Voice and First Lines


Literary voice can refer to an author’s complete body of work—their quality, style, and character of writing. We might be able to identify the voices of Charles Dickens, Stephen King or Shel Silverstein by their unique syntax, attitude, style—without seeing a credit line. And then there’s the voice of an individual work by a specific author. In her book The Magic Words, Cheryl Klein defines voice by the equation: Voice = Person (POV) + Tense + Personality.

These two definitions of voice overlap. I want to concentrate on the individual work—to help us all read analytically and to develop our own voices.

When you read a book you should always analyze the point of view. Is it told in the first person? The unusual but doable second person? Or third person? And is that third person limited to one character or is it omniscient—a God-like narrator who can see what each character is seeing and feeling? Omniscient viewpoint is rarely used in children’s literature, but any rule can be broken.

The first line (or lines) of any book should introduce the entire work. In that first line, we’ll identify the point of view of the character, the tense used, a sample of the narrator’s vocabulary, grammar, tone, (which is part of the “personality” of the above equation) and maybe other elements such as the setting or the topic. That first line introduces the voice. And it’s the seed from which the entire book will grow.


First Person

            Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation (Pantheon 2018) adapted by Ari Folman, is, by definition, told in the first person. It’s a diary. (The original is The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank). The opening line of the adaptation is:

No one would believe me, but at the age of 13, I feel totally alone in this world.

“I” indicates 1st person and is the young Jewish girl, Anne Frank, who survives for two years by hiding from the Nazi regime, in the attic of a warehouse in the Netherlands, 1942-1944. Anne speaks in the present tense unless she’s describing a story from the past.

The first line is a powerful seed. The central character is 13 years old, lonely, and “no one would believe” this because—as we’ll eventually find out as we read—she puts up such a cheerful and feisty front.

Just to throw a wrench in the works, because this is a graphic novel adaptation we also see Anne in the remarkable illustrations of David Polonsky. So in a way, we get two points of view, Anne’s 1st person text, and then a 3rd person limited view in the artwork. Someone might argue that it’s an omniscient 3rd person point of view. It could be either. The illustrator is looking in on the Frank and van Daan families and Mr. Dussel in the Secret Annex, plus Miep and other helpers on the “outside,” as well as SS Officers. But we’re still seeing all these characters driven by Anne’s 1st person narrative, and oftentimes through her visual fantasies.


Third Person Limited

Fox the Tiger (Balzer & Bray 2018) by Corey R. Tabor, an award winning first reader, begins:

“I wish I were a tiger,” says Fox.

The words “…says Fox” shows that this is present tense, 3rd person limited from Fox’s viewpoint. This is Fox’s story. The dialog is in first person, as is natural, but the book is in 3rd. The author uses the subjunctive, “I wish I were.” The grammar is impeccable, which seems right for a first reader. Overall, an author establishing voice doesn’t have to use correct grammar if her voice character wouldn’t. But this is an erudite fox. Incidentally, the satisfying ending is: Fox is glad to be a fox.


Second Person

            Second person is most likely to be used in a self-help book, where an author is directly addressing you. In literary work, second person might be used for brief moments when the author breaks from the story to address her reader.

In Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster (Amulet 2018) by Jonathan Auxier, see how the author speaks to the reader in the Prologue.

…if you are very, very lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of the girl and her Sweep.

            Look! Here they are now, approaching through the early fog: a thin man with a long broom over one shoulder, the end bobbing up and down with every step. And trailing behind him, pail in hand, a little girl, who loves that man more than anything in the world.


The author “breaks the 4th wall” (to use a theater phrase) and addresses the reader: “if you are very lucky . . . Look!” He introduces his characters to you the reader, personally—2nd person point of view. The rest of the book will become, 3rd person limited from Nan’s point of view:

            It was dark in the coal bin, but Nan could tell it was Newt who was asking. Newt was the newest to Crudd’s crew.



And what else do these early lines show us? “Fog,” “long broom,” “pail,” “coal bin,” “crew.” They’re a team of child chimney sweeps in London. The characters’ names (Newt, Crudd, Nan) are Charles Dickens-like, as is the setting, as is the theme—impoverished laboring nineteenth century children.

When Angels Sing: The Story of Rock Legend Carlos Santana (Atheneum 2018) is told very effectively in second person by author Michael Mahin.

            When you were born, your tia abuela called you el cristalino, the crystal one. She thought the light of angels shined through you.

            Your father wanted to name you Geronimo, after the brave Apache freedom fighter. He was proud of his mestizo blood.


At first, the intimate stories sound like a mother’s lullaby—but a little later the author mentions “your mother.” The reader realizes that the voice is an omniscient God-like voice giving an overview of Carlos’s life. So instead of speaking to “you” the reader, the author is speaking to his subject, Carlos Santana.


Which Should You Use?

So how do you choose to use 1st, 3rd, or even 2nd person point of view? You should probably experiment with some scenes from your manuscript(s).

