Windows & Mirrors: Grandma’s Purse

Welcome to Windows & Mirrors where we feature books that provide us windows to lives outside our own and mirrors to our shared common human experiences.



Today we’re featuring Grandma’s Purse authored and illustrated by the amazing Vanessa Brantley-Newton.

I fell in love with Vanessa Brantley-Newton’s art the first time I laid eyes on it. Her illustrations are always bustling with energy and her carefully-chosen color palettes are candy for the eyes. She dreams up evocative characters and images that I want to know more about, making her books irresistible. Here are examples of artwork from her Instagram account:

See what I mean! I’m always torn with wanting to let my eyes linger over the gorgeous details and turning the page to see what other wonders might be in store.

But Vanessa Brantley-Newton’s latest creation spoke to my heart as soon as I read the title, before I’d seen a single brush stroke or inking.

Grandma’s Purse is a delightful story about a young girl who is fascinated by the treasures in her Grandma Mimi’s purse. It immediately brought back memories of my childhood when we’d visit with my grandma every Sunday. She’d always have gum or candy for me as well as other treasures to explore with her permission, of course.

Mimi’s purse is filled with sparkly fashion accessories, an old flip phone, gorgeous lipstick, glamorous sunglass, and more importantly every object has a story, inspiring dreams and memories. The text is charming, and the pictures are even more so, every scene magically speaks about family bonds with whimsy and delight.

Vanessa is also the author of two other books, perfect for black history month:  Don’t Let Auntie Mabel Bless the Table and Let Freedom Sing. She has illustrated numerous gorgeous picture books:

The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist

One Love: Based on the Song by Bob Marley

Mary Had a Little Glam

We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song

A Night Out with Mama

Every Little Thing: Based on the song ‘Three Little Birds’ by Bob Marley

and other picture books and novels such as the Jada Jones series by Kelly Starling Lyons and many, many more!

Check out Vanessa’s inspiring TedX talk about diversity and adversity:

To celebrate Black History Month, we curated this list of great fiction by black authors that is available on audiobook through Click the image to check it out! Audiobooks to Celebrate Black History Month

Also, if you’re going to read any blogs in February, you should check out The Brown Bookshelf’s 28 Days series. It’s fantastic with daily author interviews and book featuring black authors.



Vanessa Brantley-Newton is a self-taught illustrator, doll maker, and crafter who studied fashion illustration at FIT and children’s book illustration at the School of Visual Arts in New York. She is the author and illustrator of Let Freedom Sing and Don’t Let Auntie Mabel Bless the Table and has illustrated numerous children’s books including Mary Had A Little Glam by Tammi Sauer, One Love and Every Little Thing, words by Bob & Cedella Marley, and Presenting Tallulah by Tori Spelling. She is the recipient of numerous awards and honors for her wonderful books and designs.

Vanessa currently makes her nest in Charlotte, North Carolina with her husband, daughter, and a very rambunctious cat named Stripes. Learn more about Vanessa and her artwork at her website here or here or follower her on Instagram.

Posted by Michelle Leonard.

Windows & Mirrors: Betty Before X

Welcome to Windows & Mirrors where we feature books that provide us windows to lives outside our own and mirrors to our shared common human experiences.



Today we’re celebrating Betty Before X by Ilyasah Shabazz and Renée Watson!

Ilyasah Shabazz is the daughter of Malcolm X and Betty Shabazz. She’s the author of several books about her revolutionary family, including the critically-acclaimed adult memoir Growing Up X, a beautiful picture book about her father Malcolm Little: The Boy Who Grew Up To Become Malcolm X as well as a fictionalized middle-grade biography about him entitled X, a 2016 Coretta Scott King honor book. Now, she’s sharing the story of her mother who is just as inspiring as her father, both icons for the Civil Rights Movement.

Set in Detroit in 1945, Betty Before X is the heart-rendering fictionalized account of Betty Shabazz’s tween years. Betty struggled to understand problems with segregation and racial hostility in her community, and she had a very difficult home life due to her unloving mother. But Betty didn’t let those problems define her. She paid close attention to the positive role models in her community, which helped her develop admirable responses to hardship and injustice––forgiveness, gratitude, and a yearning to work for a better future. Those traits helped Betty bloom into the community leader and civil rights advocate who later married Malcom X.  This story of a girl learning self-acceptance and overcoming the feeling that she didn’t belong is sure to resonate with young readers. The short, vividly-detailed chapters make for fantastic historical fiction for ages 10+. We can’t think of a better story to highlight during Black History Month, and we’re happy to report that, though it just released in January, it’s already in its second printing!

Ilyasah Shabazz is just as fascinating as her iconic and amazing family. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Check out this interview with her to learn more about her and her important work.

To celebrate Black History Month, we curated this list of great fiction by black authors that is available on audiobook through Click the image to check it out! Audiobooks to Celebrate Black History Month

Also, if you’re going to read any blogs in February, you should check out The Brown Bookshelf’s 28 Days series. It’s fantastic with daily author interviews and book featuring black authors.


Posted by Michelle Leonard.

Indie Bookstores (The Lifeblood of Our Communities), Jumping Into Black Holes, and New Picture Books

Back in July, just before my daughters headed back to school, I decided to try something new. A position had opened up at our local independent book store for a part-time bookseller. What booklover hasn’t dreamed of working at an indie bookstore, at least for a day?

My expectations for being hired were low. I hadn’t held a “real” job since I’d stopped working as an engineer over ten years ago. I couldn’t think of a way to make my experience developing nitride epitaxy for electronic materials or my experience running an engineering process and large high-tech manufacturing department with dozens of direct reports seem relevant. My only retail experience was working as a bag girl at Winn-Dixie when I was sixteen. And there were several others filling out applications when I stopped by the store to fill in mine.


But what did I have to lose? I’m a writer. I’ve been querying, so I have plenty of experience with rejection and sending dreams and wishes out into swirly black holes.

By some miracle, I got the job. It’s been a steep learning curve for me and a huge adjustment for my family, but being a bookseller is tremendously rewarding. The smiles from kids, parents, friends, and relatives when you recommend the perfect book for a child are like rocket fuel for my soul.

Grandparents are THE BEST, because they remember what it was like to raise kids before iPads and video games, and they desperately want their grandkids to love reading. Send me all the grandparents!

Though I’ve always loved bookstores, the more fiercely independent and quirky the better, I’d never really thought about their importance in the community. With my behind-the-scenes glasses, I see how hard we work to support our local schools, bringing in amazing authors to inspire and grow empathetic, knowledgeable readers who will be tomorrow’s leaders and innovators. I see the devotion to our community, supporting local literacy projects and our commitment to scheduling a wide range of author events to appeal to every human interest. I see the joy we bring to the community in customers’ faces by providing true hospitality.

