Allison's Book Bag

Posts Tagged ‘Sarah Weeks

Alphabet books are popular because they are good at teaching letters. With so many available, how do you choose between them? Click Clack ABC by Doreen Cronin introduces ABCs through a fast-paced story about farm animals preparing for a picnic. At times, the style is so frenetic that the plot is hard to follow. By drawing on characters from her best-selling picture books, Cronin ensures readers will feel comfortable. She also infuses clever alliteration. The result is a fun and educational tale.

From Alyssa Capucilli comes Biscuit, a sweet yellow puppy. Ten of his innocent and charming adventures have been collected into a sturdy cloth-bound book titled Biscuit Storybook Collection. Part of the I Can Read imprint, these stories are perfect for new and emergent readers, while also enjoyable for adults. The plot has a formulaic style that sometimes results in a forced twist. Nonetheless, I wanted to pull Biscuit right out of the pages and cuddle him. Even when he causes trouble, he’s such a winsome puppy. Biscuit tries repeatedly to please his young owner and doesn’t have a mean bone in his small body. His antics are irresistible!

Humor, mystery, and romance abound in two titles by Sarah Weeks: Pie and Honey. The titles are also unified by themes of family, death, and pets. In Pie, Alice’s Aunt Polly takes her world-famous pie crust recipe to her grave. Or does she? The search for the lost recipe leads one person to ransack Polly’s shop, another person to steal her cat, and another to question residents. In Honey, Melody doesn’t mind not having a mother until she overhears her dad call someone ‘Honey’. Has her dad fallen in love with someone? Who could it be? No one will answer these questions. Nor will they talk about her mom. Melody’s story alternates with a story of a dog that has concerns of his own. When secrets are revealed in both titles, lives are forever changed.

Reprinted with permission from Lincoln Kids. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2017.

“Soof” is a word that Heidi’s mom regularly uses in So B. It, an award-winning novel young adult by Sarah Weeks. Finding out why the word “soof” is important to her mom turns out to key to the unfolding mystery and drama of Heidi’s life. With its unusual plot and quirky characters, So B. It is an absorbing and zealous read.

The plot begins with twelve-year-old Heidi and her mentally-disabled mother who live in an apartment that is connected to their agoraphobic neighbor, Bernadette, who acts as their caretaker. Bernadette not only teaches Heidi’s mother basic living skills, but she also home-schools Heidi. As a result of the latter, Heidi’s only friend of her age is an overweight boy who lives in the same apartment building. In Heidi’s search to discover the significance of “Soof” to her mother, she stumbles upon a box of twenty-three photos from her mother’s past. She also finds an old sweater, one which her mother had worn in one of those rare photos. From the photos, Heidi discovers that her mom once lived at Hilltop Home, a place which resists answering any and all phone calls from Bernadette. This leads the two to plague with residence with letters, a tactic that also gets ignored. Finally, Heidi decides she must take the journey herself to Hilltop, a venture that involves a long illegal bus ride, stormy weather that leaves Heidi without a way to call home, and many other adventures including a ride in a police car.

As for the quirky characters, I’ll start with Heidi. Besides her numerous lists, there is her uncanny luck. Heidi can play match every card in a memory game, the first time around. On a more practical level, Heidi never fails to win money at the slot machines. Moreover, for some unknown reason, they never receive any bills for fixed expenses such as electricity, gas, phone, and rent. Heidi also has the ability to look older than she is, which is what allows her to play the slot machines and later to take that illegal bus ride to Hilltop Home. Then there’s the overweight boy named Alexander. There are a lot of things about him that Heidi’s initially doesn’t like. He talks rough, doesn’t smell good, and kills ants. However, she does like what he eats and how he talks. The two form an odd friendship, one that ends up being invaluable to Heidi when she decides to leave everything she’s known to check out Hill Top. Other main characters include Bernadette who faints if she steps outside her doorstep and Heidi’s mother whose sole vocabulary amounts to twenty-three words.

