Book Bingo spices up summer reading for grown-ups

You wouldn’t think adults would be so crazy nostalgic about checking off the books they read, harkening back to their summers spent reading library books. But say the words “adult summer reading program” and you’ve got our attention.

Enter Book Bingo and we’re hooked.

Summer Book Bingo Card

This summer, Seattle Public Library and Seattle Arts & Lectures brought grown-up readers across the city a summer reading program just for us — and we’re absolutely loving it. In Summer Book Bingo, each square on the bingo card is a challenge — read a book by a local author, read a book translated from another language, read a book set somewhere you’ve always wanted to go, and so on. Get five in a row horizontally, vertically, or diagonally and you’ve got “bingo” (and a chance to win prizes).

But the best part? It’s not the prizes. The absolute best part is that people around the city are talking about what they’re reading. We’re hearing about it in our libraries, seeing people share what they’re reading for each square on Twitter and Instagram (#BookBingoNW), and listening in while readers offer each other suggestions to get to bingo.

adam silveraLast summer, my favorite podcast, “Books on the Nightstand,” did a fabulous job starting conversations — and keeping them going — through its version of Book Bingo. Podcast hosts Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness offered suggestions each week on the podcast, and readers shared its suggestions, too. Its Goodreads group is impressive with 5,000 members; its discussions are topical and there are already more than 50 book bingo categories being discussed. People love to talk about what they’re reading and people love to read about what to read next.

Anyone can play along with “Books on the Nightstand” and players get different cards. You can get a randomized line up of reading challenges by printing from here (refresh before printing). I’m sure the intent is to take whichever card you’re handed, but I’ll admit to hitting refresh three times before printing. Sorry, I just really couldn’t face a book with footnotes, after not finishing David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest two summers in a row; my next card had “read a biography of someone you dislike” AND “read a book you think you’ll dislike.” Too much disliking for my summer reading … but a simple “refresh” and I’ve got a card that challenges, but isn’t a turn off.

Even if you don’t play the “BOTNS” version of Book Bingo, its podcasts, shownotes, and discussion boards are excellent places to get ideas for what to read next.

black holeSeattle’s Book Bingo version (which has also made it to France and Médiathèque Languidic, a library in Languidic, for Biblio Bingo) has just one card. The categories are open-ended enough that it doesn’t seem to matter if you read fiction or nonfiction. And the good thing about one standardized card is that it brings some structure and commonalities to reading discussions around the city. You can walk into any library or independent book store and pick up a bingo card, talk to librarians and booksellers about what to read, maybe even talk with other customers or library patrons. There really is potential for three months of people talking about what they’re reading.

I find this city-wide focus on reading — and talking about books — extremely satisfying. Reading is, of course, solitary, yet so many of us are looking for a community of readers. We can read alone, together. We can talk about what we’re reading when we feel like it, if we feel like it. We can feel the satisfaction of finishing a good book and writing the title in a bingo square.

Right now my Book Bingo card is on my refrigerator. This is one summer reading program piece I plan to keep, long after summer ends.

This post originally appeared on Huffington Post 7/12/2015 here.

Timeless intrigue of Greek myths

Bigger than life characters, epic battles, good versus evil, outlandish monsters and over-the-top family strife are just a few reasons Greek myths are now — just as they have been for generations — absolutely irresistible for middle grade readers. And while no kid wants to hear this now, getting a grounding in Greek tales will serve these young readers well the rest of their lives. So many references in literature (Shakespeare, for one) and pop culture have roots in these myths, and they’ll also provide fodder for kids’ own stories and interpretations.

shadowthievesIf <strong>Percy Jackson and the Olympians</strong> first reeled your reader to Poseidon, Zeus, and Athena, you may be wondering what books to grab next. Or maybe your reader likes the idea of Greek myths, but isn’t really sold on the whole Percy Jackson thing. Either way, here are some ideas for what to read next:

Timeless intrigue of Greek Myths for middle readers — From The Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors  (continue to read post I wrote … ):


Where the Story Is ….

——  this post was written for and originally appeared on From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors blog —–

“Geography of Nowhere” – the session at the Association of Writing Programs (AWP) conference on April 11, 2015, caught my interest before I noticed the powerhouse lineup of authors presenting (Kirstin Cronn-Mills, Nikki Loftin, Janet Fox, and Geoff Herbach). The topic of setting as character is one a writing pal and I have recently been discussing (read: obsessing over). How do some writers create a sense of place that roots the story and gives the characters context? On the flip side, how can we avoid the excessive description that I keep encountering in books I’m reading (and abandoning) recently?

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Details in “The Sinister Sweetness of Splendid Academy” by Nikki Loftin bring each corner and shadow to life. Setting is a sinister character.

I walked into the session just as Kirstin Cronn-Mills talked about the setting of one of her YA books (The Sky Always Hears Me and the Hills Don’t Mind) as “fifty miles from the closest Target.” Brilliant! With six words she immediately conjures the expansiveness and confines of the character’s hometown.

Each of the panelists talked about sensory details, like how the sound of wind changes at the top of a hill. And in some locations, you can’t overlook the weather. In Texas in August, Nikki Loftin said, the weather is a character; it’s there in the dust and the sweat and the sheer oppressiveness of heat.

