I can't believe it's been nearly a year since I've written a blog post! Truth is, I've been busy writing, writing, writing. I have three books coming out this year, including , which releases Feb. 6, 2018 (TOMORROW!). Then SUPER DORKS will hit shelves in May and THE RECKLESS CLUB will debut in October. Phew!
Check out this incredible review for BRINGING ME BACK! There's a chance to win a couple books there, too. Good luck!
Later this month, I'll be visiting Idaho for school visits and the 32nd annual Boise School District Young Writers Conference. Next up is the Missouri Children's Literature Festival (I'm so excited to go back to Warrensburg!). Then I'll be at the TLA conference as part of a panel for Texas author (did I tell you I moved to Dallas?). In between, I'll be skyping schools in Illinois to celebrate A BLIND GUIDE TO STINKVILLE's Bluestem award nomination.
Want me to visit your school or library? I'd love that, too! Check out the SCHOOL VISITS header above for details.
Check this incredible review of BRINGING ME BACK and thank you for sticking with me.
I'm super excited to share three more books that will soon be released.
The first is THE DENTURE CLUB (Running Press Kids), releasing September 2018. Five kids are forced to spend the last day of summer break volunteering in a nursing home due to separate pranks on the last day of eighth grade. Think "The Breakfast Club" for middle grade.
Next up is BRINGING ME BACK (Sky Pony Press), which will hit bookshelves in February 2018. Here are some details:
Noah is not having a good year.
His mom is in prison, he's living with his mom's boyfriend -- who he's sure is just waiting until his mother's six month sentence is up to kick him out -- and he's officially hated by everyone at his middle school, including his former best friend. It's Noah's fault that the entire football program got shut down after last year.
One day, Noah notices a young bear at the edge of the woods with her head stuck in a bucket. A bucket that was almost certainly left outside as part of a school fundraiser to bring back the football team. As days go by, the bear is still stuck -- she's wasting away and clearly getting weaker, even as she runs from anyone who tries to help. And she's always alone.
Though Noah ignores the taunts at school and ignores his mother's daily phone calls from jail, he can't ignore the bear. Everyone else has written the bear off as a lost cause -- just like they have with Noah. He makes it his mission to help her.
But rescuing the bear means tackling his past -- and present -- head-on. Could saving the bear ultimately save Noah, too?
Beth Vrabel's signature voice and heartwarming style shine in this middle grade novel exploring themes of reputation, family, and forgiveness.
But wait, there's more!
Also releasing in 2018: SUPER DORKS! The third installment of the PACK OF DORKS series!
Stay tuned for more details on this fun adventure soon!
Reviews for this new release have been incredible. School Library Journal says, "A sweet, thoughtful, and funny read. Hand this to fans of Vrabel's previous novels and those who enjoy a heartfelt tale without the typical saccharine coating." FabBookReviews shares that "A Blind Guide to Normal is yet another meaningful, heartfelt and strongly written children’s fiction title from Beth Vrabel. While you do not necessarily have to have read A Blind Guide to Stinkville to understand or appreciate this sequel, I would still recommend as the book and characters (you get to meet Alice and her family!) are simply wonderful. Any readers who have already read and liked Beth Vrabel’s previous titles, or those who enjoy the work of authors such as Lisa Graff, Leslie Connor, Kat Yeh or Donna Gephart might especially love A Blind Guide to Normal."
Know what makes an awesome gift to an author? A reader review on Amazon or Goodreads. Increase your chances of winning a signed copy of A BLIND GUIDE TO NORMAL by sharing a link to your review of ANY of my books! Giveaway restricted to USA, due to shipping cost.
I am thrilled and honored to share this piece of news from Publisher's Weekly:
"Running Press Kids Takes Vrabel Novel
For Running Press Kids, Julie Matysik took world rights to Caleb and Kit, Beth Vrabel’s coming-of-age novel. Vrabel, who was represented in the deal by Nicole Resciniti at the Seymour Agency, won the 2016 ILA Award for Intermediate Fiction for A Blind Guide to Stinkville (Sky Pony) and was nominated for the South Carolina Book Award for Pack of Dorks (Sky Pony). Matysik said Caleb and Kit, which is scheduled for September 2017, is about “a young boy with cystic fibrosis and the mysterious girl he befriends one summer in the woods behind his home.” "
CALEB AND KIT means so much to me. I can't wait to share it with all of you next year!
