Tuesday, August 30, 2016


Dear friends,

In this post, my dear friend, the lovely Jamie Michalak, shares about her early school days and her inspirations for becoming a writer. Her early reader series (published by Candlewick Press) feature the fabulous and funny Joe and Sparky. I know you'll want the entire set for yourself, your classroom, and your favorite young readers, so be sure to read all about this dynamic duo below. But first this very important announcement:

The winner of the Comment Contest picked by Random.org for the Back to School Book by Kay Winters is:
                      ****JANET MARTIN****  CONGRATULATIONS, JANET!
(Janet, please e-mail me: claragillowclark(at)gmail(dot)com with your mailing address, to whom you'd like your book personalized by KAY WINTERS, and which featured book you'd like to receive! Here's the list: Did You See What I Saw: Poems about School; My Teacher for President; The Bears Go to School; This School Year Will Be Special.

This week's featured guest, Author Jamie Michalak, is generously giving away one of her JOE and SPARKY titles--Winner's Choice--in the comment contest. All you have to do is leave a comment for JAMIE for a chance to win. But, we also hope you'll share our BACK TO SCHOOL blog series with your friends! THANK YOU!

AND NOW. . .here's the talented and lovely JAMIE MICHALAK. . .

The Start of a Story by Jamie Michalak

In elementary school, I was a true blue, through-and-through daydreamer. Unless I was in one of my favorite classes, Reading or Art, you’d find me staring out the window or doodling in the margins of my mimeographed math worksheets. Paying attention was not my strength.

“Your mind is like a feather in a windstorm,” my frustrated teacher would say.

At the start of every school year, I’d try my best to pay attention, filling the first few pages of freshly bought notebooks with neat, uniform letters. But as they days went on, the pages devolved into chicken scratch and drawings.

I wasn’t much different at home.

“Earth to Jamie . . .” my parents would say. “You have your head in the clouds again.”

I couldn’t help it. My imaginary world, full of wild adventures and dramatic characters, was so much more interesting than reality. I concocted fictional lives for my teachers and classmates. (My Phys Ed teacher was a spy, who used the gym’s parachute to skydive into enemy territory. Danielle, the girl with the Princess Leia buns, lived in a mansion with a robot butler. And my principal, Mrs. Tabb, secretly founded the Tab soda company.) But my stories never left my head.

Until one day, in fourth grade, a life-changing opportunity came across my desk. Literally. My teacher had handed out story starters. The best part? We could finish the story however we wanted. No rules. We would write just for FUN. Imagine that!

Now this assignment caught my attention. I couldn’t wait to finish the story, and the words flowed out of me. That year, I finished dozens of these story starters. Finally, the tales in my head had a place to go. Sometimes my teacher even asked me to read what I wrote in front of the class. Just me! I don’t remember if I dreamed of becoming an author back then, but this rare creative freedom sparked a lifelong love of writing.
Jamie's winning story starters!

It took me much longer to discover that my daydreaming was actually story-creating. I’ve also since learned that doodling helps one pay attention. (Yes! Validation!) I’m beyond thankful I can now daydream for a living. If you catch me staring out a window or if I seem a million miles away, I’m probably working on a book.

When I speak to children as a visiting author, I show them how to get what’s in their head onto paper. We have anything-goes brainstorms, and yes, even finish story starters. My early reader, Joe and Sparky Go to School, was conceived during a school visit.

So, thank you, Mrs. Slasinski, my fourth-grade teacher, for giving your students the freedom to follow their imaginations and write outside the lines!