First person allows us, as writers, to get inside the brain and eyes of our main character. But more importantly it allows us to feel what our character is feeling and convey these emotions to the reader. This can certainly be done in the third person, but sometimes doing the exercise of revising your third person work into first person can be a great exercise for getting closer—so close you’re inside—your character. It’s much more than doing a universal change of “she” to “I” and adjusting the grammar. You have to do the work of becoming another person. Acting can help. Become your character—each of your characters—get inside their skin, walk like they do, greet people as that character might greet people. Go through the day, or the hour, being this character. Once you’ve changed a passage or chapter or entire novel to first person, then you might want to return it to third person, with the added insights and closeness which you developed while it was in first person. Or maybe you want to keep it in first person.

The author has certain advantages, using 3rd person point of view. The author may use somewhat more advanced (and therefore specific) vocabulary or even use ideas that your young and/or naïve character might not be able to use authentically.

Consider syntax, grammar, tone, and dialogue. Look at more examples.


What about this first line and the few lines that follow?

I don’t mean to be dramatic, but God save me from Morgan picking our set list. That girl is a suburban dad’s midlife crisis in a high school senior’s body.

                        Case in point: she’s kneeling on the floor using the keyboard stool as a desk, and every title on her list is a mediocre classic rock song.



1st person, present tense. If you don’t pick up “set list” in the first line, you’ll catch “keyboard” and “rock song” in the next paragraph. Our character is a musician. Our point-of-view character is more sophisticated than Morgan, or thinks she is. Superior? Dramatic? Oh yeah. Profane throughout. Hip, contemporary, sarcastic and distinctive. This is the young adult book, Leah on the Offbeat (HarperCollins 2018) by Becky Albertalli, which delivers voice in spades.


Try these lines.

I’d seent plenty of animals by the time I was old ’nough to start talking, but only one kind worked me up so much that it pult the first real word I said out my mouth.


1st person, past tense. Using dialect can be tricky. I admit that at first I was annoyed because it slowed my reading considerably. But, one, I got used to it; two, the author lets up somewhat once he’s established his voice; and three, it’s done by master multiple Newbery winner, Christopher Paul Curtis. This is the middle grade The Journey of Little Charlie (Scholastic 2018).

What does the author’s unique vocabulary and syntax suggest to you about who the speaker might be? About his level of education? About his imagination? Do you wonder about his race? Curtis never tells us the answers to these questions, but shows us by many small actions who Little Charlie is. Read the book and see if you think Curtis is playing with our preconceptions of dialect.


Analyze everything you read. That is, read like a writer. Here are a couple to analyze:

Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker - written by Patricia Hruby PowellJosephine

            danced a sizzling flapper dance—

the Charleston.


Does it suggest attitude, setting, theme? This is the middle grade picture book, Josephine: The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker (Chronicle 2014).

How about:

Yessir, Lillian Hardin

 was proud to be who she was.


Do you detect attitude? Theme? Could this be the woman who had enough ambition for both herself and Louis Armstrong? This is the middle grade Struttin’ With Some Barbecue: Lil Hardin Armstrong Becomes the First Lady of Jazz (Charlesbridge 2018). What point of view and tense are the last two?


How about:

Loving vs. Virginia by Patricia Hruby PowellGarnet and I walk in the grass

alongside the road

to keep our shoes clean,

but Lewis doesn’t care.


What person? 1st, 2nd, or 3rd? What tense? What does it suggest about who she is? This is Mildred’s opening in the young adult Loving vs. Virginia: A Documentary Novel of the Landmark Civil Rights Case,which begins with civil rights photos and documents. Mildred’s chapters alternate with Richard’s.


So look at the first line of whatever you’re working on now. Is it a seed from which your entire story can grow? Is the voice powerfully indicative of your narrating character? Does the first line offer a hint of the setting or the theme or the plot?

Do you take exception to any of the samples I’ve offered? Disagree? Have questions that will take the discussion deeper? Have examples of your own? We’d all love to hear from you. Try #writersvoice


First published in The Prairie Wind, the newsletter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Illinois. https://illinois.scbwi.org/prairie-wind-2/current-issue-of-prairie-wind/writing-tips/


Patricia Hruby Powell writes in Champaign, IL, mostly about remarkable women who threaten to be lost to history: Josephine Baker, Lil Hardin Armstrong, Mildred Loving; upcoming are Ella Baker, Alice Paul, Lucy Burns and others.

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“The Downstairs Girl” (Putnam 2019) by Stacey Lee is set in 1890 Atlanta, thirteen years after Reconstruction has ended. Chinese American Jo Kuan, an orphan, lives in a basement cave that was once part of the Underground Railroad system, unbeknownst to its owners, the Bell family. By means of a long forgotten listening tube—a holdover from runaway slave days—Jo listens to the Bells discuss the news as they print their newspaper, The Focus. She acquires a pretty hefty education as well as vocabulary.

Raised by Old Gin who has a way with horses and is employed by a rich white plantation owner, Jo has gained Chinese wisdom in the form of aphorisms—such as “the Chinese believe coincidence is just destiny unfolding.”