I'm thrilled to be meeting with young writers and readers in the coming weeks. Here's where I'll be:
April 11-13 at South Eastern Intermediate School in Fawn Grove, Pa. I had a blast meeting students in this district in October and am delighted to have been invited back for a three-day workshop! I'll be meeting with fifth- and sixth-graders to focus on writing with authenticity.
April 15 at Paradise Elementary School in Spring Grove, Pa. Third- and fourth-graders at Paradise will hear how the power of kindness changed my life and put me on the path to being a writer. What makes this stop particularly cool is that I graduated from Spring Grove Area School District! Even cooler? My niece and nephew will be in the audience. *plots how best to embarrass them*
1-3 p.m. April 16 at Sarah's Creamery in Dover, Pa. What's better than having your own copies of PACK OF DORKS and A BLIND GUIDE TO STINKVILLE signed by the author? Having your books signed while eating delicious Penn State ice cream! Mmmm!
While we're in the area, we'll also be stopping by The Wolf Sanctuary in Lititz, one of my favorite places on Earth. Have you ever been there? Please go. It's a beautiful place.
Also, watch for details soon about a book signing in May at Barnes & Noble in Canton, CT, to celebrate the release of CAMP DORK! I love this new adventure with Lucy and her pack and know you will, too!
I'm thrilled to also share that I'll be leading a summer writing camp 1:30-3 p.m. June 27 to July 1 at Avon Free Public Library in Avon, CT. Campers will dig deep to find their own stories, reimagine them, and write from the heart. When registration opens, I'll share more details.
In August, I'll be visiting Dover Area Community Library in Dover, Pa., (the same library where the littlest Vrabels attended storytime! *waves a shaky egg to Miss Ellen*) as part of its summer reading program. Each summer month, young readers are invited to take part in a giant book club. The library provides copies of a book, they discuss the books together, and finally readers meet the author at a pizza party. The library calls it Free Books, Free Food and Famous Authors! *blushes* I'll share more details about this soon.
And, to go a bit further into the future, A BLIND GUIDE TO NORMAL releases in October! Squee! This book, friends. I am so excited for you to meet Richie Ryder Raymond! I'll be celebrating with readers in Missouri! I plan to visit readers in Warrensburg, Jefferson City and Moberly in early October.
Last but definitely not least, I'm going to be meeting with Canton, CT, students in January as a visiting author to Canton Intermediate School. Woot-woot!
Want me to visit your school, bookstore or library? Here's how!
For weeks, she told me she was getting me a present.
“You don’t have to,” I told her. “I’d rather you didn’t, really. Spending my day with you is gift enough!”
“It’s a special present,” she said. “I’m working on it.”
Before writing full time, I was a para-educator. Those days before winter break, I helped her and the other kindergarteners add glitter to homemade wrapping-paper, carefully pen their names on packages, and hot-glue buttons to the snowmen they painted themselves. I also sat with her every day, just the two of us, going over the letters that struggled to take root in her mind. We celebrated every correct letter sound she could produce, added stickers to her thin-as-sparrow-wing hands when she tried her best (and she nearly always did), and sang the alphabet song with a puppet prone to make mistakes she loved to catch.
“I’m getting you a present.”
“You’re gift enough,” I told her. It wasn’t an easy time for her family. The last thing she should be worried about was securing an unnecessary gift. And I meant it; she was gift enough.
A few weeks passed, and every once in a while she’d say it again. “It’s a special present, Mrs. Vrabel.”
Eventually, I’d just nod.
Then one day, she stood in front of me, her cheeks flushed. “Close your eyes, Mrs. Vrabel,” she said in a sing-song. “Put out your hand!”
I laughed at her obvious pride, closed my eyes, and readied myself for whatever might be dropped into my hand. (In kindergarten, you never know!)
“It’s a ten! And it’s pink!”
I pulled in a deep breath. “I love it,” I told her. I love you, sweet girl.
She moved from our district at the end of that year. I pray she is as happy and as proud as she was that moment. I hope she knows that this gift is precious, one I keep with my jewelry.
I know it’s probably something she saw on the floor of a store and squirreled away in her pocket. But I also know pink was powerful to her. I know numbers were tricky.
I know she gave me a treasure.
It’s a reminder to give what you’re able to share, and give it with love. It whispers to value the giver, not the gift.
A BLIND GUIDE TO STINKVILLE is a month old! Woot woot! To celebrate, I'm giving away an Audible copy of the book.