If I had to pick just one other aspect of So B. It to highlight, I would have to applaud Sarah Weeks for the depth of her compassionate for those who are different. Heidi never disparages her mom in her failure to be a normal mom to her. Instead Heidi questions her mom about her words, her photos, and the sweater only out of a need to better understand who her mom—and therefore who herself—is. Although Heidi pushes Bernadette to try to overcome her agoraphobia, so that they might travel together to Hilltop, she eventually comes to accept how impossible this is. It would be like her mom suddenly not having a mental illness. Virtually every character that Heidi meets has a story behind their quirks and receives respect from Weeks in how she portrays them.

In 2010, I heard Weeks speak at a local literary festival and even bought some of her books to get signed. It’s taken five years for me to finally pull those books out. Now that I have, So B. It just might end up being my choice for the book of the year that I can’t believe I waited this long to read.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?

SarahWeeksFor the past twenty-five years, Sarah Weeks has been writing picture books and novels for young people including the best-selling So B. It. In addition to writing, Weeks is an adjunct faculty member in the Writing Program at the New School University in New York City, where she teaches the second-year MFA workshop on Writing for Children. Weeks is also a founding member of ART, a traveling troupe of authors who perform reader’s theater at conventions and conferences across the country.


Weeks was born in Ann Arbor Michigan in 1955. Her father was an English professor at the University of Michigan. He loved words, and books, and telling funny stories. Her mother stayed home with Weeks and her two siblings until all three had gone off to college, at which point she went back to work. In her About Me, Weeks describes 1955 as a time when “there was no color TV, milk came in glass bottles delivered by a milkman, Barbie dolls came in only two varieties – blonde and brunette, and girls had to wear dresses to school every day, even in the cold, harsh Michigan winters when the temperature often dipped below zero.”

When the time came for college, Weeks studied music composition and later went on to get a MFA from NYU writing for musical theatre. In 1976, she moved to New York City to pursue a career as a singer songwriter. She performed in clubs with a band, spent a year singing in an Off-Broadway revue, and eventually found herself writing songs for Disney and Sesame Street.

When an editor from Harper Collins heard some of her songs, Weeks was asked if she would be interested in writing picture books based on her songs. Since that time, Weeks has become a professional author. However, she remains an accomplished singer/songwriter. She has written for television, stage, and screen. A number of her picture books include songs which she both writes and sings for the accompanying CD’s.

In 2005, Sarah helped found A.R.T. (Authors Readers Theatre), a group of authors, which includes: Avi, Bruce Coville, Cynthia DeFelice, Katherine Paterson, Richard Peck, Pam Munoz Ryan, Brian Selznick, and herself. A.R.T. performs dramatic staged readings at large venues throughout the country.

Viewed in her Long Bio as a tireless promoter, Weeks likes to visit classrooms around the country, talk to young people about writing and read her books, serve as author-in-residence, and speak to teachers and librarians at national conferences. Besides writing, Weeks likes to hang out with family and friends, talk to her 95-year-old mother on the phone, watch little league games, and go to the movies. To recharge, she likes to bake.

Her favorite place to be is home. She is married to a high school history teacher, which her Long Bio describes as funny because history was one of her WORST subjects in school, and has a step-daughter. She lives in a little green and yellow house in a town called, Nyack, New York. Finally, she has a pet, a Labrador Retriever/Pitbull mix.


So B. It was her first young adult novel. It appeared on the Los Angeles Times bestseller list, was chosen as an ALA Best Book for Young Adults and as a Booksense 2004 best book of the year, and received the 2004 Parent’s Choice Gold Award. It continues to be a best seller, winning numerous state book awards and currently being in production to be a live action movie directed by Stephen Gyllenhaal. Author Turf notes that it also took the longest, four years, of all her books to write. In addition to her novels and picture books, Weeks has also written pop-up books, board books and early readers. Her titles have sold well over a million copies, including several foreign editions.

The inspiration for So B. It, Weeks explains in Are You Writing a Book Report?, came from an old abandoned house by the side of the road Weeks saw one summer day while driving around in the Catskill Mountains with her sons. Something about that house called to her. Weeks went back later and took pictures of it. Looking at those pictures, especially the one of the front door with its tattered lace curtain in the dusty window, started a story unfolding in her head. Weeks knew from the start that the story was going to be about a girl named Heidi. She was going to be lucky. And she was going to go on a long journey and end up outside that door with the lacy curtain in the window, looking for something. Herself.

