Morris Awards Finalists- An interview with Jessie Ann Foley

When the Morris Award Finalists were named I was very excited.  You see, this is one of my favorite awards given each year.  The Morris Award honors a debut book published by a first-time author and the short list is always full of exciting titles.  This year was no exception.  In fact, this year’s list was made up entirely of books I had not read yet!

The book that caught my eye immediately was The Carnival at Bray by Jessie Ann Foley. The Irish setting and the 90s music focus were unlike anything else I’ve read and I knew I had to get my hands on it. And the good news is that it totally lived up to my hopes and wishes!

coverThe Carnival at Bray is well-crafted, beautifully written, and will transport you out of your world and into Maggie’s world.  One of the best parts of the novel is the way Jessie Ann Foley captures Ireland.  Her descriptions, poetic at times, make you feel as if you are standing in the fog with Maggie.  I’ve visited Ireland twice in the last few years and Jessie Ann Foley’s words immediately brought me back.  I could smell the sea in the air, feel the damp fog on my skin, and hear the hum of the earth below me.  Anyone who has been to Ireland knows it’s unlike anywhere else on earth and it’s not easy to capture that in words.  Jessie Ann Foley does, though,

Maggie and her family move to Ireland when her mother and her new husband return to his hometown of Bray, Ireland.  This is a coming-of-age story that has major crossover appeal.  It’s a story of friendship, love, and what it’s like to be a teenager.  Maggie is trying to navigate a new life in a new country, a new family dynamic, and a new set of friends.  Her voice rings true and will grab the attention of teens and adults alike.  Jessie Ann Foley is a voice to watch!  Ireland is magical and so is The Carnival at Bray.

I’m thrilled that Jessie Ann Foley agreed to an interview today because I was dying to know more about her writing process.  She’s a high school English teacher, a debut author, and a Morris Award Finalist!

Hi jesse!  Welcome to thereadingzone and thanks for agreeing to this interview! Reading your book I was immediately transported back to Ireland.  I’ve been there twice and I even got engaged in Dublin!  What made you pick Ireland for the setting?

Thank you! I love Dublin! As far as my choice of setting: The Carnival at Bray was originally a short story that I wrote after visiting a forlorn carnival fairground in County Wicklow in 2010. I’m Irish-American, but as Maggie learns in the first chapter, that identity can have very little to do with what it means to be actually Irish, and if I had known then that I was setting myself up for the task of expanding it into an entire novel set in Ireland, I might have made things easier for myself and kept Maggie in Chicago. But then, I guess she would never have met Eoin.

I’ve been to Ireland several times, but that alone was not enough experience to allow me to write this book. My husband, who is from County Kerry, was a huge help to me. I tortured him with constant, nitpicky questions relating to word choice, slang, and authentic details: What do you call those bales of hale covered in plastic? What is the hurling equivalent of a quarterback? What kind of beverage would a young Irish kid drink if his father took him to the pub? Things like that. If there was a passage that contained lots of dialogue—Eoin’s long monologue about his mother comes to mind—my husband would read it aloud and help me figure out what needed tweaking. I was so nervous for him to read the first draft of the book, because I knew I was going to make ridiculous mistakes. But he was polite enough not to make fun of me.

Haha, that’s awesome!  The other part of the setting that I loved was the music that pulsed through the background of evey scene.  Were/are you a Kurt Cobain fan or did you find your way to him while writing?   Did you write to a specific soundtrack?

One of my favorite parts about writing is how the story can surprise you: you think it’s going to be about one thing, but then you start to discover it’s about something else. I didn’t know that my novel was going to be about music when I started writing it. But as Uncle Kevin developed into an important character, the musical angle grew with him. I had so much fun going back and listening to all my 90’s music–some of those albums I hadn’t listened to for years. I listened to a lot of Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville, the Lemonheads, Smashing Pumpkins, and of course, Nirvana, I listened many times to the live album of the Rome concert that is portrayed in the book. It all definitely brought me back–the music of your youth seems to have that power. I barely remember my first kiss. But I’ll never forget the first time I heard Pearl Jam.

We clearly have a lot in common. :)  I feel like all of my memories are set to music, so I totally understand.

Congratulations on being a Morris Award finalist!  I am so impressed that you wrote such an amazing book while being a full-time English teacher.  As I’m sitting here looking at the pile of grading I have to do I can’t imagine how you did it.  What is your writing schedule like?

