5 ways to head back to school

Our authors take us on a stroll through memory lane as they give us a glimpse into their lives as students.

Sherry Shahan back to school graduation 2From Vietnam

Being in high school during the tumultuous 1960s was insane. That was the time of the first Watts Riots and seemingly endless Vietnam War. We didn’t have cell phones, let alone text. My family only had one landline. No call-waiting or answering machine. I exchanged lengthy hand-written letters with my friends at school. (Usually composed during math.) When a guy in our crowd was drafted it seemed logical that I send juicy tidbits of our crowd’s shenanigans. (His letters have been in a tattered shoebox for nearly 50 years.) I believe those years of intense correspondence shaped me into the writer I am today. –Author Sherry Shahan

LauraHurwitzandbrother1950s or so back to school

Pictured: Author Laura Hurwitz with her brother in the 1950s

The summer between 5th and 6th grade my family moved to a different part of town, which meant going to a new school. While my reputation for being a shy nerd had been etched in stone at my old school, I had a shot at a clean slate. When I showed up at the bus stop wearing the back-to-school outfit my mother picked out, which included white socks and saddle shoes like Blanche DuBois, I found myself dependent upon the kindness of a stranger, Diana, who was a year older than me and exponentially cooler. She told me it would be a mistake to wear this outfit to school, as I would get made fun of. She suggested I take the socks off and hide them in a nearby hedge. Then, the second I got home from school, I should make my mother buy a pair of penny loafers for me. I followed her instructions, thereby surviving sixth grade. To this day I don’t know why she went out of her way to be kind to me, but I do know this: I was not an outcast because pretty, popular Diana was not a stereotype. –Laura Hurwitz


Pictured: Author Jolene Perry in high school

When I was in high school, we had open campus for lunch. But the ability to leave during lunch didn’t do us much good because my high school was a small school out in the sticks. We’d attempted to make a Taco Bell run during lunch, but always missed the first ten minutes of fifth period because it was about fifteen miles away. The consolation? Near the end of the long road that our school sat on the end of was a fireworks stand with a gigantic gorilla out front. Lunch consisted of speeding down Hawk Lane, driving under the large gorilla while honking obnoxiously and then off-roading down the four-wheeler trailer, and into the middle of the creek at the bottom of the hill. We’d crawl out the windows of my truck into the bed and eat lunch with the creek water running around us. One of those very unique experiences that doesn’t feel unique until much later. And every time I drive by that fireworks stand, I remember high school lunch. –Jolene Perry

Felicia Chernesky first day of school 1969 smaller

Pictured: Author Felicia Sanzari Chernesky on the first day of school in 1969

Like most parents, this time each August I’m eager for the school year to arrive (cue that popular Staples commercial). Even as a young child I’d get butterflies anticipating those first September school days. I soon associated school bus rides with falling leaves and apple picking, and the harvest season came to signify bounty and new adventures in learning and independence. I remember the thrill of poring over a Scholastic book flyer and getting to choose one book myself! My first treasured selections: Happiness Is a Warm Puppy, by Charles Schulz, and the wonderfully silly Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing, by Judi and Ron Barrett. The well-worn copies still populate our family bookshelves. Something resonated within my school and autumn-loving spirit when From Apple Trees to Cider, Please! came to fruition. I’m delighted to discover that the kinds of storytelling and artwork that nourished my love of reading and learning is growing within my own books! To all things there is a season—and I’m grateful to be finding my purpose and place. –Felicia Sanzari Chernesky


Pictured: Author Jacqueline Jules

In fourth grade, our teacher—a slim brunette in her early twenties—read aloud Robert Lawson’s Ben and Me: An Astonishing Life of Benjamin Franklin by His Good Mouse Amos. I remember the delight on my teacher’s face as she read Amos’s account of Benjamin Franklin’s illustrious career. Amos, the mouse, has such a strong personality in the book. I almost felt like I was in that fur hat whispering in Franklin’s ear and watching him attend political gatherings in France. Of course I knew that a mouse didn’t really provide the creative ideas for Franklin’s amazing success, but the mouse-size view of history was highly amusing. I loved sitting in my desk listening to the story come alive in my teacher’s lilting voice. She was always smiling when she read aloud. Enjoying Ben and Me as a group experience has stayed with me through the years. I can still see the image of my teacher, chuckling while she read in front of the class. In today’s world, there isn’t always time to read books aloud in the classroom. I am grateful that I grew up in a more relaxed educational era and could enjoy many classroom read alouds. It helped make me the reader (and writer) I am today. –Jacqueline Jules

What’s your favorite back-to-school memory?