Unlike some books which the development happens in big chunks, the ideas for So B. It came in small pieces, which eventually began to take on the shape of a story. One thing Weeks remembers thinking about as she began working on So B. It was the idea that people are like locks, and in order to find out what makes them who they are, you have to find the right key to unlock the mystery. Once she settled on the key for Mama would be the word, soof (which reminds Weeks of words like moon and truth and soothe), Weeks began to hear the word all around her.

It took Weeks four years to write So B. It. She explains in Are You Writing a Book Report? that she wrote many, many, many drafts. Sometimes Weeks got so frustrated that she had to put the book aside and work on something else until she was ready to try again. In the end she realized that although So B. It was much longer than either a song or a picture book text, it still needed to have the same shape, the same arc, the same three basic parts (beginning, middle and end) and that helped her to finally be able to finish.

Weeks views the best thing about writing as getting to spend all day doing what she likes best. In her About Me, Weeks notes that sometimes when she’s working on a book she completely loses track of time and when she finally stops writing she’s amazed to find that it’s dark outside. Other times, when she feels blocked and the ideas aren’t coming, she cleans house, bakes cookies, or vegetates in front of the TV until she feels like writing again.

I’ll be back later in March with a review of So B. It. Because I have spring break, March will be a little different for my posts. The first week I’ll post daily teasers and the second week I’ll post daily reviews. Save the date for my review of Weeks’s book: March 13!

Do you read the cover flaps of storybooks? Growing up, I devoured everything about books including those flaps. I read the front flaps for summaries, scanned the chapter listings for main events, noted dedications, and even ploughed through introductions and prologues because those often provided author insights into the story ahead. I also eagerly searched back pages including back flaps for therein often lay biographies of the authors for young people whose books I loved.

I wanted to meet those authors, know those authors, and grow up to be those authors. Despite these desires, I never really thought anything would come of those dreams. I lived on the island of Newfoundland, which for all its beautiful terrain and bountiful wildlife, few famous people ever seemed to venture and few renown authors seemed to live. And of course, although I kept dabbling with writing, when I grew up I forgot about all those dreams.

Then a few years ago while looking through teacher workshops offered through my local district, I came across a listing for Plum Creek Children’s Literacy Festival. If you like to read books for young people, you absolutely must attend the local equivalent. And if you live in Nebrasaka, this is the event to attend to October. For at this festival, you can hear, meet, and have books signed by some of our best American children’s authors.

In its fifteenth year, the festival runs for two days. Friday is a Children’s Day, when local school teachers bring their students to hear invited authors. Saturday is an Adult Professional Conference Day, when any adult willing to travel the distance and pay the registration cost ($40) can attend. Even if you register ahead of time, I recommend arriving by 7:30 for this allows time to load your arms up with books and even get the bulk of them signed before sessions begin at 9:00. Many attendees choose the educational workshops, but I prefer the author presentations. This year, I heard Dan Gutman, Sarah Weeks, and author-illustrator pair Alyssa Capucilli and Pat Shories.  For an extra $10, you can attend the luncheon and hear a fourth author. This year Patricia Polacco spoke. In the evening, one can also attend an endowment dinner and hear a fifth author, but it involves an extra $65 and so far I have not availed of this luxury.


Dressed in sports t-shirt and jeans, Dan Gutman shared how he started out liking sports, but wasn’t particularly good in them, and now makes a living frequently writing about sports. He illustrated the writing process by talking about how his first book originated. Starting with a subject dear to his heart–baseball cards–he also considered what topics were trendy in children’s books. He wrote his first book about a boy who uses baseball cards to travel back in time to meet his favorite baseball heroes. As part of the writing process, he received multiple rejections from popular magazines for his stories and articles and later from publishers for his full-length novels. He showed and read from sample rejection letters. I found of interest too that when he turned from writing shorter works to novels, he switched from a computer to index cards for organizing. His first book actually received so many rejections that he considered self-publishing it, but happily he found a publisher. Today he is the author of several books, including those in series and those that have been nominated for a Golden Sower award. Wow!

Dan Gutman also showed a slide show of a typical day in his writing life. It starts with waking up, having breakfast, saying good-bye to family who leave for work or school, and reading the newspaper. He writes for several hours. By then, he’s ready for a break in the form of a long bike ride. When the family returns, he eats supper and relaxes by watching television or reading books. As you can see, Dan Gutman is a pretty normal guy with a pretty terrific career.