Oh God, do I ever sympathize with that Sisyphean paper pile.I don’t think anyone truly understands the grading situation of a high school English teacher except other high school English teachers. My writing schedule has changed after the publication of The Carnival at Bray because I had my first baby shortly after we finished the edits (talk about a non-negotiable deadline!). Now I just write whenever I possibly can. When I was teaching full-time, pre-baby, it took me about a year to write the book. I worked every day when I got home from school, usually until my husband got home from work. On days off or school breaks, I wrote as much as I could, unless, of course, I had papers to grade :)

That leads me to my next questions. Have your students read your book?  Or are you a secret celebrity? :)

Well, I’m currently out on maternity leave, but my school’s book club is reading the book right now! Some of my former students have read the book, and it was really cool to hear from them about it. Last year, I showed my class the three potential covers of the novel, just to get their input. Their favorite cover was the one that my publisher ended up choosing, so that was really fun!

I can imagine!  What an exciting time for you and your students!  Thanks again for agreeing to this interview.  I know I will be waiting with bated breath on the day the award is announced. And just for fun, one last question. What is your favorite food to snack on while you are writing?

Those sugar cookies that have like an inch of colored frosted on the top, washed down with an ice cold Diet Coke. I’m a health nut, clearly.

Thank you to Jessie Ann Foley for writing an incredible book and agreeing to today’s interview!  Be sure to check out the rest of the Morris Award Finalists blog tour this week!  You can see the schedule on the Cinco Puntos Press blog.

Tuck Everlasting….continued

thereadingzone:

In honor of the 40th anniversary of Tuck Everlasting, one of my all-time favorite books, here is a blast from the past post. Back in 2007 I was teaching 6th grade and Tuck was the first novel I read with my students.

Originally posted on The Reading Zone:

In class, we have been doing a close reading of “Tuck Everlasting” for the last few days.  We re-read the Prologue and Chapter 1, annotating when necessary.  It is so amazing to hear my students say, “Wow!  I didn’t even realize that circle had meaning the first time I read it!”  I think they are starting to understand the need to sometimes re-read parts of a book, especially when you want to clarify certain points or respond to the book in writing.  This is a skill they will need to hone as they move through the middle school and high school and one they aren’t explicitly taught at any grade level.  I am having so much fun with it!

Today, we read an excerpt from “Circling Tuck: An Interview with Natalie Babbitt” from Horn Book in 2000.  The interview is wonderful and Babbitt shares a lot of great…

View original 216 more words

#NeverForget

(A version of this was originally written on 9/11/03, on my personal blog. It has been edited for this posting. I have reposted some version every year since 2003.)

the view I see each year from the beach at home.


I can’t forget. This morning, between classes I was sitting in my car listening to the radio. I listened to the children read off the names of those who perished in the WTC disaster. As I listened to the small voices read the thousands of names, tears ran down my cheeks. I managed to miss hearing the names of anyone I knew, but still…….

I can remember that day like it was yesterday. I remember eating breakfast with one of my best friends, Erin (we barely even knew each other at the time, having moved into our freshman year dorms only a few days earlier). The dining hall had talk radio playing over the speakers and they were talking about the WTC bombing. I remember Erin and I wondering why they were talking about something that had happened in 1993. We tuned out the radio as it became nothing more than white noise in the background.  Quickly, we finished breakfast and I went to my Women and Public Policy class.

As my classmates settled into seats in the small lecture hall, our TA, Jen, apologized for having to keep her cell phone on during class. She explained that she had flight reservations later that day, and she needed to keep up on any airport delays due to the incident in the city. That was the first that I heard about a plane crash, as the TV in my room wasn’t hooked up yet. (We had moved in only days earlier). But everyone in class seemed fairly calm. We talked about what had happened for a few minutes, but most of us assumed it was just an errant pilot; a tragedy, but nothing too life-changing for the majority of us. So from 9:50-10:30am we continued on with our normal class schedule, discussing women in the current political system. As class ended I remember walking back to the dorm, over the Hickman Bridge, and hearing people around me say classes were canceled for the rest of the day. Yet I still really had no idea what was going on.

I walked back to my dorm on the other side of campus planning to turn on the news while I got organized for the day. Then I remembered that I didn’t even have a tv (stupid no cable in the dorms). As I walked into the building, you could sense the panic. The stress and tension in the air was palpable.   I walked up the 3 flights of stairs to my room and immediately saw that my answering machine was blinking wildly. Each message was from my mother, trying to get in touch with me. I grabbed my cell phone to call her back, but by that time the lines were down.

As I kept hitting the redial button I watched my floormates pace up and down the halls. One of the girls walked past my door no less than 20 times in 2 minutes. She was trying to get ahold of her father, who worked in the Towers. Others were just trying to find their parents even if they didn’t work in the city. Unable to get through to anyone on the phone, I took my cell phone and walked back downstairs to the lounge and sat on the couch with my dormmates, staring at the images that were being flashed on every station on our common room TV. No one spoke.