5 ways to head back to school

5 ways to experience back to school

Our authors dive into their childhoods to describe a memorable school experience as you go back to school this fall.

Linda Joy with best friend Lori bus stop first day jr high

                                   Pictured: Author Linda Joy Singleton with best friend Lori                                       at the bus stop on the first day of junior high school.

While starting a new school year could sometimes cause anxiety, especially when my best friend was going to a different school, the one thing that made returning to school fun was my back-to-school shopping day with Mom. I have three siblings so going out with Mom alone was rare. Before school started every year, each of us kids went out individually to buy school supplies and have lunch with Mom. After buying paper, pencils, binders and a new outfit to wear on the first day of school, we’d climb up to the lunch counter at Woolworths and order burgers and fries. I think I enjoyed this special lunch more than getting new clothes. And I’d always end this fun outing with a milk shake for dessert. –Linda Joy Singleton

WhitneyStewart back to school

Pictured: Author Whitney Stewart as a young child

Back to school was always hard for me. I LOVED summer swimming and bike riding. And trips to the penny-candy store. But one thing made back to school fun—BOOK FAIRS! My mom is a big reader too, and she’d let me buy an armload of books at the fair. I could trade them for my allowance. I’d stack my new books on my desk and stare at them, dreaming of the stories I’d discover. I’d smell my books and run my hands over the clean pages. I’ve never lost that love of books—new or old. As long as the teachers let me read, I was a happy girl. –Whitney Stewart 

Nancy Viau ponytail school pic

Pictured: Author Nancy Viau as a child

I couldn’t wait to go back to school every September! I had my pencils sharpened, notebooks labeled, and my Scotch-plaid school bag packed and sitting at the front door by August 1st. I have very fond memories of my metal lunchbox, a favorite back-to-school item. After all, it was also Scotch-plaid like my school bag, and it came with a matching Thermos, which meant my mom trusted me with something that could shatter in an instant if dropped. I carried it like it was a glass goblet. When the first day came, I jumped out of bed the second I was called. I dove into my outfit (skirt, cardigan, knee socks, black and white saddle shoes), and skipped to the bus stop. No one was there, of course. I was always an hour early. That back-to-school enthusiasm never faded in high school or college. Always first in class and last to leave; I never wanted to miss a thing. –Nancy Viau

sarah lynn scheerger in 7th grade

Pictured: Author Sarah Lynn Scheerger in seventh grade

Middle school is a time of change. Changing classes, changing friends, changing bodies, changing “out” for P.E. (ugh.) One special part of my routine did not change. Our English teacher, Mrs. Moore, read out loud to us for the first fifteen minutes of every class period. I had English right after lunch, and I remember sitting in my seat, listening to the shushing sound of the air conditioner, and drinking in the story. It was one of my favorite parts of each day. I particularly remember her reading the book Tuck Everlasting out loud. After she read, she’d pause and ask us what we thought of the story. Good times. –Sarah Lynn Scheerger

Alison Ashley Formento back to school

Pictured: Author Alison Formento in first grade

When I do author visits, one of the throwback photos I share is my first grade school picture. The dress I’m wearing is made from a fabric with an autumn leaf print. I loved this dress because I felt like I was wearing a tree. I loved and still love climbing trees, hiking through a thick forest, and sitting under the shade of a tree to read a book. I was a daydreamer (I still am!) in school, often looking out of the classroom windows. It helped me focus to see the trees behind our school, especially when writing or tackling math problems. It’s no different now. If I gaze at the trees in my yard, or take a nice walk in my local park, I’m always more focused when I sit down to write.  –Alison Formento

What’s your favorite back-to-school memory?