Jo is fired from her job as a milliner because the clients are made uneasy by being served by a woman of color. Never mind that she is an extremely talented hat maker and the owner uses all of Jo’s designs. Now she is forced to take a job as the servant to a spoiled young woman, Caroline, daughter of the plantation owner where Old Gin works in the stable. Caroline’s older brother pursues Jo, which of course is nothing but trouble for the beautiful heroine of color. In fact the cover of the book depicts a lovely flower of a girl, who doesn’t convey to me the scrappy girl of the story, but it will have young readers pulling the book off the shelf, which is a good thing.

I love learning history by way of well-researched stories such as this. When black slaves were freed, Chinese people were brought in to work Southern plantations and were barely more than slaves—being poorly paid, and not accorded the rights of a white man. There is big prejudice afoot. Yet, it’s worse for the African Americans in the story.

A rumor has circulated for years of a Chinese man with “rabid eyes” having assaulted a white woman and was run out of town. Jo says, “Chinese men everywhere tried their best not to look rabid.” Jo has a way with words and uses some great similes, such as, “Caroline’s scornful expression has set in her face like a fly in the aspic. Digging it out would only make it worse.”

Jo needs to move freely about town, and if she covers her eyes with a bonnet, she could pass as white. But, “passing as white is a punishable offense whose severity depends on who is duped and to what degree.” And “We have been born with a defect . . . of not being white.”

In her despair, Jo anonymously pens an “agony aunt” columnfor The Focus, under the name of “Miss Sweetie” in order to convey her view of women’s confining fashions, suffragettes (including their exclusion of women of color), and who can sit where on the bus. The clever and controversial column sells subscriptions to the failing Focus. But everyone wants to know the identity of “Miss Sweetie.”

Another newspaper deems Miss Sweetie a rabble-rouser and spreads lies. Jo says, “Where false light falls, a monster grows.”

Along with her research, Jo discovers information about her own past. This is an important read and a page-turner.


Patricia Hruby Powell is the author of the award winning Josephine; Loving vs Virginia; and Struttin’ With Some Barbecue among others. She teaches community classes at Parkland.       talesforallages.com

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High school student Darius doesn’t fit into American life or Iranian life in the warm hearted “Darius the Great is Not Okay” (Dial 2018) by Adib Khorram. Named after the great Iranian leader Darioush, Darius visits his mother’s family for the first time, in Iran.

His eight year old sister Laleh speaks Farsi, which Darius never learned because his mother had wanted her firstborn to be truly American. But this keeps Darius isolated at his grandparents’ house in Yazd. Darius’s father, Stephen Kellerman, is Scandinavian, or as Darius says, “a Teutonic UberMensche.”

Darius, a sensitive and clinically depressed boy, meets the neighbor and says,

“No one ever threw their arm over my shoulder the way Sohrab did. Like it was perfectly fine to do that sort of thing to another guy. Like that was a thing friends did to each other. Sohrab had no walls inside. I loved that about him.” And so will the reader. Friendship outside America—in another culture—is enlightening.

Nowruz is sort of like our Christmas. About his dark moods, Darius says, “I hated that I couldn’t make it through a Nowruz party without experiencing Mood Slingshot Maneuvers.” But Sohrab understands him, smiles at Darius and Darius ends up laughing.

When Darius feels he doesn’t belong, Sohrab says, “Your place was empty.” And now Darius is filling it. What a great concept! You alone can be you. About friendship Darius says, “I loved being Sohrab’s friend. I loved who being Sohrab’s friend made me.”
Darius feels that his whole family is disappointed in him. “My chest felt heavy, like someone had dropped a planet on me.” At times it’s laugh-out-loud funny, oftentimes due to the kinetic recognition the reader gets, with the author’s use of images: “Without the shade of Babou’s (grandfather’s) fig trees, the neighborhood was a luminous white, so bright, I was certain I could feel my optic nerves cooking.”

Or they drive in Babou’s old van—“the Smokemobile.” “The Black Breath enveloped us again, heavy with the scent of burnt hair and scorched popcorn and hint of The End of All Things.” Or: “I held out my hand to the other boy, who had lost the genetic lottery and ended up with the dreaded Persian Unibrow.”

Smells are such a powerful way to convey a culture: “But the steam-filled air was bursting with the scents of turmeric and dill and rice and salmon and dried Persian limes.” There’s a lot of time spent on food, causing this reader’s mouth to water, and a good deal of time on tea.

“Taarof” is a “Primary Social Cue” for Iranians, encompassing hospitality and respect and politeness all in one. “Would you like a cup of tea? No. Please. I don’t want to put you out. I’d love to make you a cup of tea. Well, yes, thank you.” It’s bewildering to Darius who calls himself a “Fractional Persian” rather than a “True Persian.” And: “Rook is a card game that, as far as I can tell, is encoded into all True Persians at the cellular level.”

What a great way to get insight into another culture. And rejoice in family and friendship.