“Choose details that will reflect an aspect or emotion of the main character,” Janet Fox advised. In Nightingale’s Nest, Loftin created a bargain store — the kind that exist in towns too small to attract big-name big-box stores — called Emperor’s Emporium. She needed the specificity of this store to show the longing of her main character, John, whose family’s poverty is a level below the people who shop there

What about the settings that seem so mundane and repetitive to many of us? The suburbs or the residential housing along interstate corridors? Cronn-Mills sees these as “a blank canvas that you can embroider;” authors can create quirky places where kids want to go.

My notes from this conference session are full of arrows and underlines, along with my own characters’ names and details of their surroundings. In the midst of revising a manuscript, the nuggets I gained from this session are helping me cut and clarify. And that is a glorious thing.

This was my second year attending the AWP conference, and I again was overwhelmed by how helpful, instructive, and motivating these sessions can be. There were 13,000 writers in Minneapolis for the 2015 AWP gathering, and hundreds of sessions on the craft of writing. This is a hard-working and hard-writing group, and workshops were every hour, right through lunch and dinner, and beyond. The focus of the conference isn’t on writing for children — there were only a handful that specifically called out middle-grade — but every presentation I attended had a valuable take away. I want to be a better writer, and this focus on words — rather than marketing and selling — was pretty spectacular.

See more blog posts about reading and writing middle grade books at
From the Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors blog. 

Science Friday: An astronaut answers Seattle librarians’ question from the International Space Station

Our video made it all the way to the International Space Station. Here’s a blog post I did for Seattle Public Library:

Shelf Talk

by Linda J.

We made a little video and sent it into outer space, asking astronaut Reid Wiseman, currently living and working on the International Space Station, to talk about a book that changed his view of the world. His thoughtful answer shows the power of imagination and what reading means in his life. Take a look!

I must say that it is pure pleasure to work at a place like Seattle Public Library where, on a Sunday morning, you can say to three of your librarian coworkers: “Hey, do you guys want to make a video with me and send it to the International Space Station?” And then your three coworkers/friends jump up and say “Of course!” before they even ask any questions about it. David Wright is on the left, asking the question; then it’s Josie Watanabe, Linda Johns (me) and Hayden Bass. We took two minutes on…

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Sending an #askAstro question to the International Space Station

There are so many things to love about my job and my coworkers at Seattle Public Library. But right now my gratitude is for these three — David Wright, Josie Watanabe and Hayden Bass — who immediately said “yes!” when I asked, “Will you make a short video with me to send to Astronaut Reid Wiseman on the Space Station?”

Tuesday early (early early! at least in our time zone) is when questions will be answered via a live session from the ISS. If I were in charge, I’d pick some cute kid questions, a super science-y question, and our question. Our question, full of heart and love of books, and completely appreciative for the International Space Station crew up in space and down on Earth.

Free writing classes at Seattle Public Library

Screen Shot 2014-08-15 at 6.34.13 PMI’m so thrilled — and proud — that my library is offering a series of writing programs throughout Seattle this fall. And they’re all free. I worked with fellow librarians Andrea, David and Paige on proposing “Seattle Writes” as a pilot project last year, and this year we applied for grant funds again to make it even bigger and better. The result is fourteen creative writing programs and workshops and a panel discussion on writing for teens. AND through a separate grant and librarian team, Seattle Public Library is also offering free classes for indie authors on how to find outside help to polish your manuscript, how to format it for e-publishing and how to market it. AND through that same indie author program there is a self publishing contest with Smashwords. Three books will be selected to be added to the library’s collection.

Check out the full Seattle Writes offerings. I’m especially happy that we have programs that focus on writing picture books, writing funny for kids, and writing for teens. 

Reading goals for 2014: Back to middle grade

19156898As soon as there is a goal or an assignment, I am among the first to sign up — and the one who knows all along that I won’t meet the goal. I’m pretty sure I have this all figured out, but this post is about READING, not about therapy. So let me say that I hate book clubs because I hate required reading, I hate that Goodreads encourages readers to set a number goal for reading (a happiness algorithm based on emotions when reading would be a better goal, I think), and I hate feeling like I’m letting library patrons down by not reading what they do. So hello 2014 — and goodbye to all that other silliness and guilt about reading.

Each year I read a lot of middle grade, but I go through it so quickly and read so much that I rarely keep track of titles. I lead a library book group that meets twice a month to talk about the books we’re all reading, and I’ve sadly stopped talking about children’s and YA in this group because I see people check out as soon as I say it’s not an adult book. I love this book group format and the people who participate, but I somehow let it stop me from reading what I want to read.

This year my focus is going to be on middle grade (no afterthought) and I’ll track it on goodreads with this middle grades read in 2014 shelf. As of today, there’s only one book on the shelf, but that’s okay because it’s the fantastic The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm. (It’s not out yet, but you can see the cover reveal and read all about it in this blog post from Mr. Schu.)

Several years ago, I read  100 middle grade novels in a period of a few months. I was immersing myself in children’s literature not only as an aspiring writer (this was pre Hannah West mystery drafts) but as someone toying with the idea of going to grad school to be a children’s librarian. THAT, my friends, was the best reading year of my adult life. And this year is off to a great start.