5 ways to experience back to school

Reading Aloud—To Your TWEEN?

Lori Haskins Houran is a children’s book editor and the author of several books for young children, including How to Spy on A Shark. Lori shares some of her favorite tales to read out loud to her tweens in this week’s Friday Reads!

It is weird that I read to my kids every night?

They’re not little. My younger son is 9, and my older son turns 12 next month. They’ve been reading independently for years now, but they still insist that I read aloud at bedtime. The few times I’ve tried to beg off—I’m tired./I have a sore throat./Downton Abbey is coming on!—they’ve looked as shocked as if I suggested skipping dinner.

Pippi LongstockingSideways Stories from Wayside School

Occasional slacking aside, I do love reading to my boys. It’s a chance for snuggling—and smuggling. By that I mean I can sneak in personal favorites they might otherwise miss: Little House in the Big Woods, Sideways Stories from Wayside School, Pippi Longstocking, All-of-a-Kind Family. (I’m just now realizing how many of my choices feature female protagonists. Not once have my sons complained or even commented. So much for the old publishing saw that boys don’t like stories about girls.)

Charlie and the Chocolate Factorystuart little

A few other must-reads I would have added had my kids not already enjoyed them at school or on their own: Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and the essential trio of Charlotte’s Web, The Trumpet of the Swan, and Stuart Little.

Not every selection has worked out as well as I expected. I thought my boys would enjoy The Borrowers, but they didn’t warm to it. A Wrinkle in Time felt confusing as a read-aloud, and I’m sad to say that we gave up on it after three nights. I hope my boys will read it to themselves soon and adore it as much as I do. 

a wrinkle in time

I don’t always choose the books, of course. My boys’ picks have included everything from comic books and movie tie-ins (I can tell you pretty much anything you need to know about Batman, Star Wars, and the Avengers) to gems that I might otherwise have missed, among them Jacqueline Davies’ The Lemonade War, Tom Angleberger’s Origami Yoda, and Cynthia Lord’s Rules.


I don’t know long I’ll continue reading aloud to my kids. Will I Skype them in college and read The Secret Garden? No, no, that would definitely be weird…right? But for now, I’ll keep going.

Do you still read to your tweens/pre-teens? What’s on your must-read list?

Reading Aloud—To Your TWEEN?

#Fridayreads: Anne’s House of Dreams

It’s #FridayReads with metadata master and sales team all-star Caity Anast, who talks about her current reads:

Before Christmas, I decided to listen to Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery in the car. It is my all-time favorite book. Not only have I read the series, seen the TV mini-series with Megan Follows and Colleen Dewhurst, but I have also been to the Anne of Green Gables festival on Prince Edward Island. I love Anne and have always thought we would be wonderful friends. It has been more than 20 years since I have read the books, but I so enjoyed listening to the first story on audio that I decided to reread the whole series. Lucky for me, I have it on my bookshelf. I am nearing the end of Book 5, Anne’s House of Dreams. Even though I know what is going to happen, I still enjoy watching it all unfold. Every night, I look forward to getting into bed and traveling back to Avonlea or wherever Anne seems to be.


Every year for Christmas, my husband and I try to get a nice book for each of our children—a book that they will keep for a long time. I knew what to get my 9-year-old daughter immediately. She loved Wonder by R.J. Palacio (as did I, finishing it up near midnight on New Year’s Eve 2013), so when I saw 365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Browne’s Book of Precepts, I knew it would be perfect. As you can guess, there is a precept for every day. Some are from famous people and some are from readers who wrote to the author. My daughter has decided to read a precept a day, and together we read it at night before bed. One of our favorites is: “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.—Anne Frank.” (I love that they did not put a jacket on the book, but embossed it instead. Those jackets just end up getting in the way!)

Book of Wonder

I was having a more difficult time coming up with something for my son. He likes sports books, but I try to introduce him to other genres. When I was working at my daughter’s school’s book fair, I found the perfect book for him, Lincoln’s Grave Robbers by Steve Sheinkin.

