no idea what I was going through because I was too ashamed to tell them.

I couldn’t answer the phone, much less carry on conversations with relatives during their long-distance holiday calls, and I couldn’t order food in restaurants because I’d have to say something specific, and I couldn’t switch to an easier word, something that began with T, rather than the impossible Ms and Rs. I couldn’t speak to authority figures, like teachers and principals, and although I could manage somewhat talking one-on-one to a friend (as long as that friend was very kind and didn’t rush me or tease me and just listened) I couldn’t talk in groups.  This meant sitting with the cool girls at lunch was impossible.
I was filled with so much shame and I wanted to become invisible and I learned how to do that by staying very quiet. Like Philippe in my newest novel, Chasing Augustus, who hides under his big coat, I got very good at hiding.

Speech pathologists today call this the stuttering iceberg.  On the top, the very small part of ice above water, are the repetitions, blockages and prolongations. 
But underneath, is the big chunk of the iceberg, where the effects of stuttering hide: the guilt, shame, isolation, and utter hopelessness. I was this smart little kid but people started wondering about that because I didn’t talk. And some teachers who didn’t know any better stopped calling on me and although it felt better in some ways to not be called on, I sat in the back of the class and it made me even more alone and embarrassed and different than anyone else.   And everyone expected a little less of me each day.  And I expected less of me, too.

So what was the miracle that turned my life around?

Books.  Of course, I had no idea at the time what an incredible and wonderful miracle they would become in my life, but they were my solace, my escape, my greatest teachers.

I discovered Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Island of the Blue Dolphins and Heidi and Where the Red Fern Grows and A Wrinkle in Time and Harriet the Spy.

I would check out as many books as I could carry at my town library and walk  home and head for my tree house and read the afternoon away.

I found friends in books. I found outspoken girls who weren’t afraid to speak their mind – children who knew what it meant to survive.  I  wanted to be the girl in Island of the Blue Dolphins, able to take care of herself on a deserted Island off the California coast, and I wanted to be Billy, in Red Fern, selling bait, so I could buy my own dogs.  And when I read Harriet the Spy, suddenly I knew I wanted to become a writer.  After all, writers don’t have to speak!

What I began to realize from reading all these books was that what I did was really hard – speaking was really hard for someone like me – but I could become a survivor, someone who didn’t quit.

So the second amazing and wonderful miracle that happened was that even though I couldn’t communicate verbally so well, I could communicate through writing. I started writing ALL THE TIME and the door to speech was closed but the door to writing flew wide open.
And the third miracle was that teachers started noticing my writing and saying I wrote like a dream and boy couldn’t this quiet little kid write, and they pushed me and encouraged me and believed in me. 

Suddenly, in the sixth grade, I had a voice! And I never stopped. I wrote fledgling short stories, tried my hand at novels, and wrote for our church literary magazine.  One of my poems was published in a national church newspaper. My high school senior English teacher loved my writing and she was so tough, but she believed in me.  And she is the one who said I really did have the talent to go college as a creative writing major, and even though I was still stuttering severely, off I went to college to write, because after so much struggle, I had finally found something I was truly good at.

And in college I also found speech therapy with an amazing private speech pathologist who applauded each step I took.  Over the next ten years she taught me how to speak fluently, and she also taught me how to walk away from the isolation and believe in myself. 

Today, it is in writing that I find my life’s meaning. I faced so much adversity as a child, struggling to speak and communicate with the outside world, and now I am able to write books about transformation, about characters like Cornelia in Tending to Grace, who stutters, and Rosie Gillespie, in Chasing Augustus, who will never give up on her dog, not ever.  They both face almost unbearable hurdles, but learn to push on, because they are strong and courageous and unsinkable.

Today I feel blessed to write for children and I hear from kids from across the US and throughout different parts of the world.   I get beautiful, uplifting, handwritten letters from children in my mailbox and each is a gift that I treasure.  Like this one from a little girl in NJ:

“Your book changed the way I see the world and taught me so many great things.  A rough start leads to a great end, and a great end throws the bad times away.  Forget about it and just walk away with a heart filled with happiness.”  Sincerely, Marie Nicole.

I've only begun to share the depths of my story over the last couple of years.   And this is because that when I am brave enough to share my own story of transformation, the young writers in the schools I visit are more willing to dig deeper to tell their own stories.