Still dialing, I headed back upstairs to my computer, sure that I would be able to find more information on the internet. The news anchors were so unsure and so frightened. I finally got through to my mother (while reloading news sites over and over) and she was relieved to hear from me. She told me you could see the flames from the beach by our house, and that there was a huge cloud of smoke and a smell enveloping Middletown. She asked if I wanted to come home, and while I considered it,  I chose to stay.  I wanted to be with my friends, and admit that the idea of driving home was frightening.  None of us knew what was happening or what would happen.

The panic in my dorm just increased all afternoon. My friends and I sat in stunned silence watching the television coverage. At one point, military planes flew over the campus, and people ran for the basement. No one knew what would happen next. That sense of terror was something unimaginable only hours before.

We watched the news for hours on end. I IM’ed and recieved IMs from friends who were at school in the city. People I hadn’t talked to in months came to mind. I went to a tiny high school, 60 kids to a graduating class, and our network of students was reaching out to one another. We just needed to know that everyone was all right. I remember the anxiety we felt while we checked on all the Maryland people, friends who went to school near the Pentagon and Washington, DC. Eighteen years old and we were frantically searching for people just to make sure they were still there.

I will never forget signing on to our high school email network and reading the the public announcements, a forum usually reserved for messages about upcoming school dances and PTA fundraisers.  The tragedy began to hit home as some of my peers posted messages asking for the readers to look for names on lists- parents, aunts, uncles, siblings, cousins. As new lists were posted in the media it became more and more apparent that some of those who were missing would not be coming home that night.  This wasn’t supposed to happen to people you knew…

Only a few minutes later my mother got through to me again, telling me that my brother’s best friend’s dad was missing. That’s when I made the decision. I went home.

I stayed home. School was canceled. The next few days were filled with phone calls “Did anyone hear anything? Any word?” My mother told me how on September 11th, ferries came from the city to the our harbor. Ferries that were based all over NY just packed with passengers from NYC. People who just had to get somewhere besides Manhattan. They stumbled off the boats- people covered in ash, people in shock. They were hosed down immediately by men and women in hazmat suits, for fear that they were carrying biological agents.

The papers talked about how Middletown was the town in NJ hit the hardest by the tragedy. We lost so many. So many people from my church, people I knew from middle school and high school. Parents, siblings, friends, colleagues all of them.

Then, my worst fears were realized. A friend was put on active duty. Along with all this tragedy, I had to deal with the idea that one of my best friends could be sent into the city. At that time, it was a terrifying thought.  Would NYC be hit again? Were we safe?

Later, I learned that another friend had worked at the pier in Jersey City on September 11. Unloading and loading ferries and boats, for days at a time. But her story had a happy ending- she became engaged when she grew closer to a friend who took care of her at the time.

My brother spent days with his then-girlfriend and their best friend. A sophomore in high school and he was trying to hold up his friends while they learned that a parent was never coming home. I admired my brother immensely for the strength he showed in those days. He grew up more than I ever knew he could.

We all grew up.

And we will never forget.
God Bless all those lost on 9-11-01……

—————————————————–

My current don’t have any memories of this day in history.  September 11th is history to them, something they read about each year and pass memorials for in their towns. It’s something their parents and other adults talk about.  The visual of a plane hitting the towers live on television isn’t part of their life.  That’s something I can’t imagine.  I knew this day was coming but it’s so foreign to me and I just can’t believe that there are people here, in my area of NJ, who don’t remember September 11th.  Today is September 11th “capital letter because it’s a month” not September 11th “a day that changed our lives forever so it has forever been ingrained in our minds”.

For me, it is hard to fathom not being able to articulate exactly where I was that day, that hour, that minute.  While I am glad they have no memory of the terror our nation, especially the tri-state area, experienced that day, it still leaves me stunned.  It’s such an integral part of my life that I can’t imagine it not being a cornerstone in others’ lives.  Yet I am grateful for that blessing, too.  September 11th will always be a day that stops me in my tracks but I am glad that it’s history for my students.  I hope they never experience anything like we all did on that day.

One of Those Days. #sol14

Today was one of those days.

You know. Those days. Like Alexander’s day.

A no-good, horrible, very bad day.

It was aggravating and frustrating. I spent too long on the phone and too little time doing things around the house. I didn’t get to read. There was a lot going on at school over the past 24 hours.

But now I will relax. The leftovers are packed away, the dogs are tired, and I’m ready to read a book.

If you need me, I’ll be hiding.