When I first heard that STINKVILLE would be released on audio, I was so excited! This is a perfect venue for visually impaired readers to enjoy the story. When Audible offered me several complementary copies, I began making arrangements to give copies to a few local children with blindness or low vision.
I'd also like to give a copy away here on my blog to anyone who is interested! Let me tell you, it's amazing to hear Alice's story come alive. The narration is wonderful! Do you listen to audio books? If you haven't, please give it a shot.
My family listens to audio books during road trips. This summer, WONDER made a trek to the White Mountains of New Hampshire fly by.
Entering is easy! Hope you win!
Only a few months separated Matthew Potter and his siblings, but he knew it was his job to protect them. They believe he still does.
Weeks before his sister’s birthday, he begged to buy her a teddy bear he spotted at a shop. “I want to get it for her now,” he said when his mom told him to wait.
Days before he died, he ran from the playground and his mommy panicked. “I’m okay. Even when you can’t see me,” he told her.
That morning was clear and bright. A perfect day at the fair.
He was a happy boy.
He was mischievous but always kind.
He was loved.
He is loved.
He is remembered.
The day after Matthew Potter died when a ride at the county fair malfunctioned, I was supposed to call his family. I was a new reporter, and it was my job to share his story. But the day after he died, the towers fell. The country was in chaos and the newsrooms’ total focus became covering the terrorist attacks. I never called Matthew’s family.
I was supposed to call his family that day. I was supposed to share his story.
But I didn’t.
I never called Matthew’s family, but I never stopped feeling responsible for his story. I wrote this, fourteen years later, thinking it would help me sort through my feelings. I wasn’t expecting what happened next.
First I heard from former colleagues, some of whom still work with the newspaper. Every one of them said they, too, think of Matthew every year on September 11. My former editor Scott Blanchard told me that he and photojournalist Jason Plotkin created a peer-support program to help young journalists deal with and minimize trauma both for themselves and their sources. Would I still be carrying the pain of that day, would I still see Matthew’s face every September, if I had been part of such a program?
Later on the day I posted about Matthew, my sister called me, her voice shaking. A friend had shared the post with the Potter family. That evening, Matthew’s sister, Natalie, sent me a message with her phone number. For a moment, I was that new journalist again, about to enter the small room in the back without a script. I took a deep breath. I didn’t need a script. I just needed to listen. I called her.
For about a half-hour we talked, sometimes both of us crying. I learned more about Matthew, about how kind he was, how he and his siblings were so close they felt like triplets. She told me that some days, all she sees when she closes her eyes is the moment that ride stopped. The moment Matthew fell backward, his head on her lap, how he looked up at her and she knew he was gone. She told me about the teddy bear waiting for her on her birthday, how Matthew had picked it out for her weeks earlier and somehow kept it a secret. She told me about Matthew’s Town at Leg Up Farm, the library at Leaders Heights Elementary and the collection of Magic Treehouse books donated in Matthew’s honor. She told me that her parents focus on the bright, focus on the good and carried them through their grief. She told me not to feel guilty. She thanked me for remembering her brother.
She thanked me.
I can’t even process that.
Later that evening, Matthew’s mom, Janet, emailed me. She also thanked me for remembering her son. Again, I have no words.
A few weeks later, I came back to my hometown to celebrate my book release. I was getting ready to read the first chapter of the book when I looked up and saw Janet and Natalie. I’m not sure how I knew it was them, but I did, immediately. “Don’t cry,” Janet said to me. “Go, do your thing. We’ll be here.”
As soon as the reading was over, I sat down with Janet and Natalie. Displaying astonishing kindness, they had brought me flowers and a butterfly ornament. I gave them my books, too overwhelmed to register what I was writing inside them. We talked about Matthew, about his last moments and his first. I shared how I had dreaded calling them that day yet still feel guilty that I hadn’t. “We wouldn’t have spoken to you had you called then,” Janet assured me. And just like that, the guilt evaporated.
I asked her the question that has haunted me for fourteen years. “Did you feel like the entire world was crumbling when the towers fell?” Janet smiled. “No. It all sort of made sense then, why Matthew was needed elsewhere.” I can’t wrap my mind around the strength that faith requires.
I know the family worked through their grief. I know Natalie still aches, that none of their pain has ever fully gone away. But I see that focus on the good, on the brightness of the world, too.