Last year, he read Chasing Lincoln’s Killer by James L. Swanson for school and loved it. This past summer, we went to Springfield, Illinois, where we toured the Lincoln library, his home, and also stopped by the cemetery where Lincoln is buried. This story is a thriller based on the real events that happened in 1876 when President Lincoln’s body was stolen and held for ransom. My son has enjoyed it so much that he has read it four times. As soon as I finish the Anne of Green Gables series, I promised him I would read it, too.


#Fridayreads: Anne’s House of Dreams

#FridayReads: T. Jefferson Parker’s FULL MEASURE

Director of Sales & Marketing Mike Spradlin tell us why he loves T. Jefferson Parker’s latest thriller! 

I have been a fervent fan of novelist T. Jefferson Parker since I read his first book Laguna Heat, back in the late ’80s. I believe he is the best thriller writer in America today. His stories are complex but relatable. His heroes and heroines are almost always tragically flawed in some way (which makes them all the more interesting). And his writing is so deeply moving, one feels almost as if you are reading an epic poem instead of a novel.

Laguna Heat

In his latest book Full Measure, Parker takes his talent a giant leap forward. While there is crime, death, and shattered life in Full Measure, the focus of the story is on the victims and their families. As always, he delivers a taut, crisp morality play that makes you think, and fills you with hope and despair (sometimes in the same sentence!). But in the end, he gives you a greater understanding of the human condition.

Full Measure

Full Measure is primarily a story about family. Patrick and Ted Norris are two brothers whose lives have taken different paths. Growing up on an avocado farm in Fallbrook, California, Patrick and Ted share idyllic childhoods in many ways. Yet like all of Parker’s characters, they soon learn the idyll is a myth. Ted, born with mild birth defects in his legs and feet, is never able to measure up to his demanding farmer father. Patrick is consumed by wanderlust and joins the Marines when he graduates from high school. The story begins with Patrick returning from his deployment to Afghanistan.

Once home, he discovers an ugly truth. There are always wars, just different kinds. The kind where you know who and where your enemies are, even if they are there in the darkness, and the other kind, where people you once knew, whom you thought you could trust, are only reflections of the people you left behind. Where sometimes the enemy is sitting right next to you. And it is impossible to not be scarred by them both.

Patrick returns home to find the family farm on the brink of collapse after a fire, set by an arsonist, has burned through Fallbrook. Inevitably, he is drawn into a web of lies, deceit and intrigue all the while dealing with his own post traumatic stress over the men he served with, whom he could not save. His life’s dream is nearly within his grasp when he uncovers a horrible secret about his family that forces him to give it up to save them.

When Ted begins behaving strangely, including hanging out with questionable characters, Patrick, like all good brothers, must step in and save Ted from himself. All the while the arson investigation draws nearer and nearer. Until Patrick discovers a horrible truth that could destroy his family and everything he holds most dear.

I loved reading Full Measure. I hated finishing it for precisely the same reason. Because it was a great book. And now I have to wait until Parker writes another.

#FridayReads: T. Jefferson Parker’s FULL MEASURE

Cookbooks with Kiki! It’s another edition of #FridayReads with AW Staffers!

Today’s #FridayReads post comes from Kiki Schotanus, upstanding member of the Albert Whitman purchasing department!  Take it away Kiki:

Forced against my will to write a bit about books, I have chosen to write about the kinds of books I read the most – cookbooks! I love cookbooks. I love everything from the $10 church cookbooks and treasured classics like Joy of Cooking to cutting edge cookbooks like Chef Homaro Cantu’s The Miracle Berry Diet Cookbook. I have recently created a ‘Cookbook Nook’ in the back of our house where I pared down to 50 of my favorite cookbooks (shared with a bit of our Costco overflow). I go back there for peace & quiet. A feeling of comfort overcomes me when I’m amongst some of my favorite possessions in the world, cookbooks.