Joe and Sparky Get New Wheels: Junior Library Guild Selection, Kirkus Best Book of the Year,
Chicago Public Library Best Children’s Book of the Year
★ “Utterly charming!” —Kirkus (starred review)


Joe and Sparky, Superstars!: Bankstreet Best Book of the Year
★ “This little treasure is one that will get passed around.” —Kirkus (starred review)

Joe and Sparky Go to School: Amazon Best Book of the Year, Cybils finalist, 1 of 52 Great Reads by the Library of Congress

“Perfect for the newly independent reader and makes a fine bridge from Amelia Bedelia to Ramona.” —The Horn Book (starred review)

"Michalak will have readers giggling over the silly exchanges and comedic misunderstandings that follow as Sparky and Joe attempt to fit in at school.” —Publishers Weekly

Coming August 2017!: Joe and Sparky, Party Animals!
Joe decides to throw a surprise party in honor of his pet worm, Wiggy—except that nobody has ever seen Wiggy. According to Joe, Wiggy leads a busy life. He sails ships, climbs mountains, and even plays in a band, the Worms. (They are even bigger than the Beetles!)
    Soon it’s party time, and all the animals in the zoo are there. But where is Wiggy?
    Young readers will revel alongside this hilarious duo in this story about being willing to take a leap of faith for a friends—especially if there’s a party involved.

Jamie Michalak is a former editor at Candlewick Press and the author of more than thirty children’s books, including the award-winning Joe and Sparky series of intermediate readers. She wrote Joe and Sparky Get New Wheels; Joe and Sparky, Superstars!; Joe and Sparky Go to School; and the forthcoming Joe and Sparky, Party Animals! She is also the author of many movie and TV show adaptations, such as the “Martha Speaks” PBS Kids! chapter book series. Jamie lives in Barrington, Rhode Island with her husband and two sons, who provide lots of inspiration for her stories. To learn more, visit www.jamiemichalak.com and http://thelittlecrookedcottage.blogspot.com.

THANK YOU, dear Readers, for stopping by. Don't forget to check out Jamie's website: www.jamiemichalak.com for more info about her school visits and her books! Be sure to leave a comment for a chance to win one of her books. The winner will be announced next week.

The final author in the BACK TO SCHOOL series is another alumni of the blog and an award winning author of MG Historical fiction! My talented friend, JOYCE MOYER HOSTETTER, will share about her new book AIM published by Calkins Creek (Boyds Mills Press imprint) released this month. Joyce will share with us the middle of September. But don't worry, there will be many more guests and giveaways coming in the months ahead! Happy Reading! ~Clara


  1. Would love to read about Joe and Sparky!

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Rosemary! Your name is entered for a chance to win one of the Joe and Sparky books!

    2. Thank you, Rosemary! :) Good luck!

  2. Looks like a fun book. If I win, it goes to my grandson who just started kindergarten.

    1. It's a truly fun series, Carol, with the sort of humor kids love! Thanks for stopping by. Your name is entered for a chance to win!

    2. Thank you, Carol! I hope your grandson is enjoying kindergarten. Joe & Sparky sure did. :)

  3. Love, love, love Joe and Sparky. Can't wait to use them in my classroom this year! The kids might even do some fan fiction as a reading response.--Judie Offerdahl

    1. So thrilled that you're planning to use Joe and Sparky in your classroom this year!

      Thanks for stopping by, Judie!Your name is entered for a chance to win!

    2. Wow! Thank you, Judie! I love, love, love this comment! Happy school year to you & your students! :) Jamie

  4. Joe and Sparky look like a real fun series for children. If I was to win one of your books I would give it to my daughter-in-law for her second grade class. Several of her students are reading below grade level and she is trying to establish a great classroom library to encourage all of them to read.

    1. How thoughtful of you, Janet, to help your daughter-in-law build a classroom library to encourage young readers. I know the kids would love Joe and Sparky!

      Your name is entered for a chance to win one of these fabulous books!

    2. Hi Janet! That's a wonderful idea. I hope your daughter-in-law's class enjoys Joe & Sparky's adventures. Thanks for commenting! :)

  5. I daydreamed a lot when I was little and still do! I would like to read these books and see how her daydreams turned into wonderful storytelling. :)

    1. What a wonderful thought, Hope! Thanks for stopping by. Your name is entered for a chance to win one of the Joe and Sparky books!

    2. Thank you for the kind comment, Hope! :)