St. Louis Book Battle!

October 8th, 2013

Hey all,

Two things to relate.  First, THE DEATH CATCHERS is the Featured Book of the Week for the St. Louis Area Wide Book Battle.  You can find my guest post here and learn more about this cool event.

Second, with the huge Dodger victory last night, some of you may be wondering if I should update my bio.  Perhaps if the Dodgers do as well in the NLCS as they did in the NLDS, I will have to.  Here’s hoping . . .



It has been awhile . . .

November 9th, 2012

My blog has been suffering from some serious neglect and I wanted to write to say that it may get worse before it gets better.  I have officially started a new job that will likely take up a fair amount of my time (at least that is what I hear :)).  But I wanted to write a note to thank everyone (hi Dad!) for their continued support over the past couple of years as I’ve been writing and touring.  In fact, this time last year I was hopping from middle school to middle school across the country.  Remembering this adventure has caused me to reflect, fondly, on all the wonderful school administrators, teachers, students and, of course, librarians I met during my travels.  I bookmarked this article and meant to share it ages ago, and even though it’s more than a few months old now I still think it’s worth mentioning in case you haven’t seen it.

On a personal note, I was lucky enough to have a front row seat over the past couple of years for vital role a school library can play in a middle-schooler’s life.  Fate has a funny way of tricking you into thinking that you’re headed in a straight line when you’re actually a walking the curve of a circle — sometimes you surprisingly find yourself in very familiar territory.   You see, when I was a kid, I was a frequent denizen of the school library (and public library) — it’s really the crux of the how and why of my wanting and eventually becoming a writer.

And a couple decades later, in the midst of my book tour adventures across the country, there was a moment when I realized I was, rather joyfully, right back where I started.  I marveled  as I found myself sitting in a undersized school middle school library chair, waiting for the bell to signal that my author talk was about to begin.   The school library I was visiting was teeming with kids, some loudly talking about their favorite volume of the Hunger Games, some rushing to check out a book they’d been hoping would come in, and others asking their well-loved librarian what they should read next.  Many sat quietly, saying nothing at all, noses delightfully buried in books.  This scene repeated itself many times over.  It warmed my heart each and every time.  And in most cases, I could tell it started with the librarian who sat behind the desk, whose excitement matched the kids’ own, and whose love of reading was obviously infectious.  There is no substitute for true passion and the librarians I met had it in spades.  Which is why I consider myself lucky to have walked among them, if only for a little while.

So until I hit the road again or have exciting book-related news to relate (which I certainly will do here and on the other social media I dabble in) please keep in touch and, more importantly, keep reading.  -JAK


A San Francisco Hello

April 22nd, 2012

Hi!  How are you?  I’m well, thank you.  So, I may or may not have been very bad about updating my blog over the last few months.  I promise, I had good reasons (like finishing a manuscript)   But I’ll get more into all that later.  For now, here is the view from my new digs (while I finish law school in Northern California).  Not bad, huh?  And yes, San Francisco is as unexpectedly cold as they say it is.




December 2nd, 2011

On Wednesday, I made my last visit of the calendar year and, let me tell you, it was a perfect school for a perfect ending.  I had visited Kraemer Middle School in Placentia several years ago and was excited to catch up with remarkable 8th grade language arts teacher Shane Twamley and wonderful librarian Vicky Kamen.  I hung out in the library for a of couple hours and the kids were as droll and endearing as they were the last time.  For instance, as you see below, they dressed up the library’s cardboard cutouts of Edward and Jacob in Death Catchers t-shirts.  You can’t see it in the picture, but Jacob even has a Death Catchers symbol pasted on his arm.

What really made my day, though, was seeing English teacher Shane Twamley again.  Not only is he an incredible teacher and host, but he helped inspire The Death Catchers!  It was when I was visiting his classroom several years ago and saw all the literary devices he had circling the walls of his room (complete with their own clever symbols) that I decided to use them as a way to tell the story itself.   Here we are in front of the literary device wall — Shane is holding up the lips that represent alliteration and I’m holding up a symbol representing third person point of view.