Threatened by Eliot Schrefer

It’s no secret that I am a huge fan of Eliot Schrefer’s Endangered.  When I was able to get an advance copy of the next book in the Ape quartet at NCTE I was absolutely thrilled.  I may have begged my copy off of my good friend Jen, who would think I was insane if she wasn’t a book nut herself! Luckily, she was kind enough to give me the copy she picked up at the Scholastic book because they were all out by the time I got there.

When I got back from NCTE I was busy reading lots of Cybils nominees but I knew that Threatened would be one of the first books I read once my responsibilities to the Cybils were accomplished. Right before New Year’s Eve, after the shortlists were completed, I sat down and read Threatened in a single sitting.

Needless to say, I loved it. I can’t wait to share this with students and have discussions with those who have also read Endangered.  I think bonobos are still my favorite primates, but chimpanzees are fascinating.

Because I don’t want reinvent (rewrite?) the wheel, below is the flap copy for Threatened:

Into the jungle. Into the wild. Into harm’s way.

When he was a boy, Luc’s mother would warn him about the “mock men” living in the trees by their home — chimpanzees whose cries would fill the night.

Luc is older now, his mother gone. He lives in a house of mistreated orphans, barely getting by. Then a man calling himself Prof comes to town with a mysterious mission. When Luc tries to rob him, the man isn’t mad. Instead, he offers Luc a job.

Together, Luc and Prof head into the rough, dangerous jungle in order to study the elusive chimpanzees. There, Luc finally finds a new family — and must act when that family comes under attack.

This is a book that will grab you by the heartstrings and leave you gasping out loud. Heartbreaking, tragic, and triumphant, you will want to reach into the pages and help Luc and the chimpanzees in turn. There are no easy answers in Threatened, and I think that’s what I love most about it.  It’s a story about tragedy, triumph, conservation, AIDs, eco-tourism, Gabon, imperialism, the past, and the future.

Luc is an AIDs orphan whose sole focus is survival.  He’s been mistreated by the people around and left to fend for himself.  Is it any wonder that he dreams of building a home far from the city he is forced to live in? And Prof is mysterious and sad while dedicated to the study of chimpanzees.  Both characters are fully realized

Threatened  will be released next month and I highly recommend it for middle school and high school libraries.  It will be a terrific book club choice and I hope to see it honored with an award sticker or two in the coming months! Get your preorders in now!

2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 100,000 times in 2013. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 4 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Part I: #NCTE13

Every year after attending NCTE I struggle to summarize my experience. This year, inspired by my friend Cindy, I have decided to write two posts. Part I will focus on the events outside of the sessions I attended. Part II, coming later this week, will focus solely on the sessions I attended while I was there (and those I attended virtually, because there is no way to attend every session offered!)

NCTE is my home away from home. Even though it changes cities each year, the people make the event feel like home. This year’s conference was in Boston (which is now my favorite city) and it did not disappoint! I always leave physically exhausted but mentally rejuvenated, inspired, and renewed.

Chris and I arrived in Boston late Thursday night and checked into the Revere Hotel, which was gorgeous. I was presenting on Friday so I got everything ready and crashed. For the record, traveling by train is the way to go. So much better than the airport and airplanes, but just as exhausting! I tried not to spread myself too thin, but I still had a packed schedule for the weekend.

 

1. Don Graves breakfast Friday morning I was fortunate enough to be invited to a breakfast hosted by Heinemann. The Don Graves breakfast was inspiring, to say the least. My awesome friend Jen was my plus one and we spent the first few minutes in awe as we looked at the rest of the audience.  “There’s Penny Kittle! And Ralph Fletcher!” The names kept coming.  Plus, the audience was full of NerdyBookClub friends, so it was the best way to start my time at the conference.

The breakfast was inspiring, as many of my English teacher idols spoke about the influence the indomitable Don Graves had on their lives.  You can see Penny Kittle’s intro here and some of the video clips from the breakfast here. Thank you to Heinemann for including me in this inspiring and amazing breakfast.  What a way to kick off the weekend!  I left pondering some new ideas for writing workshop and with a lot of notes in my phone.

2. Ripped from the Headlines and Applied to the Classics I was very blessed to present at NCTE with my amazing editor from The Learning Network, Katherine Schulten.  We had a slight snafu when our 75 newspapers were not delivered for the session, but we made do.  Katherine had a back-up plan and it worked out beautifully.

When I arrived at the room, I was stunned.  I was expecting a few friends and maybe some others, but the room was packed.  As in, people sitting in the aisles and standing room only packed.  I was terrified.  Just as I was about to have a heart attack, the amazing Leeann Spillane introduced herself and handed me a present!  She created a piece of art especially for me and it’s stunning.  It also calmed me down and the session went wonderfully.