Patricia Hruby Powell is the author of the award winning Josephine; Loving vs Virginia; and Struttin’ With Some Barbecue among others         talesforallages.com

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High school senior Annabelle is running from Seattle to Washington, DC—2700 miles—in Deb Caletti’s “A Heart in a Body in the World” (Simon Pulse 2018). She’s running away from excruciating mental pain and toward having to face her recent trauma.

Along the way you get what she’s so upset about, in general, but you want to know the specifics. Annabelle is a victim, yes, but her run becomes a form of activism against violent injustice.

Before the event happened, Annabelle Agnelli was a sweet girl with a life full of friends. She worked at a coffee house and for an elder care facility. Caletti writes, “She is sick to death of being a sweetheart. Also, that kind of naïve kindness is akin to standing on a busy freeway and gazing at the beauty of the sun.”

Grandpa Ed follows in his old RV to feed and lodge her each evening. Back in Seattle her younger brother Malcolm starts a PR team, which creates her route, and sets up a funding page, publicity, and support. Her mom, Gina, tries to allow her daughter this freedom. Her estranged father left the family years go to become a Catholic priest.

Annabelle is on the cross-country team at school, but a half marathon—sixteen miles—every day is grueling. Still, running is tiring her out and the rhythmic pace soothes her, which helps the anxiety. “It was like driving a screaming baby around in a car.”

What do we know? There was a boyfriend named Will. He dropped her. There was a BFF named Kat. There is someone only known as “the Taker.” And who is Seth Gregory? What does Annabelle remember? She flirted. She feels guilty—so guilty.

We hear about Annabelle’s insights on running, blisters so bad she is in the ER one night, and a pretty major breakdown after she witnesses a deer soaring into the air when hit by a truck. In between she reveals what had happened. In the meantime her very Italian Grandpa Ed meets an aging hippie, Dawn Celeste, and her grandson Luke Messenger. Every now and then the four meet up overnight along the route. Annabelle doesn’t want anything to do with them. Until she does.

In the middle of the summer they pause in Chicago—right downtown. She, her family and entire Seattle team unite for a little respite. Along the way she turns 18 and there’s another party at a diner. The all-day running gives her time to think. And feel. “There are so many colliding messages—confidence and shame, power and powerlessness, what she owes others and what is hers—that she can’t hear what’s true.”

It’s not easy, to talk about it, but she agrees to speak to a gymnasium full of high school students in Pennsylvania. She says that, when the trouble began she thought the adults would handle it. “I thought they’d keep us all safe. That didn’t happen. That still isn’t happening.” She does more speaking. She tells a group, “When I am on a mountain road, say, and the wind is pressing me . . . I am pressing back. I am shoving against my helplessness.”

I think you will find the story and the insights more than useful.



Patricia Hruby Powell teaches “Writing for Children and Young Adult Readers” at Parkland Continuing Education         talesforallages.com

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There are fractured fairytales and there are shattered fairy tales, such as “Stepsister” (Scholastic 2019) by Jennifer Donnelly. This is Cinderella told by the elder ugly stepsister Isabelle. Both Isabelle and her sister Octavia were cruel to Ella. But we all know that (Cinder) Ella won out and got the prince in the end. Our story begins just before that outcome.

The Prince comes around with the glass slipper and the stepsisters’ social climbing mother insists that Isabelle cut off her toes so that she might fit into the shoe. It works for a few moments, until the blood pours out of the slipper and her ruse is discovered.

Donnelly writes, “Mama wielded shame like an assassin wields a dagger . . .How many times had [Isabelle] cut away parts of herself at her mother’s demand? The part that laughed too loudly. That rode too fast and jumped too high. The part that wished for a second helping.” Isabelle’s sister Tavi also fails the shoes test and Cinderella’s fate is sealed. She rides off with the Prince.

It’s not easy to write an unsympathetic protagonist but in Donnelly’s hands we eventually love Isabelle and eventually we understand her younger sister Octavia (or Tavi) who had the historically unappreciated traits of being scholarly and outspoken. What is appreciated in past centuries and continues today is beauty. (Cinder) Ella has beauty.

Isabelle is athletic, bold, and her forthright declarations are considered rude—all traits not valued in girls of yore. Even today, this girl can have issues. But we’ve come a long way in our culture. So from our present American culture we can value Isabelle’s traits. She was a tomboy who, with the groom’s son, Felix, played pirates and fought play-battles and actually rode a moody stallion named Nero. Isabelle wanted to be admired. When she wasn’t, jealousy took hold. “Envy’s fine, sharp teeth sank deep into Isabelle’s heart.”

Isabelle says, “Sometimes it’s easier to say that you hate what you can’t have rather than admit how badly you want it.” She claims to hate Ella. Further along in the story she realizes it’s herself that she hates—and that is what she must overcome.

Fate, characterized as a crone, has cast Isabelle’s lot. But Chance, characterized as the handsome Marquis, wagers that he can change Isabelle’s future. Isabelle would be a pawn in their game of chess except for the presence of Tanaquill (Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother) who is not all goodness and shimmer, but shape shifts into a fox, making her quite fascinating. She tells Isabelle to find the lost pieces of her heart. And Donnelly, a master of similes says about the fairy, “Tanaquill snarled like a fox who’d lost a nice fat squirrel.”