How does a girl who wants to grow up to work in Dairy Queen end up an author? If like Sarah Weeks, she had a mom who encourage her to write. Sadly, when Sarah proudly bundled up her stories to show her kindergarten teacher, her teacher took one cursory look at them, told her she couldn’t spell, and refused to read them. Ouch! Fortunately, she had her mom.

Sarah grew up not being good in math or other academic subjects, but with her strength being in writing. How well I relate! Even to this day, her mom reads everything she writes–just like my dad and my husband read everything I write. Sarah also struggles to this day with spelling–just like I sometimes find myself making up words. As for that kindergarten teacher of hers, she appeared in one of Sarah’s books as a mean teacher–just like I tease my friends that anything they do or say could one day show up in something I write. By the way, she also puts her sons into her books. They didn’t grow up to be readers though and so only realized how much of an inspiration they served for her books after their girlfriends read Sarah’s books. Sarah and I share other similarities too. For example, she likes to write in perfect quiet–just like I am sensitive to noise. Neither of us even like a faucet to drip.

Aspiring writers could learn plenty from Sarah. She follows the advice of an editor who told her: “Write the book YOU want to write.” She constantly observes people; they help form her characters. She also regularly takes photos of houses; they often inspire plots for her stories. Drafts may take weeks or years and she may write as many as ten of them. As for feedback, she tends to shelve it for a few weeks. This allows her enough distance from her stories to feel receptive to suggestions for changes. What wonderful ideas!


Two more ladies who grew up around books! Alyssa Capucillo is the author of the Biscuit picture books. After starting her day with a walk, she pulls out a notebook to write. She has over one hundred of them, in which she has written ideas for and drafts of stories. Her daughter’s adventures with pet-sitting a dog  and trying to help it settle to sleep inspired the first Biscuit book. Many subsequent stories have followed, several inspired by adventures with their own dog that they eventually bought. Some ideas are of course out of Alyssa’s own head, for in writing one can make whatever one wants come possible.

Pat Shories is the illustrator of these beloved books that have sold over 14 million copies. She grew up making her own books and in high school realized one can make a living as an artist. Hundreds of artists were asked to draw sample dog sketches for Biscuit, Pat’s submissions were selected, and she has spent the past seventeen years creating the art for the series. She used her own dog for inspiration for Biscuit and later used Alyssa’s daughter for inspiration for Biscuit’s young owner. Pat brought sample dummies of the Biscuit books, but also treated the audience to an impromptu sketch.

With a Russian and Jewish-Christian background, Patricia Polacco comes from a long line of storytellers. Yet she did not write as a child. Instead she grew up being teased by peers for being unable to read. See, Patricia has dyslexia. She used to stand in front in class and grip her book so hard her fingernails broke. Unlike Sarah Weeks, however, she found encouragement and hope from teachers. They changed her life and made her feel good about herself, Without them, Patricia says she would not be here today. She pays tribute to them in two of her books, by writing down her experiences with them and how they inspired her. Even so, it took her thirty years to feel happy and safe.

Actually, Patricia has always loved art, but also began writing at age forty-one, and now has numerous published picture books to her credit. She read and shared the background to one of them at the Plum Creek Children’s Literacy Festival luncheon. Her grandmother Anna moved from Russia to the United States but missed her homeland. She wore a dress that reminded her of Russia. She felt heartbroken when she finally outgrew it, but her mother added it to the family quilt so that Anna could always keep home “close to her heart”. Patricia grew up playing and sleeping with this quilt, used it once even to wave at a goat the way bullfighters wave capes at bulls, and she showed it during her presentation.

I listened enraptured to all these authors and left wanting to follow in their stepsteps. How incredible to share life experiences, impart universal truths, and have them reach hundreds of individuals. How fun to travel to schools and festivals to talk about one’s books. Being a children’s author would make a good career!

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I am focusing this year on other commitments. Once a month, I’ll post reviews of Advanced Reader Copies. Titles will include: Freddy Frogcaster and the Flash Flood by Janice Dean, One Two by Igor Eliseev, Incredible Magic of Being by Kathyrn Erskine, Dragon Grammar Book by Diane Robinson, and Wide as the Wind by Edward Stanton.



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