The Nook! (It shares the space with a little Costco overflow…)

Cookbook reading is not limited to The Cookbook Nook, though. I also read cookbooks in bed at night just to read a few more recipes before sleep.

Tonight at our house we will be celebrating our annual ‘Friendsgiving.’ We’ll be enjoying good friends and good food & wine. Of course the evening wouldn’t be complete without Catch Phrase! As for the food, all dishes are composed of seafood so as to not compete with any turkey that will be served the following Thursday. This year we’ll start the evening with Old Fashioneds and an appetizer of Clams in Broth. The first course will be Potato Fennel Soup with Smoked Salmon. The entrée will be Scallops with Apple Pan Sauce served with homemade egg pasta fettuccine and a side of Swiss Chard and Sorrel Gratin. We’re ending the evening with Chocolate Cream Pie and Nespressos.

Here are a few of my favorite cookbooks and favorite recipes:

jpeg-2Ina Garten’s first cookbook The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook, check out the Parmesan Chicken – a family favorite.

The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook from 1985, see Salmon Mousse.

The Pie and Pastry Bible from Rose Levy Beranbaum has the all time best peach pie recipe.



Amy’s Bread has my go to French bread recipe.

Pioneer Woman Cooks is as an entertaining read as it is a great resource for recipes.

Homesick Texan is where a get my TexMex on!

The cookbook I plan to make more use of in the coming months is Ottelenghi’s Plenty, long live eggplant!

When I’m not reading cookbooks, I’m tasked with completing my book club selection. Most recently we chose to read Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. Early in the book we learn that Theo, the protagonist, loses his mother when he is 13 years old. It is a riveting novel bringing the reader from Park Avenue to the underworld of illegal black market art selling. Tartt takes her time to develop the characters, an aspect I appreciated. Others found that she could have written this book in half the amount of pages.


I was looking forward to a lively discussion of this book and its many intriguing themes, but was surprised to find out that I was the only one to completely read all 771 pages. Sadly, good discussions were not to be had. Threatened with disbandment, the book clubbers have agreed to read all book selections going forward.

Cookbooks with Kiki! It’s another edition of #FridayReads with AW Staffers!

#FridayReads with Ellen Kokontis, Albert Whitman’s Art Services Supervisor

Happy Friday!  Today’s installment of #FridayReads comes to us from Albert Whitman’s Art Services Supervisor, Ellen Kokontis.  Take it away, Ellen!

I think that there is a misconception out there that if you were an English major, if you love books, and if you are a girl, that it follows that you are not only part of the cheering squad of 19th century British women authors, but that you internalize their romances and seek them out in your own life. You moon over Heathcliff-ish moody brooders. You are fascinated with the Rochester-esque Byronic hero. You develop a Darcy complex. And while I have known women who fit this description, I am not one of them. Heathcliff is a bully, Rochester is a creep, and Darcy is just plain annoying.


So when my friend suggested I read a book called The Eyre Affair, I thought, ugh, I’m not in the mood for pale English people suffering on the Heath. But I put some faith in my friend and checked it out from the library. I haven’t been the same since.


The English world of The Eyre Affair is not the dreary 1800s, but an alternate dimension in the 1980s, in which time travel, cloning, and dangerous cheese smuggling all exist. This world is the home of Thursday Next, Swindon’s crack investigator of SpecOps department 27, the literary detectives tasked with rooting out forgeries and tracking down stolen manuscripts. The Eyre Affair introduces the reader to this world’s many idiosyncrasies, like the Neanderthal rights movement and pet dodos, as well as Thursday’s family, which includes her father, a rogue time-travel agent who constantly pops in and out of Thursday’s life and also has never existed.

Now, I know you are thinking that this sounds absolutely nuts. And it is. But these details work themselves perfectly into the backdrop of the narrative to amuse but never distract.

The real delight of this book is when its characters start hopping into other well-known works of fiction. Acheron Hades, an evil English-professor-turned-master-criminal starts kidnapping characters and threatens to change the endings of beloved novels if his demands are not met. It is a tall order for Thursday to track this villain down, but she soon learns, with the help of Edward Rochester, that she has the ability to read herself into books.