I still think of Matthew every day. But now when I do, I see a kind, loving boy just starting to become independent. I see a leader, a protector, a shepherd.
I think about the young reporter I was when Matthew died. I think about the guilt I carried for not being braver. For not going into that little room before the towers were hit. For not picking up the phone. For not sharing Matthew’s story.
And I forgive her.
It took me fourteen years to hear Matthew’s true story.
What? I'm not crying. You're crying. Thank you, YABooksCentral.com, for reviewing A BLIND GUIDE TO STINKVILLE. Please check it out here.
This is my favorite passage:
"One of my favorite characters was Alice’s mom. She struggles with depression throughout the book, but rather than avoid talking about her mental illness, the entire family has many discussions about depression, how it manifests, and how it isn’t a quick fix. Their mom is honest about her struggle, and in turn, both Alice and her brother James are able to be honest and open about their anger and fear as they watch their mom battle depression. This is probably one of the healthiest books I’ve ever read when it comes to families talking about their feelings with one another. It was beautiful to witness. "
*Throws confetti, toots horn*
A Blind Guide to Stinkville, my heart on pages, is now on shelves across America. Can you believe it? I keep pinching myself!
To help kick off Alice's story, I'm thrilled to share this interview with the Huffington Post. Please check it out!
I am incredibly honored and excited to share that PACK OF DORKS has been selected as a 3-5th grade nominated title for the 2017 Louisiana Young Readers’ Choice Award.
Here are some facts about the award, shared by Angela Germany, Children's and Teen Consultant State Library of Louisiana: "Nearly 28,000 students participated in the program last year. Students will read titles on the 2017 nominated list next year and vote for their favorite.
The Louisiana Young Reader’s Choice program, which is in its 16th year, is a reading enrichment program of the Center for the Book, a department within the State Library of Louisiana. The purpose of the program is to foster a love of reading in the children of Louisiana by motivating them to participate in the recognition of outstanding books." Check out more about the award program here.
I dreaded going to work that day.
Not because I had any hint of the sadness, desperation and fear the day held.
Because I had to make a phone call.
I was so new. Only three months a graduate, two months a reporter, one month a wife.
I wasn't ready for that day's assignment.
When I got to work, I had to go into the little conference room in the back of the newsroom. The one that just barely fit a table and a phone.
And I had to call a family in mourning.
The day before, their small son died at the fair, when something went wrong with the ride he was on. His mother was beside him when it happened.
I couldn’t stop thinking about it. A beautiful, sunshiny day at the fair. Did he have cotton candy beforehand? Did he pet the baby lambs and bunnies earlier? Was it quick?
Everything in me knew calling the family was wrong, knew I was adding to their unimaginable pain. But then again, older reporters assured me, some families welcomed the call, found comfort in knowing their loved one’s story would be printed forever, shared with the world.
I had to make the phone call, go back in that little room.
I was so new, though. Over the phone, my voice sounded even younger. I didn’t know the right script for this kind of phone call.
I’d wait until ten o’clock. I told myself this was so I wouldn’t wake them, but part of me knew they’d never be fully awake again.
And then the tower was hit.
We--all of us in the newsroom--gathered around the small television at the day editor’s desk, watching to see if it was as bad as we feared.
And then, right as we watched, the second tower was hit.
I never went into that room. I never made that call.
The rest of the day, of the week, of the month, of the year were a blur.
I was sent to train stations, bus depots, planned parenthood offices, schools, nuclear power plants, government offices, any place that could possibly trigger hate.
I spoke with survivors. I made other phone calls—to victims’ families—right from my cubicle in the middle of the newsroom. I talked with a Pearl Harbor veteran and felt sick as he cried. I cried when I saw the flags flying from every house in my little city.
I didn’t feel new anymore.
I never made that phone call I dreaded. For months, as I tried to fall asleep next to my husband, my ears rang with the screams and sirens I had heard over and over on the television. But behind my closed eyelids, I saw only that little boy’s perfect, smiling face.
I think about that family every day.
I wonder if, as the towers fell, they were the only ones who didn’t gasp. If they were the only ones not shocked. Not even surprised. I wonder if they didn’t even blink as the world shuddered and changed.
For them, the world aged so much so suddenly the day before.
YOU CAN WIN A COPY OF A BLIND GUIDE TO STINKVILLE BEFORE IT'S EVEN RELEASED!
Just enter via the widget on this page.
I can't wait for you to meet Alice!