Isabelle has lost Felix and Nero, in her mother’s efforts to smooth out her rough edges—to make her the girl Maman wanted. As you know will happen, Isabelle shows that a mean girl can atone, but it requires love—starting with self-love. And in order to have that, she must follow her dream.



Patricia Hruby Powell is teaches writing at Parkland Community education and is the author of the award winning Josephine; Loving vs Virginia; and Struttin’ With Some Barbecue among others         talesforallages.com

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Rarely does nonfiction win big awards in young readers’ literature. But nonfiction “A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2018) by Claire Hartfield, is the worthy Coretta Scott King 2019 literature winner.

Hartfield starts her story at a Lake Michigan beach where a black boy is murdered during the extreme summer heat of 1919—right at the color line, between segregated beaches, where the “white” beach meets the “black” beach. She then regresses to the history, starting in the late nineteenth century, and takes us through the years up to the Chicago Race Riot of 1919.

We hear about African American journalist Ida B. Wells, who witnessed the lynching of her godchild’s father, by a white mob. Wells says this sort of lynching was “an excuse to get rid of Negroes who were acquiring wealth and property.” This “tide of hate” changed her life. She and her husband were among the class of black people known as “the Refined.” They were educated, wealthy and property owners.

The next stratum of black society was known as “the Respectables”—people who were making ends meet. While the Respectables struggled to pay rent, the Refined were mapping out plans to make the heart of the black residential area a vibrant place to live.

During the Great Migration of the early 1900s—black people were moving to northern cities trying to escape extreme racism of the Deep South. The black Chicago newspaper, the Defender was the beacon of information for black citizens. Besides news the Defender published the Do and Don’ts for the newly urbanizing black population—such as: Don’t sit outside barefoot. The black church started social groups for women and children, advising them to stay away from “the Riffraff.” Some migrants resisted changing their ways, but most complied with enthusiasm, taking “the walk toward assimilation.”

While black people were working to assimilate, gangs of whites, such as Ragen’s Colts, crept through the streets terrorizing black people. White police protected white mobs and threw black victims into jail.

You can refer to the Chicago Neighborhoods map ca.1919 published at the front of the book. The Union Stockyards were surrounded by Packingtown. You can see the strict division of the Blackbelt and the White Middle-class, which is cut vertically by the State Street Streetcar.

Packinghouse bosses were “always looking to drive a wedge between skilled and unskilled.” The bosses maintained the upper hand by staying united, decade after decade. White eastern European workers tried to start unions to fight the bosses. They would threaten black workers with meat cleavers to make them join. At times interracial groups of workers would unite. If they got a toe hold, management would instill distrust between the races.

This brings us to the unbearable heat of summer 1919 when thousands cooled off at the beaches. The black boy drowns, tempers rage, the police fire a shot, guns become fair play. Rumors soar—it was a white boy who drowned. Fighting erupts. Terror reigns for three days. The author details arrests of black people rather than white. Eyewitness Ida B. Wells reports the injustice.

Should black people go to work? Or get fired? Death now or later when they starved? Slowly calm is restored. The photos are astounding—this is a must read to fill in your knowledge of Chicago.


Patricia Hruby Powell is the author of the award winning Josephine; Loving vs Virginia; and Struttin’ With Some Barbecue among others         talesforallages.com

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I was younger than Anne Frank when I first read, was mesmerized by and devastated by “The Diary of a Young Girl.” And now I’m so much older than she. Yet, if Anne Frank had survived Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and lived on, she’d have turned ninety, this June 14, 2019. Anne is our contemporary. In the 1952 version I first read, passages that her father had deemed unseemly, had been deleted. Those have been returned to the script in newer editions.

The copyright to the original “Diary” expired in 2016 and now there is a remarkable new version, “Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation” (Pantheon 2018) retold by Ari Folman and illustrated by David Polonsky. It’s not just a reiteration of the classic. The text and artwork take its readers to new places.

Anne tells her story in the first person, as by definition, a diary does. And the very nature of the visual images shows us Anne, her family members and the van Daans. Instead of Anne telling us that Jews are betrayed, there are frames outside the annex showing a gentile asking an SS officer ‘how much per Jew.’ The officer directs the traitor to an address where a man makes “15 guilders per head,” showing one way Jews were betrayed.

There are passages showing Anne’s fantasies as they get news from their intrepid patron, Miep, about the atrocities happening in German camps. We see Anne peeking through her window to see dirty children playing outside. She wants to reel them in with a fishing rod and scrub them clean, the artwork shows us.

We see Anne’s waking nightmare as rows of Jewish people, some carrying crying children, walk to their deaths in gas chambers.

Anne, as most teenagers do, seethes with rage. She feels wounded by her mother and the other attic occupants. “Everyone thinks I’m showing off when I talk, ridiculous when I’m silent, insolent when I answer, cunning when I have a good idea, lazy when I’m tired, selfish when I eat one more bite than I should, stupid, cowardly calculating . . .” She pretends she’s not bothered, but she’s raging.