See, within this crazy alternate dimension is another layer of realitythat of the book world, where characters act out their book’s plot in infinite repetition, and they are forced to follow what the author has written, whether they like it or not. But like actors in the wings, they break character when the narrative no longer centers on them. (For example, in later books you find Ms. Havisham drag racing, Marianne Dashwood chain smoking, and Heathcliff—albeit reluctantly—participating in group therapy) So I have come to have my own special affection for Rochesterbut Fforde’s Rochester, not Charlotte Bronte’s. This protagonist is active, kind, helpful, and appreciative of Thursday’s work, and so markedly different from his original form.

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot—or rather I can’t really without going into extensive detail about Thursday’s world. All I can say is that if you like British silliness and have a fondness for language, then you should read this book. And if you like it as much as I did, then you’re in luck, because there are six sequels, with the series’ conclusion to come. The sequels delve deeper into the book world and introduce more hilarious Fforde versions of literary figures.


Don’t be shy if you haven’t read every Classic—even a cursory knowledge of British literature is enough to understand what’s going on. The true joy of these books is Fforde’s boundless imagination and wit. I’ve made my way through the fourth book, and I can’t wait to keep going.



I’ll leave you with my favorite quote from The Well of Lost Plots, the third book in the series, which takes place almost exclusively in the book world.

…A knock on the door revealed an untidy man wearing a hat named Wyatt.

“Sorry,” he said sheepishly, apologizing for the misrelating grammatical construction almost immediately, “Wyatt is my name, not the hat’s.”

#FridayReads with Ellen Kokontis, Albert Whitman’s Art Services Supervisor

#FridayReads with Albert Whitman Staff

It’s the perfect storm! #Fridayreads and #BannedBooksWeek. You know all of us at Albert Whitman love books. Publishing them and reading them. Going forward, every #FridayReads we’re going to have one of our staffers talk about a book they’re currently reading. Today, we start off with our Director of Sales and Marketing Mike Spradlin:

I kind of chuckle to myself that ALA reports ever increasing challenges of comics and graphic novels in the last few years. Growing up, if it wasn’t for comics, I know I wouldn’t be the reader I am today. I read all of them I could get my hands on, and still do to this day. Right now I’m enjoying the Fables graphic novels by Bill Willingham, James Jean and Alex Maleev.


The story takes place in a contemporary world, where all of the characters from classic fables and fairy tales have been driven from their world, and forced to live among mankind. Many of them like Snow White and her ex-husband Prince Charming can pass as human, but many such, as the three little pigs, must keep to the shadows. All the ‘fables’ want is to unite and remove a mysterious, malevolent evil from their homelands that drove them into our world in the first place. But much like human beings, factions develop, trust issues abound and they find that even with a common enemy uniting is harder than first thought. It’s a great story, with terrific art and I highly recommend it.

Happy Friday and Happy Reading!

#FridayReads with Albert Whitman Staff

Beijing International Book Fair 2010

By Kristie in International & Digital

Although this was our second year participating at the Beijing International Book Fair, I still could not help being overwhelmed by the amount of traffic our booth generated. There were plenty of times when I turned around after talking with fellow fairgoers to find our display shelves were nearly empty because all the books were in the hands of folks browsing our books. A few of their favorites were the Boxcar Children© Mysteries, Robert E. Wells series, and The Way I Feel series.

When I was able to steal a few minutes on day three from all the scheduled meetings with local publishers, distributors, and agents, I strolled around the exhibition halls a little. The most interesting part of this book fair is that exhibitions are mainly separated into two main sections – the international exhibitors and the domestic Chinese exhibitors. The set up of the international hall (where we were located) was divided by each country with their own pavilions. Upon entering the Chinese hall, visitors were greeted by three floors of local publishing houses, grouped by their provinces, along with special pavilions of India (the Guest of Honor country this year) and Digital. Many provinces had beautiful pavilions with a touch of their local flavors.  I will let the photos speak for themselves here.

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Beijing International Book Fair 2010