My coworkers inspire me! I’ve found a cohort who love books as much as I do, and together we can share that joy and our reading experiences with our community, sort of like here at The Winged Pen, but face-to-face. All our booksellers wants to inspire reading, and, unlike Amazon, it’s not just to make money.💵💵💵💵💵💵

Also, I’ve learned A LOT about the book publishing industry and discovered books outside of the scope of what I assumed was good based on my Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram feed. In future Notes from a Bookseller posts, I plan to talk about favorite books that might not have hit your reading radar and tips for authors for developing a good relationship with your local bookstore(s). Stay tuned for that!

On that note, I’ll end by mentioning a few favorite new picture books. Picture books are wonderful because they can make you feel happy in mere minutes! Painfully only listing three here, my favorites from last year are Dan Santat’s After the Fall, Baabwaa and Wooliam by David Elliot, and Antlered Ship by Dashka Slater. I absolutely adore LOVE by Matt de la Peña and Loren Long, a new favorite in my life, and it’s gotten a lot of wonderfully-deserved press thanks to Matt de la Peña’s beautiful essay in Time and Kate DiCamillo’s equally heartwarming response.

But I also have a NEW forever favorite…

My Pillow Keeps Moving by Laura Gehl, illustrated by Christopher Weyant

Homeless, clever, enterprising puppy +

lonely nearsighted man +

pillow shopping =

a new best friend

This wonderfully silly story with charming illustrations and hilarious visual cues is guaranteed to make you giggle with delight and want to read it again and again. Perfect for fans of Officer Buckle and Gloria, animal lovers (no spoilers here, but there’s a fantastic twist with a cat at the end), and fans of Christopher Weyant’s New Yorker cartoons (click, because they’re fantastic!).

Enjoy! See you at the bookstore!

MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, a children/teens bookseller, and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT , about a teen girl who uses technology to fight racism, is in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME. Proceeds from the anthology go towards scholarships for the Society of Women Engineers! Connect with Michelle on Twitter.


Our January Four on 400 Feedback!

Thank you to all the brave souls who entered this month’s Four on 400 contest!

Sharing your writing takes courage, and we appreciate your enthusiasm for our contest.Below, we’ve posted the first 400 words from this month’s winner, along with feedback from at least four of our members. We also encourage our readers to share their (constructive) suggestions and encouragement in the comments section below.

Sotome, Japan


 Tomoe Hasegawa stood on the porch of her home, sweeping up leftover beans with a thick-handled broom. That morning the villagers of Sotome had celebrated Setsubun by tossing roasted soybeans outside their homes to chase away the demons that brought bad luck. The annual festival signaled the coming of spring, a pleasant thought for Tomoe who wanted nothing more than the sea to grow warm enough for swimming.

She glanced up from her chores at the sound of horse’s hooves. A single horse and rider broke through the tree line, followed by twenty attendants on foot who paraded into the village carrying a wooden palanquin. Her broom paused mid-sweep.

Tomoe recognized the man on horseback as their daimyō, the local warlord who often met with the village elders, but she wondered about the mysterious visitor inside the palanquin. Could he be a messenger from the royal court? In her eleven years, she could not remember anyone of such prominence arriving in her village.

Papa was outside tallying sums with the other farmers. At the sight of visitors, he slipped off his spectacles and joined the other men to formally greet the procession.

The daimyō  addressed the villagers. “Citizens of Sotome, I present to you, Regional Deputy Enya, loyal servant of the esteemed Shogun.” The door of the palanquin slid open and Deputy Enya emerged, his silk robes brushing against the ground as he disembarked.

The villagers knelt and bowed low, touching their foreheads to the ground. Deputy Enya accepted their greeting with a nod of his head. Then the women and children resumed their prior activities while the men sat back on their heels awaiting news from the royal court. Deputy Enya unfurled a scroll of parchment and began to read.

Tomoe strained to hear the announcement. She sensed Mama behind her, hovering at the door like a leaf clinging to a branch. Her six-year-old brother Yoshi jostled noisily against Mama and a muffled baby’s cry escaped from the house next door. Tomoe inched her way off the porch. The moment her foot touched the dirt, Mama’s reprimand—sharp as a bird’s cry—stopped her in her tracks. Dutifully, Tomoe stepped back onto the porch.

A whine rose up from Yoshi, causing Mama to move inside to shush him. Tomoe glanced toward the house, weighing the certainty of Mama’s fury against the pull of her own curiosity.

Michelle: Beautiful, beautiful writing. I’m totally hooked and want to read more! My only suggestion would be to slow down the paragraph where Mama reprimands her. I wanted more detail here. What did she say or was her sharp reprimand with her eyes alone? Does Tomoe know why her mother is angry? Lovely metaphors and a great sense of time and place. Best of luck with this!

Halli:  I second Michelle with the beautiful writing. The words and style capture the time and place and truly puts us in 1614. You do a nice job of describing the scene as it flows. We know her father’s job, Tomoe’s age, family dynamics, and the gender roles of that time period. All through this I’m wondering what news Deputy Enya is bringing, and just when my curiosity is overwhelming me, I see I’m not alone. 🙂 Excellent job! Thank you for sharing.

Gita: I love the beginning of this story and wish I could keep reading! You’ve beautifully set the stage in a time and place most of your readers will not know, but you’ve done so in a way to make it feel very real. You use detail to create great texture—I’m thinking especially of the sounds you evoke—though there are a few places I feel there could be more detail to ground us in this world. For example, when you write that “villagers resumed their prior activities” it feels a bit thin to me—can you briefly say what were they doing before the deputy arrived? Similarly, I’m curious as to why the farmers are tallying sums.  I’d love a hint as to why they’re doing this, instead of farming—is it important to the story? Best of luck—I hope to see this story out in the world!

Gabrielle: You paint beautiful visual images, and I love the tension you create between her longing to know more, and her mother’s rules. I’d love to see more detail, as Gita said–some dialogue, and I think it could be very powerful to work in some different sensory details. I also think that it could be very powerful and telling to let us see some of the reactions to the announcement. It feels like such a rare occurrence should mean it’s important and impactful to the people it’s being read to, so seeing them react would be great, and would tell us a lot about how they see their leadership. Good luck with this!

Writing About Native Americans: A Diversity Conversation with Kara Stewart

Welcome to The Winged Pen, Kara! Thank you for taking the time to talk with us about Writing About Native Americans. I know many readers/writers in my circle are eager to learn more about this topic. Tell us a little about yourself and your passion for Native American Literature, especially for children.

Kara: I’ve been a Literacy Coach and Reading Specialist in the public schools for twenty years. I was the Honor winner in 2014 for Lee & Low’s New Voices award, and am still working on that manuscript! I’m an enrolled member of the Sappony and have served a number of terms on the North Carolina State Advisory Council on Indian Education and my Tribal council, am an educational consultant, and was the recipient of a University of North Carolina’s 2015 Community Diversity Award. I’m also an SCBWI Carolinas member.

As a Sappony person, I’ve done a lot of stereotype busting in the schools. Instruction is driven not just by data, but also by popular literature, resources, and what people think they know, and when those concepts are inaccurate and full of stereotypes, so is the instruction and hence, the learning. I want to break that cycle of misrepresentation for all children so that it won’t continue to roll on for the next three hundred years as it as for the past three hundred years.

Based on the most recent data from the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, although there has been a small increase in the number of books written about Native Americans in recent years, the number of books written by Native American authors remains rather flat.

Related to this information, is it okay for non-Native Americans to write books about Native Americans or with Native American main characters? Should these types of books primarily be #ownvoices? What type of knowledge/experience should an author have before they write a book about Native Americans?

This has been quite the controversial topic over the last few years. I can’t give ‘the Native opinion’ – I can only give my personal opinion. After reading hundreds of books about and including Native people by non-Native people in a professional capacity and as a parent (now a grandparent), I do believe these books should be #ownvoices.

My reasons fall into two major categories:

1)    Colonialist/inaccurate/stereotypical portrayals- I have read books by non-Natives that technically have the facts correct, but the overall atmosphere of the book is still colonialist, which was most likely not the author’s intent. But does intent matter when a child reads that book and either has the colonialist mindset reinforced, or a Native child is given reminders that their family is ‘less than’? Can you, as a non-Native writer, recognize when your words combine in a way that perpetuates a colonial mindset?

2)    We should leave these stories for Native authors to tell, ones who are finding it difficult to get published. Many agents and editors seem to find the colonial/inaccurate/stereotypical content more palatable and probably marketable, as it is the same content about us that has been cycling for hundreds of years.

I’d like to take this opportunity to give air time to some authors who have already written phenomenal blog posts about this topic. Writers will find a lot to chew over in these posts.

·      Jacqueline Woodson’s Who Can Tell My Story in The Horn Book

·      Torrey Maldonado’s Write What You Know: Encouraging Young Authors of Color on Ideas Never Sleep

·      Torrey Maldonado’s Demand Change in the Publishing World on Ideas Never Sleep

·      Celia C. Pérez’ When Google Translate Gives You Arroz Con Mango: Erroneous Español and the Need for #ownvoices in The Horn Book

·      Sarah Hannah Gomez’ How Privilege and Diversity Affect Literature and Media on!

·      Margarita Engle’s Cuba For Beginners on Multiculturalism Rocks!

I’d also like to invite writers to read some of my blog posts on writing about American Indians to get an idea of the nuance necessary (with over 567 very different sovereign federally-recognized nations and hundreds more sovereign state-recognized nations, nuance is everything), and real life consequences to Native people:

·      Writing About Native Americans

·      On Obligation and Percy

·      Indian 101 for Writers – co-written with Alison DeLuca, a five part traveling blog series that can be used as a mini-course and perhaps the most important resource in this post specific to American Indians.

With the push to make sure children’s literature mirrors the diversity we see in the real world, many authors are trying to be more inclusive with the characters in their novels.

Is it okay for authors to write novels with supporting characters who are Native American? What advice do you have for avoiding stereotypes and harmful narratives?

Professor Snape was a secondary character. Yet we knew him deeply – or so we thought! He was fully fleshed out and came alive from his mannerisms and attitudes to his outward manifestations of his beliefs and motivations.

Secondary, and even tertiary, characters shouldn’t be demoted to the token Indian, or the speck of diversity to attract an agent or editor. I think writers need to ask themselves why they want to write a Native character. See more on this on Questions Agents and Editors Can Use To Evaluate Native Content.

A tool you will want to learn to use to avoid stereotypes and harmful narratives is the Criteria From How To Tell the Difference: A Guide for Evaluating Children’s Books for Anti-Indian Bias (adapted from

It was created originally by the wonderful people at Oyate as a tool to evaluate already-written books. Media specialists and teachers who attend my workshops report afterwards that it does take three or four passes at evaluating books before they feel they have the hang of it, but through using it they have become much more adept at recognizing harmful narratives, inaccuracies and stereotypes. Writers can also use it to learn to evaluate their own writing, although they will most likely need to study Indian 101 for Writers first. The Criteria would be a great activity for writing critique groups.

As writers, you will also want to be sure to use sensitivity/beta readers. This is a great way to find problematic language and bias you may not realize are in your writing. You can find helpful thoughts and even a spreadsheet full of people willing to be sensitivity readers on Writing In The Margins. Debbie Reese has also written a very helpful post on her blog American Indians in Children’s Literature that is specific to Native content. If you do hire a sensitivity/beta reader, please be sure to believe her or him. It is discouraging when you care enough about your group to offer these services, but your feedback is primarily met with the author defending their writing.

Those are great points, Kara! We talked about sensitivity readers and the importance of well-developed characters in this recent post. What can we do as consumers, educators, writers, and readers to increase the number of books written by Native Americans and to raise awareness about correctly portraying Native American culture in literature?

The good news is that there are many things you can do! The number one best thing you can do is to educate yourself, which means being willing to put in a LOT of time reading and thinking – not just about Native Americans, but about yourself, and being willing to seriously consider and reconsider beliefs you may hold, uncomfortable as that may be.

One tool to help you with this is Indian 101 for Writers. If you are serious about wanting to learn as a writer, reading all five parts and investigating the resources listed in it will be a mini-course worth your time. Take your time and let the information sink in.

Another great thing you can do is promote Native authors. There are so many amazing books out written by Native authors! Debbie Reese has a Best Books page by year that includes very recently published books, and the North Carolina State Advisory Council on Indian Education has a lengthy Recommended Books About American Indians list. Just a few of my personal favorites are Tim Tingle’s How I Became A Ghost and Saltypie, Eric Gansworth’s If I Ever Get Out of Here, Louise Erdrich’s Birchbark House series, We Sang You Home by Richard Van Camp and Julie Flett, and Cynthia Leitich Smiths Jingle Dancer.

Thank you, Kara! So many great resources and things to think about in your responses! We greatly appreciate your time and your dedication to helping other writers and readers!

Thank you, Michelle, for inviting me to share my thoughts and information with you and your readers!

For more great books written by Native Americans, check out our post from last month on Native American Literature for Young Readers.

For more information about Kara Stewart check out and follow her blog From Here to Writernity. Or follow her on Twitter.




MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, an Indie children/teens bookseller, and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT , about a teen girl who uses technology to fight racism, is in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME. Proceeds from the anthology go towards scholarships for the Society of Women Engineers! Connect with Michelle on Twitter.










Daughter 4254: A New Dystopian Series about fighting for the arts #D4254

The soon-to-be-released futuristic dystopian young adult novel Daughter 4254 started out as an ebook on Wattpad that received over         ******1 million******   views. Impressed by the attention it had received, the publishers at Owl Hollow Press invited Leigh Statham to publish Daughter 4254 as a series of novels. The original story has been revised and enhanced, and the first novel in the trilogy releases on November 7th!

Goodreads | Amazon | Kindle | iBooks   Coming soon to Barnes and Noble and Indiebound!


Daughter4254 used to think life in a community where art, music, and names are outlawed would suffocate her creative spirit—until she is left to rot in prison and realizes there is far worse.

When she meets Thomas, a fellow inmate, who tells stories of the mythical mountain colonies where people have names and the arts thrive, she finds a shred of hope. Together they plot an escape, knowing they’ll die if they fail. Or worse, their consciousness will be taken by the MindWipe, leaving their bodies free for government use.

When nothing goes as planned, Daughter4254 must choose between using her mother’s secrets of the rebellion to better the world she hates and following her heart to the quiet life of freedom she has always craved.

We are thrilled to talk with young adult author Leigh Statham about Daughter4254 and her Wattpad success.

Hi Leigh! Welcome to The Winged Pen! Tell us about the inspiration for Daughter4254.

Leigh:  My inspiration came from a lot of different sources. I’m a big fan of classic dystopian literature, especially Fahrenheit 451, and Chinese history. The Chinese Cultural Revolution was a period when the government, or more specifically Mao Zedong, decided that all art should “serve the people” which quickly translated into “serve the state.” Many great artists were ridiculed and great works of art and literature were gathered and destroyed. It’s a crushing story and one that China openly regrets now.

As a creative person, I’ve often wondered what it would be like to have your life’s work be illegal. Fast forward to American culture today, with the educational budget cuts that force public schools in the poorest areas to cut funding for the arts at all levels of childhood development, and we’ve got a quieter yet equally nefarious situation on our hands. I think it’s important to express how important the arts are not only to our children but to humans in general. Daughter 4254 takes place in a futurist society where artistic expression is illegal. 

What the plans are for the series?

I never planned on writing a series. I love how Lowry ends The Giver, and I know she didn’t plan on writing more books after that one, but I had so many amazing kids asking for more when I posted the book on Wattpad. I decided to go ahead and see where Daughter 4254 might take me. Writing the second book was a really fun process. I got a lot of input from readers and wrote and published it serially on Wattpad. You just don’t find that kind of interaction anywhere else as a writer. Yes, the results are pretty rough around the edges, no final edits, just writing, quick edits, then posts with comments from readers. The good news is that the series is now in the capable hands of the editing team at Owl Hollow Press, so the final product will be a shining star.

So let’s talk about Wattpad a bit. First off, why did you choose to first post this novel there?

When I first finished the novel, I was querying on the heels of The Hunger Games and Divergent mania. The market was overloaded with dystopian books. A friend told me about this “cool new” website I should try out. I’m a pretty big risk taker, so I threw it up there to see what would happen and worked on another book.

Over 1 million views! That blows my mind. Why you think it was so popular?

I got a lot of views because I participated in the community. I would read for people who asked me to. I would leave comments and return compliments. I answered every email I got for several years. Finally, someone nominated my book to be “featured.” This means Wattpad puts it on the front page and anyone bored and surfing for something new to read will see it and hopefully get sucked in. A year or so later, it was nominated for the Wattpad top ten dystopian novels in conjunction with the release of the Insurgent movie and then it made the Wattpad top ten list when The Fifth Wave movie came out. Wattpad is big on book/movie crossovers and even has its own studios now. They surf the books there, looking for screenplay potential. Anyway, the rest is history. My reads, votes, and followers skyrocketed. I’m having a hard time keeping up with requests and replies, but I’m still working on it. Wattpad readers, please don’t give up on me! 

Any words of wisdom for authors who might want to try using Wattpad?

Jump in with both feet! It’s mostly an adult and YA audience. Romance does great there. Most of all, be a part of the community. That’s what it’s all about. Some people think you post a book there and if it’s good enough it will get noticed. Not so. You have to participate. Go make friends. Get out of your writerly cave and interact. Scary, I know, but you can do it!

Very interesting, Leigh! Buckle up for the lightning round! *Hands Leigh a piece of cheesecake, made by her lovely 11-year-old baking-master daughter.

If you had a superpower, what would it be? I would love to be able to talk to animals, or maybe be invisible, but I’d have to be able to take my clothes with me. None of this running around naked nonsense! 

Wooden pencil or mechanical? Wood

Coffee or tea? Herbal tea

Sweet or salty?  Both!

Dog, cat, or other? All the above, plus chickens

Plotter or pantser? Pantser, although I’m getting to be more of a plotter every day.

Any advice for all those aspiring authors out there? Read everything. Write often. Be kind. Go out and support a creative person today! Even if that creative person is just yourself— it’s important to nurture and grow our talents. Our future is in our hands.

Thank you so much, Leigh, for taking the time to talk to us. And best wishes for Daughter 4254 and the next books in the series!

This was fantastic! Thank you, Michelle!!

Leigh Statham was raised in the wilds of rural Idaho, but found her heart in New York City. She worked at many interesting jobs before settling in as a mother and writer.

She now resides in North Carolina with her husband, four children, five chickens, and two suspected serial killer cats.

Leigh is currently working on an MFA, has written countless short stories, and is the author of two published novels: The Perilous Journey of the Not-So-Innocuous Girl and The Perilous Journey of the Much-Too-Spontaneous Girl. She is also the winner of the 2016 Southeast Review Nonfiction Prize for her short story “The Ditch Bank and the Fenceline.”

Facebook  |   Twitter    |    Website    |     Wattpad

MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, an Indie children/teens bookseller, and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT , about a teen girl who uses technology to fight racism, is in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME. Proceeds from the anthology go towards scholarships for the Society of Women Engineers! Connect with Michelle on Twitter.











MYC: Tightening

Welcome to this week’s Master Your Craft post! Each Wednesday we’ll discuss prewriting and drafting a new book from the BIG IDEA to QUERYING. Last week, we talked about Sentence, Paragraph, Chapter, and Story Length. This week, we’ll discuss Ten Steps to Tightening.

One of the important steps in the revision process is tightening. This is a multi-level, multi-step process, but oh so important to make your writing sparkle. This task is a bit tedious, so I normally save it for the end, just before sending it to betas.

1. Cut unnecessary words!

  • Eliminate as many of these as possible: very, really, just, back, up, quite, rather, start, begin
  • Eliminate “that” (but be careful with “that”––sometimes “that” makes a sentence much more readable). That phrases can be tightened. Example: The house that sat up on the big hill… becomes… The house up on the big hill…
  • Eliminate “of” when it follows all, off, outside
  • Check “up” and “down” when it follows a verb. Chances are you don’t need it. Example: Sat down at the table. Stood up.
  • So” and “such” are unnecessary: so tired, so lovely, such injustice, such beauty
  • Look at “but“. Sometime it’s a good conjunction and sometimes you can use it to start a sentence as an emphasis word. Often you can cut the “but” and write two separate, more powerful sentences. If you use “but” to start sentences often, it loses its punch.

To eliminate these unnecessary words, in your Word document, type the word in the Find function. Go through the entire document and delete as many as possible. Then move on to the next word.

I’ve found that after going through the exercise of doing this on several manuscripts, I’ve trained myself to use these words less often in more recent WIPs.

2. Cut unnecessary dialogue tags!

Said, answered, asked…

You can definitely do this, especially if you are paragraphing your dialogue appropriately so that it is clear who is saying what.


“Pass me that tomato,” Dad said as he grabbed the cutting board and a serrated knife.

“Pass me that tomato.” Dad grabbed the cutting board and a serrated knife.

3. Cut filtering verbs!

These include overused seeing verbs and thinking verbs: heard, saw, felt, knew, imagined, wondered, pondered, thought, understood, realized

For the sensing verbs, the sentence is normally stronger without the filter. Example: She heard the car door slam against the garage wall. Replace with: The car door slammed against the garage wall.

For the thinking verbs, just deliver the information or ask the question directly.


She thought about all the people like her who had failed to finish college.

So many others like her had failed to finish college.

She wondered why she’d been successful when so many others had failed.

Why had she been successful when so many others had failed?

4. Question your adjectives! 

I’m not bashing adjectives here. They can stir emotions and visual images that are comforting and make the story come to life. But sometimes ,the description is excessive and takes you right out of the story.

Do you really need to say a “bright, warm, cloudless, sunshiny day”? I think not. Think about how your character would describe it and keep it simple.

5. Also question your adverbs!

We already got rid of “really” and “very”, but carefully scrutinize your -ly words to make sure they add value to each sentence. Sometimes an adverb is just a signal that you need a more precise verb and. Example:

She spread butter thickly on the toast and quickly put it in her mouth on the way out the door.

She loaded the toast with butter and stuffed it in her mouth on the way out the door.

6. Eliminate redundancies!

She nodded her head and shrugged her shoulders.

This can be simply be written as: She nodded and shrugged.

Another example:

Emily began eating her soggy bagel. Three boys ran into the cafeteria and started yelling, “Everyone, go outside. Now!”

“Began” and “started” are redundant. Skip them both.

Emily ate her soggy bagel. Three boys ran into cafeteria yelling, “Everyone, go outside. Now!”

7. Check for “was”! 

A high density of “was” in your writing normally signals that your sentence structure doesn’t have much flavor and is likely very passive. Often this means you aren’t using active verbs. Active verbs reduce wordiness and pulls your reader in.


I was envious of your grade on that last test.

I envy your grade on that last test.

At the party, she was dressed like a fairy and had wings and a wand.

She wore fairy wings to the party and carried a wand.

We were at the party, but there were so many people we had to leave early.

We left the over-crowded party early. 

8. Check your fall back words! These are your words that you tend to overuse, often when you’re trying to convey what your character is feeling.

Only you know what these are for you. Mine are breathed, shrugged, nodded, heart raced…

Seeing the same reactions repeated over and over will make your story flat. Mix it up by finding new ways to express that your character feels relieved, frustrated, excited, or scared. One of the best resources that I’ve found for this is the Emotional Thesaurus. It’s filled with thousands of different emotional responses that will help set your story apart.

9. Check for “stuff” and “things” and make them specific!

There was so much stuff swirling in her head that she couldn’t think of the answers to the questions on the test.

The history facts swirled in her head, making it impossible to answer the test questions.

10. Eliminate unnecessary phrases!

I notice these when I look for “that” in my manuscript. Sometimes the that seems necessary in the sentence, but really you just need to get rid of the phrase accompanying it.


Maria became furious as Allison kept bringing up examples that had nothing to do with the topic.

Maria became furious as Allison kept bringing up unrelated examples.


Additional Resources:

10 Overused Words in Writing

30 Filler Words You Can Cut Out of Your Writing

43 Words You Should Cut From Your Writing by Diana Urban

44 Overused Words and Phrases


We’d love to hear your suggestions for tightening in the comments! Come back next week to read our discussion about Using All Five Senses.

MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, an Indie children/teens bookseller, and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT , about a teen girl who uses technology to fight racism, is in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME. Proceeds from the anthology go towards scholarships for the Society of Women Engineers! Connect with Michelle on Twitter.




















Nic Stone Interview: Dear Martin

Black Yale-bound graduating senior Justyce McAllister’s good life at his prestigious, mostly-white prep school takes on a new harsh reality after he’s falsely accused of crimes and roughed up by a policeman while innocently helping a friend. Meanwhile, daily news accounts of young black men being shot or arrested flood the airwaves, stirring up strong opinions among his classmates. As Justyce searches for answers to explain why he’s now facing scorn from his peers despite being a good kid and a star student, he writes letters to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

When a second run in with police ends in tragedy, Justyce grapples with being powerless to escape systemic racism. He can’t help but question if Dr. King’s teachings are still relevant and starts looking for answers in a place he thought he’d left behind.

Author Nic Stone doesn’t give us the answers, but she frames questions in a fresh, thoughtful way, promoting deeper dialogue helpful for understanding and confronting racism and social injustice. It’s impossible to read DEAR MARTIN without feeling changed, moved. A must-read for high schoolers and older.

I am more than thrilled to welcome Nic Stone to The Winged Pen! Congratulations, Nic! DEAR MARTIN is an important, powerful book that I hope many, many people—especially teens—will read. Writing it must have been difficult both technically and emotionally, but I’m thankful you did. This book will change lives.

Nic:  Eep! Making me blush already! Thanks for having me 🙂

Obviously, Justyce is a pretty level-headed and very intelligent guy. Even so, he finds himself in trouble, serious trouble, many times throughout the story. What do you hope your readers will learn from his struggles?

In a nutshell, that being smart and doing *stupid* things aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, one rarely has anything to do with the other. I, like Justyce, was a highly intelligent, generally level-headed teenager… but that didn’t stop me from keying my mom’s car. Even Einstein was capable of punching someone in the face when he was pissed off, you know? ALL of us have the capacity to let our emotions to get the best of us. We should constantly bear that in mind.

Justyce is black. He benefits from a great relationship with a black professor in the story, but there are also some important white characters who influence and support him. Justyce is very aware of the importance of these white people in his life, but he also feels conflicted about it. Justyce’s internal dialogue about this seemed very heartfelt and brings some important considerations about interracial friendships to the surface. Could you talk about that a bit more?

So I grew up with very excellent white people who, to this day, are very supportive of me and my work, even when it makes them uncomfortable. And it does. There’s also some validity to the notion that once you really get to know another person, their race becomes peripheral, in a sense (hence that whole “I don’t even see you as [insert marginalized racial identity]” statement that, while likely true, is also a microaggression). BUT in order for any relationship to work, it has to be built on mutual respect and concern for the other person’s well-being. There has to be a willingness to set aside one’s own preconceived notions for the sake of stepping into the other person’s shoes and making an attempt to see the world as they do.

But even saying that makes me uncomfortable because I know there will be some (white) people who take it and say “SEE! You’re supposed to try and see things from MY perspective!” People like this won’t do well in friendships/relationships with people who are different from them. Hell, people like this won’t do well in any relationships because they’re too self-focused.

Bottom line here: if you value and respect other people, are open to hearing their opinions and experiences, and have their well-being as your highest priority, you’ll be the best friend anyone could ask for regardless of race.

I know many white people who might be too afraid to read this story. Maybe they think the story will be too angry (IMO, it’s not angry at all) or just not for them. Why should they read Dear Martin?

Exactly because this question exists, lol! This is the thing: if we don’t explore experiences outside of our own, our worlds will stay small. Books are the perfect place to explore other people’s experiences and emotions because… well because they’re inanimate. Even if a book contains someone’s expression of anger, the book can’t hurt you. It can’t lash out or scream at you or punch you in a fit of furious passion. Books are the perfect place to grapple with things that make us uncomfortable, opinions that differ from our own, experiences we could never live because they don’t require an immediate response out of us, you know? They don’t stare at you waiting for you to say something. You can sit with the information. Chew on it. Swallow the meat and spit out the bones. And you can put them down and never pick them up again, and they won’t hold a grudge. In my opinion, stepping outside of your comfort zone to read something that makes you nervous can only make you a more thoughtful, well-rounded person.

Readers who want to know a bit more about the birth of this story should check out your interview at Adventures in YA Publishing. I was thrilled to hear that you’ve got another book in the works. Can you share anything about it with us?

By the time this interview goes live, I will have turned my copyedits in, LOL. Book 2, as we’ll refer to it for now, already has a title and a cover (that I LOVE) and a slated pub date. What I can say about it is that while it’s different from Dear Martin, it deals with another marginalized aspect of my identity (yay #intersectionality!), and it’s the book I wish I’d had back when I was trying to figure some things out about myself.

I loved your YouTube interview with Adam Silvera, especially the part where you speak to aspiring black authors. Your words, “You are power” are so true. We need to read and share these stories. We talked about this quite a bit at the MadCapRT Writing Cross Culturally workshop where you and I met in March 2017, but could you tell us what advice you have for white authors. What can we do to support diversity in literature?

YOU, Michelle, are doing the best thing you could possibly do: reading and promoting books by and about people of color. The other thing I would say to white authors is: be willing to step aside. Just last week, a white author I know was complaining (in private, so the person shall remain unnamed) because a black author at the same imprint—the only black author at this imprint, mind you—got to fly to New York to assist with the photo shoot for said black author’s book cover whereas the publisher is using stock images for the white author’s cover. There was this cry of, “It’s not fair!” and while I can understand how the white author would perceive things that way, frankly, it wasn’t fair four years ago when my first agent struggled to garner editor interest in the first book I ever wrote because they didn’t think a black lead would sell. Yes, it sucks to feel like what you’re creating isn’t being valued, and it’s not any one white author’s fault the industry has a diversity problem it’s working to remedy. But it also wasn’t any one black author or Indian author or disabled author or gay author’s fault the problem existed in the first place.

Buckle up for the lightning round! *Hands Nic a cupcake with frosting the same color as her gorgeous purple lipstick. (Seriously, you need to check out Nic’s lipstick game on Instagram. Bonus: she often posts pics of her beautiful family.)

Nic’s side note: wouldn’t it be amazing if one could eat a cupcake and wind up with perfectly {insert frosting color} lips? Someone should invent that. I would be all over it.

If you had a superpower, what would it be? Already have two: I make people and control minds. (Such is the life of a mother/author. **bows**)

Wooden pencil or mechanical? Sakura Stardust Gelly Roll gel pen. (Okay fine: mechanical, 0.5 pt.)

Coffee or tea? Coffee. No brainer.

Sweet or salty?  Both simultaneously? (PLZ DON’T MAKE ME CHOOSE I NEED BOTH OKAY #saltedcarameleverything)

Dog, cat, or other? Do human babies count? Because I like those best. Super snuggly without the shedding.

Plotter or pantser? Plotter. In pants.

Any advice for all those aspiring authors out there?  Think critically, stay open to being wrong, and never stop learning. Seriously. These are the best things you can do for your writing and your life.

Thank you so much, Nic, for taking the time to talk to us. And best wishes for Dear Martin and your future books!

Information about Nic Stone’s release party in Atlanta on October 17th is to the right, but for those who can’t make it stop by your local Indie or check out these links to purchase DEAR MARTIN: 

Indiebound | Goodreads | Amazon | B&N




Photo credit: Nigel Livingstone

About Nic Stone
Nic Stone was born and raised in a suburb of Atlanta, GA, and the only thing she loves more than an adventure is a good story about one. After graduating from Spelman College, she worked extensively in teen mentoring and lived in Israel for a few years before returning to the US to write full-time. Growing up with a wide range of cultures, religions, and backgrounds, Stone strives to bring these diverse voices and stories to her work. Stone lives in Atlanta with her husband and two sons.
Website | Twitter | Instagram


MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, an Indie children/teens bookseller, and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT , about a teen girl who uses technology to fight racism, is in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME. Proceeds from the anthology go towards scholarships for the Society of Women Engineers! Connect with Michelle on Twitter.











MYC: Make Your Story Fit Your Reader

Welcome to this week’s Master Your Craft post! Each Wednesday we’ll discuss prewriting and drafting a new book from the BIG IDEA to QUERYING. Last week, we talked about Creating Interesting Dialogue and Description. This week, we’ll discuss making sure the content and sentence, paragraph, chapter, and word count work for your reader.

As you are revising, one important step in the process is to make sure that you wrote a book that “fits” your reader. Below, I’ve attempted to attach some numbers as rough estimates based on my own browsing and research about books in these categories, but please, please, please do you own research too. The point of this post is to make sure you’re thinking about content and sentence, paragraph, chapter, and story length as you revise.

Chapter Book

These are for kindergarten through fourth grade. But, of course, that’s quite a spread in reading ability. Some chapter books are for beginning readers and others are transitionary, getting the reader ready for middle grade fiction. Often these books are about family relationships and friendship.

Beginning-level Chapter Books: In terms of vocabulary, they are similar to the level 3/4 books in the popular I Can Read leveled readers. The plot is normally simple and the sentences are short and uncomplicated. These early chapter books are typically published with a large font and are color-illustrated, often with a picture on every page. The art typically supports the texts, meaning it is important to the story because it shows things that don’t have to be described, much like a picture book.

Examples: Princess in Black series, Mercy Watson, Captain Awesome, Ivy and Bean, Heidi Heckelbeck, and Dragon Masters.

Sentence Length: Generally short (<10 words) with a few longer sentences.

Paragraph Length: Less than six sentences. Some are single sentence. Lots of white space. Normally less than 50 words.

Chapter Length: Some have no chapters, but typically less than 12 highly-illustrated pages (note: this is as-published, no how it will be in your document)

Story Length: Ranges typically from 1500-6000 words

Higher-level Chapter Books: As compared to the beginning readers, the vocabulary is broader. There is less repetition. The sentence structure becomes more complicated by adding phrases and more adjectives and adverbs. The plot may be more elaborate, maybe by adding mystery or leaving out details to let the reader figure out on his/her own. The concepts/details may require a higher level of thinking. Perhaps the biggest change of all is that the font is usually smaller and, though the illustrations are still there, they aren’t usually necessary for understanding the story. Illustrations are often done in black.

Examples:  Judy Moody, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Captain Underpants, early Magic Tree House series (the Merlin Missions are for middle grade readers)

Sentence Length: Usually less than 20 words per sentence. There are still many short sentences in between longer sentences, and this structure is ideal even for adult works. More complicated in structure and word choices.

Paragraph Length: Slightly longer than the early chapter books, but still generally less than 75 words. Still more white space than middle grade.

Chapter Length: Some have no chapters, but typically less than 12 illustrated pages

Story Length: Typically from 4000-15,000 words

Middle Grade

Middle-grade stories are typically for ages 8 and up. They deal with more complicated concepts and sometimes cover sad and more mature topics than you will find in most chapter books, like divorce, death, bullying, and risky behaviors. These books often give children a wider window into the world by covering these topics and they also often include characters that have different cultures or ethnicities. Often books help readers explore their feelings about issues with friendships and family through story, and they are great tools in helping children understand empathy and community. Romance, if any, is usually limited to hand holding or a quick, nervous kiss. These books have few illustrations and they are often confined to the chapter heading.

Examples: When You Reach Me, The Journey of Edward Tulane, Fourteenth Goldfish, Karma Khullar’s Mustache, Wish

Sentence Length: Readers are capable of tackle long, complicated sentences, but using a variety of sentence lengths is still important. Vocabulary should reflect the types of words you would expect these readers to know or be able to figure out with context clues. Though helping the reader expand his/her vocabulary is a fine goal, be careful that there isn’t a high density of challenging words in your sentences.

Paragraph Length: Mostly two hundred words or less with a variety of paragraph lengths so that you don’t tire your reader.

Chapter Length: There’s really no rule here. A young reader is often more likely to tackle the next chapter if it is less than 10 pages, especially if he knows mom/dad will let him/her go a few minutes over lights-out time for reading. 🙂

High action scenes may require longer chapters, but if the chapter is clocking toward 20+ pages, you may want to find a way to break it up. Short chapters with choppy sentences are great for when you need to increase the tension in the story.

Particularly important for this age, leave small cliff hangers at your chapter endings when possible.

Story Length: Stories that don’t require a lot of world building are typically 20,000-50,000 words. Sci-fi and fantasy can be longer, but generally those should be less than 70,000 words.

Young Adult

Young adult stories are mostly for ages 13+. Profanity, sex (not erotic), drug and alcohol use are okay, but it’s not as acceptable for books with a younger protagonist (<15 years old). In young adult books, the parents tend to have a less important role in the protagonist’s life because they are more focused on friendships and non-familial relationships.

Great resource by agent and author Marie Lamba about what’s appropriate in MG vs. YA.

Examples:  Across the Universe, The Sun is Also a Star, I’ll Give You the Sun, The Hate You Give, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Sentence Length: These readers often have adult-like reading skills and can handle complex sentences and vocabulary.

Paragraph Length: Less than 200 words for most paragraphs. A variety of paragraph lengths is best.

Chapter Length: Less than 25 pages generally with mini-cliff hangers to keep the reader turning pages.

Story Length: Less than 90,000 words unless complex world building is necessary for the story. For sci-fi and fantasy, this can be longer. See Maria Lamba and the post in resources for more details.


Word count:

Page count (funny):

Chapter length:

An excellent resource for finding out the word count for your favorite books:

Thanks for reading this week’s Master Your Craft post. Come back next week when we’ll discuss Tightening your manuscript!

MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, an Indie children/teens bookseller, and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT , about a teen girl who uses technology to fight racism, is in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME. Proceeds from the anthology go towards scholarships for the Society of Women Engineers! Connect with Michelle on Twitter.











Native American Literature for Young Readers

Happy Indigenous People’s Day! As the wind turns from humid to crisp and the leaves begin to change colors, we can’t help but think about Thanksgiving and our mixed feelings about this celebration. My education about Native Americans as a child was woefully inadequate and wrong for the most part. Understanding that our childhood views of colonialism were misrepresented is important to our history, our culture, and our humanity and the best place to begin fixing our misunderstanding is to make sure that the books we read are representative of Native American culture.

To celebrate Indigenous People’s Day, we’ve been busy reading to create a list of recommended books that should be in our classrooms, home libraries, or reading stacks this fall and all year. Yes, you should read Sherman Alexie’s books too, but there are many other fine Native American authors who are often overlooked. We’ve chosen to shine a light on them.


We Sang You Home by Richard Van Camp and illustrated by Julie Flett

A perfect book for new parents welcoming baby into the world. A lovely rhythmic read aloud, beautifully illustrated.

Board book, ages 0+


My Heart Fills With Happiness by Monique Gray Smith and illustrated by Julie Flett

What makes your heart fill with happiness? Holding hands? The sun on your face? This little board book does a great job of reminding us to cherish these moments. Beautiful, happy illustrations, alluring to the eyes.

Ages 0+

Jingle Dancer by Cynthia Leitich Smith and illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright & Ying-Hwa Hu

A joyous story filled with details about the traditions associated with the dresses jingle dancers wear. Young Jenna gets help from her family and community to give her dress its own voice. Beautiful, lyrical text with traditional Indian phrasing. Warm, inviting illustrations.

Ages 6+


The People Shall Continue by Simon J. Ortiz and illustrated by Sharol Graves

Originally published in 1977, the 40th edition of this book of truth about Indigenous People and colonization will be published in October. If I had to purchase only one book for my library for the fall, this might be the one. Clearly expressed text quickly explains the lives of Indigenous people as America was discovered by the Spanish and the population exploded as more settlers came here.  Ages 6+


Shin-Chi’s Canoe by Nicola I. Campbell and illustrated by Kim LaFave

This story about Shi-shi-etko and her little brother Shin-Chi’s journey to an Indian residential school shines a light on one of the darker moments in our country’s history.  The author’s note provides additional historical context for the story, context that many of us missed in our history lessons and can share with the next generation through this sweet book. Ages 6+


Saltypie  by Tim Tingle and illustrated by Karen Clarkson

Saltypie tells the story of a grandmother through her young grandson’s eyes. Filled with wisdom and tenderness, this story of a woman who lived a life of adversity without losing her good humor and warm heart has a surprise at the end that’s worth a read. The author notes include additional historical context and some lovely family photos.  Ages 6+


Hiawatha and the Peacemaker by Robbie Robertson and Illustrated by David Shannon

Hiawatha, a brave Mohawk warrior, is angry. He wants revenge when his family is killed in a battle of warring tribes. But everything changes when he is visited by the Peacemaker, a prophet who wishes to end the warring and changes Hiawatha’s mind and heart. Hiawatha’s story is a timeless tale, important for all humans for understanding unity, cooperation.

Ages 8+


Indian Shoes by Cynthia Leitich Smith

Native Americans Ray Halfmoon and his Grampa live in Chicago, which is much different from life in Oklahoma where Grampa grew us. The fun, interrelated short stories are heartwarming and help young readers understand what life is like for many present-day Native American.

Novel, Ages 8+



Soft Rain: The Story of the Cherokee Trail of Tears by Cornelia Cornelissen

Nine-year old Soft Rain’s inspiring story illuminates an important part of our American history, one that should not be forgotten–the Cherokee Trail of Tears. The author’s voice is perfect for helping young readers understand the impact of being torn from your family and forced to relocate.

Novel, Ages 8+


The Warriors by Joseph Bruchac

Twelve-year-old Jake Forrest has spent his whole life living on an Iroquois Indian reservation. He must leave the life he loves when his mother graduates law school and lands a job in Washington, DC. Jake, who has always been a star lacrosse player, struggles to adjust to the spirit of the game off the Indian reservation. Through this story, we learn that the origins of lacrosse are tribal. There are just enough lacrosse scenes to satisfy fans of the game, but at its heart this is a realistic story about the struggles we all feel trying to fit in. The Warriors deftly grapples with issues such as racism, violence in sports, and cultural misappropriation.

Novel, Ages 8+


How I Became A Ghost by Tim Tingle

This. Book. Will. Keep. You. On. The. Edge. Of. Your. Seat. Unlike anything I’ve ever read and full of surprises. A story about a young Choctaw who doesn’t survive the Trial of Tears, told by his ghost. Each chapter a cliffhanger, this is a terrifically compelling tale of resilience and unity with surprisingly humorous moments.

Ages 8+


In the Footsteps of Crazy Horse by James Marshall III

Learn about Crazy Horse through a modern child’s eyes in this stunning novel. Full of the beauty of oral tradition, family heritage, and road trips, this one is perfect for you and your middle-grade reader.

Novel, Ages 8+


The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich

This story, and the others in the series, has the feel and tone of Little House on the Prairie and other pioneer-era stories but with a more sensitive and historically accurate portrayal of Native people. Follow the adventures of two young brothers as they navigate childhood in a rich historical setting. Novel, Ages 8+


Fire in the Village, by Anne M Dunn

A collection of fables, legends, and creation myths from an Anishinabeg-Ojibwe elder living on the Leech Lake Reservation. The seventy-five stories in this beautiful collection capture a piece of history that might otherwise have been lost.

Short-story collection, Ages 12+


If I Ever Get Out of Here by Eric Gansworth

Wonderful story about reservation life, friendship, racism, poverty, family and something that binds all of us: music. Prepare to cry with this one, folks. It will break your heart and make you mad at points, but the journey of emotions is well worth the ride.

Novel, Ages 12+


My Name Is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson

Did you know that native Alaskans were given radioactive drugs without their permission to study whether their bodies were biologically more resistant to the effects of cold weather? Powerful, factually-based narrative about the difficulties Alaskan Native Americans children faced when they were uprooted from their families and culture and sent to a school where they were punished if their native language slipped from their lips. Multiple POVs give the reader a broad picture of the range of their struggles, all delivered in an intriguing, relatable story that would be a great classroom read for ages

Novel, Ages 12+


Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac

The importance of the Navajo Code Talkers during WWII was so secretive many historians don’t even know about it. Thanks to Joseph Bruchac’s family connection we can now all read about these brave men who helped keep troops safe during the war by using a code based on Navajo language, the same language they were forced to suppress as they were educated in schools designed to make them fit into white culture. Infused with Native American history and  culture, Code Talker helps us understand what it must have felt like to be in young Ned’s situation as he went from life on a reservation to working the front lines as an American soldier in WWII.

Novel, Ages 12+


Murder on the Red River by Marcie Rendon

This murder mystery follows 19-year-old Cash as she revisits family history on a journey to help her friend investigate the murder of a Native man on a neighboring reservation. Anyone who loves good crime fiction will appreciate this novel.

Novel, Upper YA/Adult

Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

When the Robot War ignites, our government crumbles. Human resistance is led by small organized groups. The Osage Nation in Gray Horse, Oklahoma is one of these groups. Despite decades of oppression, these small tightly-knit tribal mini-nations remain strong, the perfect fighters against the collapse of humanity  This book is a sci-fi thriller written in the style of World War Z  by a Cherokee citizen who also has a PhD in Robotics from Carnegie Mellon and Masters degrees in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics.  This gripping story is perfect for upper YA (high school age) and Adult.


These are all books that we can personally recommend, but don’t stop there. There are many resources for finding authentic and accurate books written by Native Americans.


Kara Stewart’s blog FROM HERE TO WRITERNITY  We’d like to give a special thank you to Kara who helped us hand-pick some of the titles we’ve reviewed!

Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Blog

And checkout/subscribe to our Native Writers Twitter List.

MICHELLE LEONARD is a math and science nerd, a children/teens bookseller, and a SCBWI member who writes middle-grade and young adult fiction. Her young adult sci-fi short story IN A WHOLE NEW LIGHT , about a teen girl who uses technology to fight racism, is in the BRAVE NEW GIRLS ANTHOLOGY: STORIES OF GIRLS WHO SCIENCE AND SCHEME. Proceeds from the anthology go towards scholarships for the Society of Women Engineers! Connect with Michelle on Twitter.

JULIE ARTZ writes stories for children that feature the natural world, folklore, mythology, history, and all that is magical about those things. In addition to contributing to The Winged Pen, she works as a developmental editor for Author Accelerator, is a Pitch Wars mentor, and contributes regularly to From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle-Grade Authors. She is represented by Jennie Dunham of Dunham Lit. You can also follow her on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.