You can learn more about our presentation from this post on The Learning Network.   Leeann also wrote a post about the session here and Using Information Text wrote another.

 

3. Exhibit Hall The exhibit hall is a bit like the Colosseum. It’s overwhelming, loud, and sometimes I’m afraid for my life!  Ok, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. ;)  But it’s also a great place to make professional connections.  This year I spent a great deal of time chatting with publicists about upcoming books and ways to use them in the classroom.  I also met lots of authors and chatted with them about my students.

Me and Chris Crutcher (photo credit to the awesome Noah Schaffer)

Me and Chris Crutcher (photo credit to the awesome Noah Schaffer)

4. Nerdy Party Maybe my favorite part of NCTE13.  It began with a dinner with my Nerdy friends and then we made our way over to the hotel lounge around 8pm.  By 9pm the NerdyBookClub had taken over the hotel lounge and there were readers, authors, publishers, illustrators, poets, editors, and so many others mingling and chatting.  Every time I turned around there was someone else to chat with!  Chris and I stayed until midnight and I still didn’t get to talk to everybody! I did get a chance to chat with YA author Gae Polisner, which made the whole night worthwhile.

Four hours of conversation centered on books and writing.  There is nothing nerdier or better.  Thank you to my NerdyBookClub friends for including me in your adventures and throwing an awesome party!  I’m already looking forward to #nerdy14!

Nerdy friends! (photo credit to the awesome Noah Schaffer)

Nerdy friends! (photo credit to the awesome Noah Schaffer)

5. General Session A few weeks ago I received a phone call from Sandy Hayes, president of NCTE.  She asked me if I would speak as part of her President’s speech at NCTE.  Of course I immediately said yes! Then I felt the terror take over.  I worked on my speech for a few weeks, but in true High Tech fashion, I finished it right before getting on the train.

I knew I would be speaking as one of a group of teachers that Sandy had invited to share their stories so I was very intimidated.

I think it went well.  I did not have a heart attack while speaking, though it was terrifying.  But more importantly, I was inspired by the other teachers Sandy invited to speak.  Each one of them made me laugh and a few brought tears to my eyes. Sandy’s idea of sharing the speech was brilliant and I wish more people had made it to the ballroom to see her in action.

And the best part of being part of the President’s speech?

Nancie Atwell spoke a few minutes after I did.

Nancie Atwell.

My English teacher hero.  I babbled and looked like an idiot, but we had a great conversation.  She even took a few minutes to speak with me about my writing.  Bucket list item? I think so!

6. Catching Fire Scholastic invited some of the NCTE attendees to a private screening of Catching Fire. Greatest idea ever?  I’d say so!  David Levithan introduced the film and I definitely squealed like a fangirl.  Then I spent the next two hours gasping and covering my eyes alongside a theater full of fellow English nerds. Absolutely amazing! (And if you haven’t seen Catching Fire yet, what are you doing reading blogs?!  Get yourself to a movie theater, pronto!)

7. ALAN Cocktail Party I love ALAN.  This was the first year I stayed for the conference after NCTE and it certainly won’t be the last. I’ll write more about ALAN later, but the cocktail party capped off my NCTE experience. The ALAN cocktail party is a low-key event where teachers and authors get to mingle, provided you aren’t too shy to go up and introduce yourself.  I chickened out when it came to introducing myself to Laurie Halse Anderson (next year!), but I did meet Andrea Cramer.  Love her! I also stuck with the wonderful Paul Hankins for a bit and he introduced me to Nancy Garden, who was an inspiration. Special thanks to Paul for taking me under his wing for a bit.  That guy knows everyone!!

Oh!  And I met Judy Blume! I totally babbled and I think I said something like, “You’re Judy Blume!”. Pretty sure she already knew that.  But Judy Blume!

And the ALAN party also provided me with the opportunity to finally meet Eliot Schrefer in person. I read Endangered last year and then our school book club also read it. Endangered is probably my favorite book of the last year and it was brilliant getting a chance to chat with Eliot. We’ve chatted over social media but meeting in person was fabulous.  We spent about 25 minutes chatting and Eliot also introduced me to David Levithan and Bill Koenisburg.  What great guys! (My new mission is finding a way to bring Schrefer to do a school visit at HTHS…)

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Me, Eliot Schrefer, Jen Ansbach (thanks for the photo skills, Noah!)

The ALAN cocktail party was the best way to cap off my NCTE conference.  And it led directly into ALAN and the many panels that inspired me to be  a better reader and teacher.  But more about those sessions later….   Part II: NCTE Sessions and ALAN to come later this week!

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