Big sister Margot is in control of herself, seemingly docile. It makes you wonder what Margot would say. We’ll never know. She died of typhus alongside Anne in the camp in 1945, shortly before the camps were liberated.

Mr. Dussel, who arrives to the attic annex months after the others, receives goodies from his Christian wife who lives ‘outside.’ Despite the Frank family saving him, he doesn’t share.

These poor trapped crowded beings, struggle with each other’s shortcomings, but together, they feel despair. They are entrapped for two years. As time progresses, guns pop all night. Bombs destroy landmark buildings. Sometimes sirens wail through the nights.

Anne is given valerian tea, an herbal tranquilizer, to sleep. She’s depressed. Of course. And then a break-in of petty criminals in the warehouse below changes everything.

The diary wasn’t just Anne’s personal coping tool, as I’d thought. There had been an announcement that personal accounts of wartime would be published after the war. She dreams of being an author. And what an author she is!


Patricia Hruby Powell is the author of the award winning Josephine; Loving vs Virginia; and Struttin’ With Some Barbecue among others         talesforallages.com

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It’s 1944. World War II is raging across Europe and the Pacific when Margot is taken from Iowa and Haruko from Colorado in “The War Outside” (Little Brown 2018), by Monica Hesse. Now the two teens, each lives with her family in a dusty Texas internment camp for those accused of colluding with the enemy.

German American Margot says, “In the middle of this dust, in the middle of these chaotic arrivals, I feel I am watching a secret.” American families are imprisoned by the U.S. government. What did their parents do? Margot’s father is keeping a secret, clearly, all the while her mother’s health is deteriorating radically. Did her father fraternize with Nazis?

Japanese American Haruko was popular in her Colorado high school. After all, she’s cute and she laughed at the jokes made against Japanese people. Margot goes to the same school as Haruko rather than the German school in Crystal City Internment Camp in order to receive a better education in preparation of her dream to become a scientist.

Each imprisoned family lives in a prefabricated “victory hut,” and the food isn’t bad. The prisoners say, that’s in case the Japanese win the war. The USA wants their prisoners to look well fed. But the Japanese prisoners are fed Chinese rather than Japanese rice—one of many interesting details.

The two girls start meeting in the dark icehouse, sitting on bales of hay. They discuss their families—first tentatively. Then Haruko asks if Margot’s father is a Nazi. No, they just lived in a German farming community—they aren’t Nazis. Her father went to one meeting in Iowa to hear a band and a speaker, as a favor to a friend, just to keep neighborhood peace. Wasn’t that true? Haruko says that she thinks her father is keeping a secret.

Margot says, to survive the camp you must put the experience in a box and keep it there. Tell yourself that you choose to be here, so you have control of the box. Haruko is angry all the time. What did her father do to get them here? He was the one imprisoned but the rest of the family chose to join him.

Haruko’s brother Ken, enlisted as a U.S. soldier, hoping it would help the family cause. When he gets injured he visits his family in the camp. He’s not the same. At the icehouse Haruko cries in Margot’s arms. Their relationship grows more intimate.

Haruko’s father, a hotel manager in Colorado was accused of passing messages to hotel guests. Is he a spy? West Coast Japanese were all evacuated to prison camps, due to their proximity to Japan. West Coast evacuees lost everything whereas Coloradans had the luxury of selling or giving awayt their possessions. Yet, Executive Order 9066 allowed the government to send Americans anywhere—based on the artwork they displayed on their walls or if they practiced martial arts.

There’s so much to learn here. And the girls—is it a crush? Are they in love? One betrays the other. Why? Vulnerability and fear? What is the truth?




Patricia Hruby Powell is the author of the award winning Josephine; Loving vs Virginia; and Struttin’ With Some Barbecue among others         talesforallages.com

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The Book Launch Event


In the same way that we bring our experience to writing, we bring our experience to launching a book. I hope to give you some ideas that might help you launch your baby. The book, of course, helps dictate the party theme. Holiday books are great party inspirers. I know what I’d do if I had a tea party depicted in a book. Dog or cat washing? I’d throw a wet and messy bash. If I happened to have a book about a construction site, I’d throw a site-specific event. We have a massive square mile construction site a couple miles west of town. My hound loves it. Boy children would go nuts. Some girls, too.




My book Struttin’ With Some Barbecue: Lil Hardin Armstrong Becomes the First Lady of Jazz (Charlesbridge) will have released December 11, 2018, and is an early jazz story about Lil Hardin Armstrong, Louis Armstrong’s wife and a jazz pianist and composer in her own right. WOW za DOO! I’m throwing a jazz party the very next day—which, praise the heavens, falls before Christmas and Kwanzaa.


For planning your party, consider your talents.


Talent. I know how to do things on a shoestring. Having run a dance company, One Plus One, for many years, I can attest to the fact that Necessity is the Mother of Invention. Necessity has given me an ability for shoestring operation. Shoestring, folks. I’ve got shoestrings. AND there will be dancing!


Next consider your community—both your friends and your town. You know, like character and setting. So, where will your event take place?