So here’s to an amazing end to an amazing fall. Thanks Shane and Vicky!





Oh Pioneer!

November 23rd, 2011

Last week I paid a visit to a school very close to where I grew up (though it didn’t exist when I was there), Pioneer Middle School in Tustin, CA.  I got to hang out with the warm and kindly Carol Moore and the friendly teachers all day, which was a treat.  Carol actually made these buttons for the occasion (collect all three!).

More importantly, though, my mind was blown during the fantastic lunch I had with Pioneer’s book club.  I can’t believe I had never learned how to appropriately eat a cupcake . . . by twisting off the bottom and making it a frosting sandwich.  See:

Though I assumed there was no way cupcakes could be more delicious, I was wrong.  Cupcakes/dessert/my life will never be the same.  Thanks for the tip and the terrific day, Pioneer! -JAK

P.S. Yes, the last two blog post titles have been bad tributes to Willa Cather novels (a couple of my favorites growing up).  It shouldn’t be too hard to figure out which ones.


My Antonio

November 23rd, 2011

Before I arrived in San Antonio, I had seen, edited and read my book before, but never really tasted it.  However, thanks to the wonderful book club at Harris Middle School, I got the opportunity.  One of the mothers of the book club there made cookies with my book covers on them.  Amazing.  You can see above that I couldn’t wait to take a picture before I took a bite out of The Death Catchers.  The intrepid librarian, Rae Downen, runs a parent/student book club that put on a breakfast for me, and it was a wonderful morning.

That afternoon I headed to Clear Spring Elementary, where the lovely Michele DuBois hosted me as I spoke to a room full of enthusiastic fourth and fifth graders, which was fun.  I don’t get to visit elementary schools very often, so I appreciated their unflagging energy.

The next day I was at Driscoll Middle School in the affable presence of librarian Ellen Hagan.  I was also treated to a delicious lunch with some of the great Driscoll students.

I spent my final day in San Antonio with Teresa Diaz at Eisenhower Middle School.  I knew to expect a fabulous day from Teresa and Eisenhower (or Ike if you prefer) because I had visited there on my last tour.  And I was not disappointed.  The kids who chatted with me during their lunch in the library were as hilarious as they were lively.  Which was very lively indeed.



Washington oh Washington

November 15th, 2011

Sure, it rains quite a bit in Seattle (and it did while I was there), but I now firmly believe that it’s a small price to pay for the jaw-dropping vistas that exist pretty much, well, everywhere you look in the Seattle area.  Here is one behind me of the Puget Sound.










Needless to say, I had a great week, which included friends, family and the wonderful people at Third Place Books (especially Rene).  I spoke there on Tuesday.  I never tire of investigating who I wind up on the shelf next to . . . see:

I also went to four schools in the area.  I started out at Redmond Junior High, hosted by the delightful Kendra Friday (who was in the Halloween spirit in an awesome spider costume).  The students had on some great costumes, including a student dressed as a mustard bottle who volunteered to be teleported.  His request?  To go to a backyard barbeque, which was clever enough to make me guffaw in the middle of my talk. Also, they have a pretty spectacular mascot costume, seen below:






On Tuesday, I arrived at Third Place Books early to chat with Bill Kenower from Author Magazine.  The interview is now up online and can be found here:  Bill is a writer himself, and also an expert interviewer (I forgot it was an interview and thought were just chatting by the end).

After signing and speaking at Third Place Books (seriously one of the best bookstores around – though it’s also so much more than that), I spent Wednesday in the Mukilteo area.  After teaching me how to say “Mukilteo,” musician/media specialist Midge Livingtston showed me around Harbour Point Middle School and entertained my friend Mary (who was nice enough to travel with me during the week) and me for the entire morning.  I had never before met an orchestra teacher turned librarian, but Midge made me wish there were more of them out there.