I tell them: "We all have something to overcome, to deal with, to grow through.  Sometimes it’s on the outside for the world to see, sometimes it’s hidden.  But it's universal that we all have something.  With friends and family and teachers and mentors behind us, we can begin to rise and reach our potential.  And if we reach our potential, we can help those around us.  And then we are life-givers and light-bearers."

I never knew this as a child, but looking back at my life now I see that my struggles helped shape me into the person I am today. I may not have gotten the voice I wanted when I was a young girl, but I got a much bigger voice. When I was a child, I wouldn’t have known it was even possible.

Recently, my husband said, "Kim, isn't it something that the little girl with no voice grew up to have one of the largest of all?"

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Our dear Sally

This is our dear Sally, the dog that inspired CHASING AUGUSTUS.

A terrible very bad dog!

In 2012, when I finished the final draft of BEHOLDING BEE and began thinking about another book, our dog Sally was getting very old.

She was the dog of our dreams. The kind of dog that became the best friend for our four children, and she followed them everywhere they'd let her go: through the woods, down to the fishing brook, up to the old cow fields and into the piney woods.  She slept in their rooms, snoozed quietly while they built Legos for hours, waited patiently for them beneath their treehouse, and was the first to dive into the new plastic toddler pool, shredding it immediately.  She never wanted to be separated from her beloved Daniel, Matthew, Kate and Laura.

Anyone who reads my books knows that I love to write about transformation, about characters who face mountains of adversity and because they find grit and determination, are able to push on and become more than they thought they could be.

Well, the same holds true for dogs.

Sally did not start out very well. We already had one very elderly rescue dog on the day that we received a call from a dear friend on the other side of town.  She knew our big family well and thought we were the perfect home for an almost-year-old mixed breed golden retriever with an unhappy past.

Our friends knew a great dog when they saw one.This scrawny red dog might not look like much but she is smart with a lot of heart and she could really become a great family dog, they told us. 

There was plan in place that included a half dozen people to spirit her away from the house where she had been mistreated. No one wanted Sally to go back to her former owner, so one day our friends scooped Sally up, hid her in their barn, took her to the vet, and called us.

On a very cold winter day with snow on the fields in our town in rural Rhode Island, we piled into our minivan and went and had ourselves a look.
Well, here’s what we found:  Already in her short life, Sally had been mistreated, was malnourished and untrained. She was filthy, had been allowed to wander all over the streets of our town, and was extremely strong-willed.  Not a good combination. And yet she immediately latched onto our children with a thumping tail and dozens of kisses, and so we brought her home.

Well.  It was not all easy street. Sally was used to running off wherever she wanted to go. She didn’t like to be confined inside the house, either.  We lived in a 200 year old home with very old windows.  If we left Sally in the house when we weren't home, she simply pushed the old windows out onto the ground and jumped out. She ran around the neighborhood, and during one long escape, she got picked up by the dog officer and was taken to the animal shelter and put into what our children called "Doggy Jail." And she barked.  A lot.  Barking was a sport to Sally.

In essence, Sally was a very bad, no good, pretty terrible dog.  More than once, we thought that maybe she was too much for us.  But if you know our family, we are no quitters.  We’ve survived a house fire and lived for nearly a year in an emergency trailer on our property while a new home was being built, and we know how to push on.

Time passed and we learned how to train our unruly dog. Lots of love, lots of exercise, lots of treats, lots of firm attention, did I say lots of love? Incredible amounts of love. We installed an invisible fence and suddenly Sally had two acres to run around as fast and as often as she wanted and she decided that it was her job to keep our property free of all squirrels, birds, rabbits and anything else that crawled or slithered.  With all that exercise and four children to look after and healthy food and lots of love, she quieted down and became an incredibly good dog with a very big heart.  She became the dog of our dreams. 

Sally died halfway through the writing of Chasing Augustus. It is unbelievably sad to lose a dog you love. 

Sally lived the essence of something I try and remind myself of each day:  It's not the circumstances of your life that define you.  It's the action you take that tells the world who you are.

It turns out that we if we are brave and refuse to quit, we can always write the next chapter of our lives.

And this is true, even for dogs.