Is there an attractive bar/restaurant near you that you frequent? Try them out. Go regularly and sit at the bar. Make friends with the management. Perhaps this is easier after you’ve consumed a beer or a pineapple margarita. Do they have music events at least occasionally? That could help you choose the venue. I guess I’m suggesting you start frequenting nearby bar/restaurants. That can be fun. Start in plenty of time, maybe even before you write the book. Unless you’re a really good drinker who can chug down pint after pint in venue after venue.

You might be thinking, Wait, this is a kid’s book. Why launch at a bar? Well, it’s usually adults who buy the books—even young adult book. Having your book launch before a gift-giving holiday is a plus, of course. But that’s the luck of the draw. Your publisher will be deciding when your book releases.


So, the bar part is important (but not essential), because you want your attendees to have the option of drinking. The more people drink, the more generous they become, the more books they buy. Trust me. I know this to be true. And you won’t have to pay for their beverages. Or the food.


And the restaurant part is important. The establishment will love you because you’ll bring in a load of people—perhaps new customers—who will buy food and drink so you shouldn’t have to rent the place. It’s a symbiotic relationship: win/win. This is what you must convince the management of your chosen venue, while drinking that pineapple margarita at the bar.


“My” restaurant/bar makes a menu item to honor my book. For Struttin’ they’ll make a barbecue sandwich. For Loving vs. Virginia they made Brunswick stew which is, apparently, a traditional Virginia down-home dish. At another wine bar, for Josephine I had soul food catered. Through experience I learned, this expense wasn’t required. Find a restaurant/bar that serves food.




Music makes it a party. I want music performed which pertains to my book. This is easy for Struttin’. That would be my husband’s band, Traditional Jazz Orchestra. “Struttin’ With Some Barbecue” is the name of a tune that Lil Hardin Armstrong wrote with Louis Armstrong on their back stoop, and is the name of my book. Yep, I’ve got an advantage, having a jazz musician for a husband, but use your perks. (Maybe you married a massage therapist. That’s a good perk). But I married a musician. So for my previous book, Loving vs. Virginia, I hired a string band led by Robin Kearton, because Mildred Jeter Loving’s father and step brothers played in a “hillbilly” string band. Actually, I didn’t hire the band, I traded my husband talking to them about improvisation—their request. That Morgan Powell, jazz trombonist, is quite a perk.


If you’re not married to a musician, you’ll need to make friends with musicians. That’s on you. And I don’t suggest you ask the band to play for free. It’s important to pay the band members. That is my only real expense—$50 per player, plus I strutted around with a tip jar for another $150 to add to their pay.


I guess you could substitute canned music and make an appropriate play list to be played during the event. But it’s not the same as live music, which actually helps draw a crowd to your event.




Ask your local bookstore to sell books so you don’t have to do the sales. I work with Jane Addams Bookstore, which is, primarily a second hand bookstore in downtown Champaign. Because we hope to sell 100 books at that party, they make out. They’ll sell your book at its full amount and you’ll make your complete royalty.


Yes, some people will come with books that they’ve purchased from Amazon and that’s fine. But, if you book your launch party the day after the release date, people probably can’t get your book through the mail in time. Just a thought. And how mine happened to work out. And you can explain to your friends, your students, interested people, that they are supporting the author/illustrator by purchasing your book at its full amount. They don’t want you to starve or anything, so they’ll usually (oftentimes) understand and be willing and excited to pay the publisher’s list price for your book.




Chronicle Books gives its authors and illustrators business cards, displaying the image of the book cover. On the backside are the creator’s social media contacts. That’s all you need. Back in the day, Salina Bookshelf made postcards of my books. I made postcards for my first book, Blossom Tales. I’d hand out my Vista Print-made postcard, with a notice of a book event and watch people fold my $.25 card in half and put it in their pocket. Agh. No one has to fold a business card. It fits in pockets, wallets, palms, you-name-it. So I begged Charlesbridge to make me a business card of Struttin’ With Some Barbecue. If they hadn’t, I would have gone to Vista Print to make my own. But I’d have asked my publisher/publicist to design the card (to my specifications), because I don’t even own PhotoShop. But, yep, you could design it on Vista Print too.


So let’s say you have 1000 beautiful business cards with the image of your book on the front. Leave enough room on the back—at least 1 ½” wide by 1” high—where you can affix your specific announcement.


Then go to Staples or some other Office Supply denizen and purchase full-page labels (that is, 8 ½ x 11). Format a page on your computer, using Times New Roman, 8 point font, which is compact and legible. Format 6 columns and margins set at .2. Succinctly designate:

What: Book Launch Party



Music by:

Book Sales by:

Print, slice lengthwise or whatever direction allows the peeling seam to be accessible. Peel, cut one announcement, affix to back of business card, and repeat. I only do a few at a time so I don’t go nutty. Or nuttier.


I hand them out months ahead of time as I see people who I think might be interested (aka everyone I know or meet who lives locally). This way you get to a whole lot of participants and build excitement for your book birth. I tell anyone who’s interested some pithy detail about the book. For instance:

Lil was Louis were each other’s second marriage.

We named our Tree Walker Hound Lil after Lil Hardin Armstrong.

Lil’s papers, including the first 5 chapters of her autobiography, were stolen from her house at the time of her funeral, which is probably in part why so little is written about her.

Lil’s extended family is owed loads in royalties, but they can’t be found; their names would probably be Hardin or Martin and might live in Tennessee.

Louis remarried a couple times but Lil never remarried.

A month after Louis Armstrong died, Lil collapsed while playing the piano at a commemorative concert in his honor in Chicago; she died shortly after.


I give a stack of the cards to Jane Addams Bookstore, a stack at my body-worker’s waiting room, and wherever people might pick one up. I still won’t use all 1000 cards, so I’ll leave some without the affixed Book Launch invitation and will hand them out whenever I meet people. My husband hands them out, too.


I’ll make a few 8×10 images of the book for a poster announcing the party. I’ll post one each at Jane Addams Bookstore, my public library and the Esquire Lounge where the party will take place.



About a month before the party, I create a FaceBook Event page and invite all local FaceBook Friends. This has become so easy on FB. Check out “Create” on your home page. It’s so straightforward it nearly does itself.


I also send an e-mail message with the book image to local friends, first as a Save the Date, then a week before. After all, not all your friends are on FB. But if you overlap, I think it’s okay. To receive occasional announcements is a way to help create buzz.


I also send a press release to my local newspaper, the paper for which I review YA books. They’ll definitely list the event. Maybe they’ll even write an article. We’ll see.


What will I do at the event? Tell some anecdotes about Lil, about the research, and read a bit. Then talk to people as I sign books. But mostly the band, the community of people, and the venue provide the entertainment.


Outcome: Some people bought multiple books. Some people didn’t buy books, but just came for the party, which is fine. More than 150 people attended, Jane Addams sold about 90 books. I signed the rest of the books and the bookstore expects to sell those. We created buzz for the book. And the party was extremely fun.




First published in The Prairie Wind, the newsletter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, Illinois. https://illinois.scbwi.org/files/2019/01/PW-Winter-2019-Interactive.pdf

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Nan Sparrow has been a chimney sweep ever since she can remember, in Jonathan Auxier’s “Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster” (Amulet 2018) set in nineteenth century London. In the beginning, the Sweep was her guide, but he disappeared five years ago. Now twelve, Nan is changing into a young woman while working for Wilkie Crudd, a cruel master with a pack of boy sweeps. They all live together in a coal cellar. The story and writing is reminiscent of Charles Dickens, specifically, Oliver Twist.

Nan is canny and lithe, but that doesn’t keep her from getting stuck in a narrow bending flue where a competitive boy “nudges” her—or shoves her deeper into the flue—when a chimney fire breaks out. Did she die? If not, where could she have escaped to? And who is with her?

The Sweep had given her a fistful of char—soot and ash—which has lived in her pocket these past 5 years. This clump of char begins to awaken and grow. The glob comforts and eventually protects her. It develops legs and arms and can move about. She names him Charlie. He’s sweet, innocent, but is growing larger and becoming frightening, but not to Nan. Nan protects Charlie from ridicule and her own fear. She doesn’t want him to become fearful. With research, she decides he’s a golem. Research also tells her that golems become obsolete—but what does that mean exactly?

Nan and Charlie move into the House with a Hundred Chimneys, which has lain vacant for years. They use an upstairs window as their front door. In fact, they prowl the city along the rooftops, which the reader will find exhilarating—at least this one did. They watch the streets below and stay hidden from the cruel Crudd who is searching for his best sweep, Nan.

Nan and Charlie assign each room with a purpose—the Tantrum Room (lined with cushions), a Dress-Up Room with all the capes and hats left by the previous owners, and the Rubbish Room, which becomes too smelly to use.

Back in the days when they’d roamed the streets together, the Sweep had sung to her, so now Nan sings. She sings to advertise her service—sweeping chimneys. And it’s effective in getting work.

Toby, a street boy and junk seller, is cocky and sweet and clearly fancies Nan. She’s dismissive of him, but the reader is grateful for Toby’s occasional presence in Nan’s hard life. Nan says, “Toby was one of those irritating people who got on with everyone.” Toby notes that Charlie woke up Nan’s heart—which had been pretty hardened.

At times the writing is lyrical, as when the sun comes out and Nan sees the light “erasing the shadows, street by street.” Reading this book is both comfortable and comforting.

The story addresses child labor of the late nineteenth century and the beginning of laws to protect children. The Sweep, Toby, and another friend, Miss Bloom, are all Jewish and the issue of anti-Semitism is an important thread running through the story. Together, Nan and Charlie, experience wonder, love, and grief—in spite of having no mother.

And on this Mother’s Day, I’m so grateful to the mother I had. Happy Mother’s Day, Mama.


Patricia Hruby Powell is the author of the award winning Josephine; Loving vs Virginia; and Struttin’ With Some Barbecue among others         talesforallages.com

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