I spent the afternoon with the winsome Susan Rahkonen at Voyager Middle School and was confused until I found out it was crazy hair day there.  The students were awesome (and asked some pretty darn insightful questions).

My last day was at Evergreen Middle School with Shauna Yusko.  In addition to being a great librarian, Shauna has also runs a charity organization in her free time.  Yup. I agree. Pretty amazing.  Next up, a report from my visit to San Antonio! JAK



November 9th, 2011

Visiting Tampa in late October makes you keenly aware of the reason people settle in Florida.  The average temperature while I was there was about 75 degrees and it was non-stop gorgeous.  I spent my first day at two schools.  The first was Randall with newly transplanted librarian Lowrey Wilson – and let me tell you, Randall is lucky to have Lowrey.  I then hightailed it to the oldest Middle School in Tampa, named after Princeton alum and president Woodrow Wilson (go Tigers!), where Steve Bellis was presiding over his very busy media center with collected aplomb.  Wilson had some pretty amazing mascot murals on its walls (they are the bulldogs) – including this one in, you guessed it, the cafeteria.

The next day I was in Plant City, Florida (which I think wins the award for the best-named town I’ve been to so far) at Tomlin Middle School.  Interesting fact:  Did you know that Plant City is known as the “winter strawberry capital?”  Well it is.  I now will never forget this due to the generosity of Darlene Meginnis, who loaded me up with all sorts of tasty strawberry goodies.  Anyway, Tomlin was fabulous and so was Darlene.

I spoke to very enthusiastic crowds in the impressive gymnasium at Walker Middle School and was in the best of company with reading coach Susan Jaksec and librarian Sara Labarbera.  They even put my name up on the school sign (which always makes me feel much more official and important than I am :)).

Then, it was on to my final stop – Martinez Middle School in Lutz.  I went to Martinez last time I was touring and it was one of my favorite stops so it was an absolute pleasure to go back and visit with the wonderful Jeanette Whitman and the staff at Martinez.   I already can’t wait to return.  Next up . . . Seattle.




November 7th, 2011

I’ve fallen behind on my blogging, which is like a travelogue these days because of all the places I’ve been lucky enough to visit on my book tour.  The Denver/Colorado Springs area was certainly one of the prettier spots I’ve been so far – perhaps because Fall had just started showing its yellow and red hued face.  I made my first stop at the appropriately named Evergreen Middle School in Evergreen, CO where I met the charming Debbie Richards.  She presented a pretty convincing case as to why everyone should live in Colorado.  I’m certainly seriously considering it.

It was then on to wonderful Marla Caviness-French’s library at The Manning School.  My jaw hit the floor when I learned that, at The Manning School next semester, each member of one particular class will devote himself or herself to writing a novel.  For me, eighth grade was hard enough without attempting to write a novel, so I was extraordinarily impressed and am very excited to hear how it all turns out.

I ventured down to Colorado Springs, where Dianna Fricke at Challenger Middle School warmly welcomed me.  I spent lunch eating with Challenger’s newly formed Writing Club and soon wished I were a member.  I ended the week at Mountain Ridge Middle School – whose mascot I learned is the grizzly bear, even though there are no grizzlies currently in Colorado.  The awesome Cristen Hardin has a knack for interior design (needless to say, her library was extraordinarily cozy) and was nice enough to point me in the direction of Garden of the Gods (which is where I took the pictures below with the amazing fall colors).  If you’re ever in the Colorado Springs area, run, don’t walk, to the Garden of the Gods.  Actually, maybe just drive because you can do a cool loop in your car, complete with handy signs indicating where you can (and should) stop to take a snapshot.  Here are a couple that I took:


Third Place Books

October 31st, 2011


Just wanted to let you know, if you’re in the Seattle area, I’ll be at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park on Tuesday at 7pm and would love to see you there!

Here is the info: