Mochi Queen Cover!

I’m super excited to finally be able to share the cover of book 1 of the Jasmine Toguchi series, Mochi Queen! Ready or not, here it is!


Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen (FSG/July 11, 2017)

Eight-year-old Jasmine Toguchi is a flamingo fan, tree climber, and top-notch mess-maker!

She’s also tired of her big sister, Sophie, always getting to do things first. For once, Jasmine wishes SHE could do something before Sophiesomething special, something different. The New Year approaches, and as the Toguchi family gathers in Los Angeles to celebrate, Jasmine is jealous that her sister gets to help roll mochi balls by hand with the women. Her mom says that Jasmine is still too young to join in, so she hatches a plan to help the men pound the mochi rice instead. Surely her sister has never done THAT before.

But pounding mochi is traditionally reserved for boys. And the mochi hammer is heavier than it looks. Can Jasmine build her case and her mochi-making muscles in time for New Year’s Day?

Big thanks and appreciation go to talented illustrator Elizabet Vukovic and awesome designer Kristie Radwilowicz! I’m so in love with this cover! The bright colors and overall design take me back to the manga I used to love to read as a child. And Jasmine – I just love her in her flamingo shirt and crown, holding a tray of delicious mochi.

I owe you all a long blog post about this entire process – it’s been so amazing and incredible. Every step fills me with great joy. I’m grateful to my editor, Grace Kendall, because she loves Jasmine as much as I do, and she makes me a better writer. I can’t wait to be able to share Jasmine and her adventures with you.

Believe it or not, you can already pre-order the books! Check out my Fiction page for the links to pre-order!



Thank you to Jenny Medford at Websy Daisy for the spiffy update of my web site. Thanks also to Roy Thomas of Black Dog for the author head shots.


Some of the new things you will notice are buy now buttons for my books and an author visit page. As a former teacher, I’m very excited about going to schools and talking with students about writing and books! And finally, I’m starting a monthly newsletter for parents, teachers, librarians, kids – anyone who loves books and reading. The newsletters will feature crafts, activities, and lessons for my books, as well as highlighting other books and authors. If all goes well, the first newsletter will go out the end of October (in time for Halloween).

If you sign up before October 15th, your name will be entered in a drawing to win a paperback set of my Dorothy and Toto early reader series. Sign up at the bottom of the page with your email address. Winner will be notified by email and announced in the inaugural newsletter. Good luck and happy reading!

Happy Book Birthday and a Giveaway!

I’m throwing myself a book birthday party and one lucky winner will receive the birthday gift! In celebration of the release of the Dorothy & Toto early reader chapter books that I wrote for Capstone, I’m giving away a full set of the hardcover library/classroom books. These books have reinforced binding and discussion questions at the end of each book and are illustrated by Monika Roe.

There are four books in total: Dorothy & Toto: What’s Your Name?, Dorothy & Toto: The Hunt for the Perfect Present, Dorothy & Toto: The Disappearing Picnic, and Dorothy & Toto: Little Dog Lost. For story summaries, click here. The paperback versions are currently available for pre-order (although some people have said they have received their pre-orders already). If you’d like to buy these books, order them at your favorite indie bookstore, or order online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or IndieBound.

To enter the drawing to win a hardcover set of these books for yourself, a school or library, or a child or a friend, please comment by midnight Thursday, August 4th EST.U.S. mailing addresses only. I’ll contact the winner via email. I’d be happy to sign the copies if the winner chooses.

EDITED TO ADD: I used a random number generator to choose the winner of the set of DOROTHY & TOTO books. And the lucky winner is….(drum roll please)….Sharon Miner! Congratulations, Sharon! I’ve sent you an email requesting your mailing address and signing information. Thank you to everyone who stopped by and helped me celebrate! I plan to have another drawing for the set of paperback books later this fall (probably in late September/early October). I also plan to have a monthly newsletter filled with activities for kids, information, and more. Come back in the fall to sign up or comment below and I’ll add your name to the list. (If you receive a newsletter because you’ve commented here before and you’d rather not, it’s easy to unsubscribe.)

Thanks for helping me celebrate! Good luck and happy reading!


Dorothy & Toto Author Copies!

There is nothing better than getting a surprise package in the mail. Yesterday, I found a box sitting on my front stoop. When I peeked at the return address and saw it was from Capstone, I squealed! I immediately tore open the box and inside were my author copies of my Dorothy & Toto early reader chapter book series!

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HOORAY! I’m so excited to hold these books in my hands. I didn’t realize I would get copies of my library (hardcover) editions so this is a special treat indeed.

Just to educate those of you who are not in the industry, authors get a limited number of copies. They do not get free unlimited copies of their books. However, I plan to do a give-away of one set closer to the actual release date, so stay tuned. The library editions are available starting August 1, and the paperback editions will be released both in the U.S. and the UK on October 1st.

I think Monika Roe’s illustrations are absolutely adorable! I especially love that she drew me.


For details about each book:

You can also preorder the books from your favorite bookstore or online source:

Indie Bound or or Barnes & Noble.

Stay tuned for more when the books release. I plan to share some stories behind the stories!

Dorothy & Toto Cover Reveals!

Last fall, I was thrilled to be hired to write a series of early reader chapter books about the adventures of Dorothy and Toto in the land of Oz. I was given a lot of freedom to write these stories and I had a blast. Of course, both my publisher (Capstone/Picture Window Books) and Warner Brothers had to approve everything, but the entire process was smooth and enjoyable.

These books will be coming out very soon. In August, the school/library versions will be released, and then in October of this year, the paperback/trade copies will be available for purchase. I can’t wait!

I’m excited to share the covers of all four books, illustrated by Monika Roe. I think she did a great job of capturing the sweetness and the humor of the series. I was truly tickled to see her illustrations for the stories – she really brought it all to life.

Without further ado, here are the covers. For summaries, check out my fiction page. All the books are available for pre-order at your favorite indie store or online source, including Amazon.







Originally posted on Emu Debuts on December 3, 2015


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It’s no surprise that I love words, and more specifically, I love words that inspire. In my Word Nest where I write, I have surrounded myself with many, many items of inspiration. I could probably do a whole series of posts about the trinkets I’ve picked up from my travels, photos of friends and family, gifts I’ve received from loved ones, art created by my daughter, and so many bird and elephant figurines.

On the wall in front of my laptop are sticky notes of quotes and cards from friends and family to inspire and motivate me.

I currently have four sticky notes of quotes that I look at daily before I start writing and while I write.

1. Love is always an act of courage. — Alice Hoffman

This reminds me to be brave as I write, to risk digging deep and to risk being vulnerable. Even now as I draft this blog post, insecurity runs rampant within as I worry about sounding trite or insincere. As with anything I write, blog post or stories, I wonder, will anyone care? And so, writing as with love (and love of writing) is truly an act of courage. Be brave!

2. Is it true yet? — Jo Knowles

Long time writing partner, talented author, and dear friend Jo shared this with me years ago. Jo first heard this from author Jennifer Richard Jacobson and she asks this of her own drafts as she writes. I ask myself the same as I write, and when my answer is “not yet,” I continue revising and digging and exploring and writing. It forces me to take my time, to not rush to be done, to write what’s true to me and to my heart.

3. When I’m writing a book, I’m writing 95% for myself and 5% for my best friend. — Ann Patchett

Recently, an author friend asked a group of writers whether or not we keep the audience in mind when we write. It was a good question and the answers were varied. I am distinctly aware that I am writing for young adults or children, but while I write, I’m not thinking specifically of the audience. If I did that, I think I’d become paralyzed with fear of meeting expectations. Instead, I write the story I want to tell. I definitely try not to think about the “market” and whether or not it’s going to be a best seller or award winner. I try to write the book I want to write, I try to write the book that’s true, and I try to write the book that requires courage.

And finally, the last quote/s on my wall:


Emily Spring by Kevin Slattery

The art of Emily Dickinson is by Kevin Slattery, a friend who passed away just this year. Almost up to the day that he died, he continued creating. While I miss him and am so sad he’s gone, I’m comforted by his art, hanging here on my wall, keeping me company, reminding me that life is precious and not to squander this gift of time. The quote from the artwork:

A light exists in spring.  –Emily Dickinson

I love her poems and this one in particular. I won’t go into what the poem means to me, here, but I will say that this one line helps me get through dark times, including the down times when I lose confidence and faith in my stories and writing. It reminds me that even in darkness, light will come.

And the last sticky note that is stuck right below Kevin’s Emily Spring:

4. I live in possibility.  –Emily Dickinson

This one reminds me that dreams can come true – and that one of my own dreams has, with the sale of my chapter book Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen to Grace Kendall at FSG. Not only that, but dreams can be surpassed, as I now have a contract to write three additional books about Jasmine. I’m still in the process of writing these books and I am very grateful to have such a smart and fabulous editor to help guide me.

What quotes and words inspire you? I’d love to hear yours! Happy writing, happy reading. Keep believing!


The Long Bumpy Road

Originally posted on Emu’s Debuts on October 22, 2015

learning how to endure your disappointment and frustration is part of the job of a creative person. — BIG MAGIC, Elizabeth Gilbert



Like many writers, I have been writing stories since childhood. I have always been passionate about stories. I first decided to write fiction for kids and teens as a career path in 2001. I joined SCBWI, received the gift of a mentor in Cynthia Leitich Smith, found critique groups (I moved a lot), went to conferences and workshops, read every craft book available to me, discovered an amazing community on LiveJournal (in 2004), found my writing/critiquing soul partners, wrote and wrote and revised and revised and queried and submitted, and accumulated a healthy pile of rejections.

I had some close calls for different manuscripts — a phone call from an editor (kind and encouraging, but a rejection nonetheless), revising out of contract, going to acquisition, “good” rejection letters. This went on for over a decade. I admit to bouts of extreme sadness, many tears, frustration, and thoughts of giving up. In the meantime, I had two nonfiction children’s books published that I am proud of, but the dream has always been to write/publish fiction. One evening in 2008, after yet another “encouraging” rejection, I decided to quit. I was going to quit writing, quit submitting, quit dreaming of publication. I cried long and hard. My heart was broken. I think I cried for well over an hour. I decided to distract myself with a movie, August Rush. Within the first 10 minutes of viewing the movie, I was struck with a story idea. I ran upstairs, grabbed a legal pad, and wrote out ten pages of a scene. Such was my commitment to quitting. My love for writing stories was stronger.

Flash forward to 2014: I have long admired the Erin Murphy Literary Agency. I was flattered when a dear and talented friend referred me to her agent, Tricia Lawrence. Tricia requested a full of my MG novel and then I waited. While I waited, I kept writing and kept querying/subbing. Around the same time, I received a request for a full of my chapter book from editor Grace Kendall at FSG, and then I waited. While waiting and writing, I had an opportunity to write four books for an early reader chapter book series and jumped at the chance. I had a fabulous time writing these stories. In fact, I was having a (mostly) fabulous time writing all my stories.

And then…in April of 2015, Grace emailed to say she wanted to take my chapter book to editorial, and then acquisition! I reached out to Tricia and told her I had a YA novel and a chapter book. She requested both. Within days of each other, Tricia offered representation and Grace wanted not only my chapter book, but three more books for a series! My story Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen about headstrong Japanese-American third grader Jasmine Toguchi and her quest to join in on the family tradition of making mochi, and three more books about Jasmine, are going to be published!

I am filled with overwhelming gratitude and joy and excitement and glee! I am grateful to Tricia and EMLA, and Grace and FSG, and to this incredibly supportive children’s lit community – many of you have been cheering me on from the very beginning. I’m grateful to my husband, Bob, and my daughter, Caitlin, for their unwavering belief in me, their firm support of my writing, and to my family and non-writer friends who even if they didn’t fully get “it”, they got me.

My road to “the call” meandered with many obstacles and detours, but I am glad I stayed on the path, on my path, because the journey is different for each person. Along this path of mine, I’ve met some warm and talented people I now call friends. While there’s no guarantee of publication, the only way you can be sure of never getting published is by quitting. If you love writing, if it brings you joy, if you can’t see doing anything else, keep writing, keep learning, keep growing, and stay the course. Enjoy the journey and the process of creating. Have fun. Believe, even when it’s hard. (And surround yourself with support and love!)

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A Book Deal!

I am absolutely over-the-moon thrilled to be able to share this amazing news!

My book deal

This a dream come true for me! More than! Because when I wrote Jasmine Toguchi, Mochi Queen well over five years ago, I wrote it as a stand-alone chapter book. Now, it’s a series! *thunk* And I get to work with the amazing editor, Grace Kendall at FSG! Words cannot adequately express just how happy and excited I am. I promise, someday, a proper post about my long and meandering journey to this place on the road, but for now, I wanted to share this news.

Huge thanks go out to my agent for making the deal happen, to Grace for loving Jasmine, and to my friends and family for all their support! Now, I’m off to write book 2! Look for the first two books in the series in May 2017. More updates to be posted here!

New England SCBWI Spring Conference and My News

This past weekend I attended the Saturday session of this year’s New England SCBWI conference in Springfield, MA. Every year it just gets better (and bigger)! I’ve been a member of SCBWI for 15 years and so, it’s great to reunite with old friends and make new ones. I have a tiny confession to make, however. In the past, I always attended the workshops. They are inspirational and educational. But, this year, I had a bit of amazing news and ended up networking (okay, okay, socializing) during the workshop sessions.  My big news? I just recently signed with Tricia Lawrence of the Erin Murphy Literary Agency! I’m over the moon to be a part of the EMLA family, and am beyond thrilled to have Tricia as my agent.

I did attend all the fabulous keynote sessions. They were incredible and all brought tears to my eyes. Highlights:

Dan Santat was the morning keynote speaker. He is the Caldecott award winner for his truly wonderful picture book BEEKLE. I absolutely LOVE this book about imaginary friends. I want a Beekle plush! The big take-away for me from Dan’s speech was to be more open. He said it’s important to understand why you like certain stories or characters. He went on to caution against being biased because that shuts you off. He mentioned Game of Thrones. Ah yes. I’d heard many raves about the TV series. I turned to Jo Knowles and said, “I don’t watch it because I hear it’s violent.” Jo raised her eyebrows at me and echoed Dan Santat’s wisdom. Okay. Got it. I came home and started watching it, and you know what? I’m hooked! (No spoilers! I just started season 1!) Other wise words from Dan Santat that resonated with me: “Don’t chase trends. Do what you love. Do your best work.” Oh, and also, “If you don’t drink coffee, start!” 🙂

Kwame Alexander was the afternoon keynote speaker. A shameful admission here, I’d only recently heard his name, as he is the winner of this year’s Newbery medal for his YA-in-verse THE CROSSOVER. As he recited his powerful poetry, I knew I wanted to devour all of his books. And what a great list of books! He started off by self-publishing his poetry and doing school visits to sell books. Talk about perseverance! I admire him so much for his dedication, his passion, and his words. I now have a signed copy of THE CROSSOVER and look forward to diving in. The big take-away from his speech for me? That THE CROSSOVER was rejected 22 times. He said that sometimes the no’s have to come so you can get them out of the way, so the yes can come.

Jo Knowles was the evening keynote speaker. Full disclosure here: I love Jo. We have been friends and writing partners (along with Cindy Faughnan) for a decade. Jo’s keynote was in a word, spectacular. She made me, and many in the audience, cry. She is such a passionate and generous soul and it shines through in her books. She is the author of JUMPING OFF SWINGS, SEE YOU AT HARRY’S and most recently, READ BETWEEN THE LINES. I admit, I didn’t take notes during her keynote, but I can tell you what the big take-away was: Be true. In your writing, in your life, BE. TRUE. And ask yourself, do I dare disturb the universe? I hope you do!

We ended the evening with a We Need Diverse Books panel, featuring esteemed authors, Mike Jung (who did a brilliant job moderating), Justina Ireland, Dhonielle Clayton, Sona Charaipotra, Grace Lin, and Cindy L. Rodriguez. I cannot do their panel talk justice here, but each shared the story of his/her journey and experiences with diversity and writing and books – and the need for more diversity in books. I heartily agree! Their points made me think about my own writing and how it’s evolved. How I don’t shy away from inserting my opinions or experiences of growing up in Los Angeles as a third generation Japanese-American or in featuring Japanese-American main characters in my work. When I first started writing novels over a decade ago, I admit that I was not that comfortable doing these things, but I believe it was that I didn’t see many other books out there doing what I was trying to do – writing a contemporary story (about love, friendship, family) with an Asian American….an American main character versus focusing on the immigrant experience. Those books are important, too, of course, but in the “write what you know” school, being an immigrant was not what I knew from first-hand experience.

A full, wonderful, informative, inspirational day! And what happens after the workshops and speeches and panels are over?


Laura Jacques looks on as Jo Knowles and Erin Dionne arm wrestle.

For fun – caption the above photo and I’ll enter your name for a chance to win a copy of BEEKLE by Dan Santat. (I forgot to bring my copy with me to the conference to get it signed, so I bought a copy there. I’m keeping the signed copy, but I’ll send the unsigned copy to a lucky winner!) You have till Wednesday, May 6th to enter!

EDITED TO ADD: And the winner is….

I used a random number generator to choose a winner from the comments. The winning caption for a copy of BEEKLE is “Let me have the mustard! I need condiments!” Congratulations, Lynn! You’re going to love BEEKLE!

Thanks to everyone for playing!

VCFA Novel Writing for Young People Retreat

AH, bliss. Nothing beats a weekend of workshops on craft, writing time, and hanging out with writer pals! Well, except maybe if it weren’t so cold. The high was SIX on the last day of the retreat. Brrrr, this California Gal was chilled to the bone!

For the third year in a row, I attended the Vermont College of Fine Arts Novel Writing for Young People Retreat (say that 3 times fast) and was inspired and motivated to write better, dig deeper. The workshops were, as always, outstanding. Big thanks to VCFA and retreat co-leaders Cindy Faughnan and Sarah Aronson.

Dana Walrath, author of the verse novel Like Water On Stone and artist, led a workshop called Scribbling Softly. We were given large sheets of paper and a very awesome pure lead pencil. With our eyes closed, we drew/scribbled as Dana called out different emotions for our main characters of our WIPs. It was freeing. I am not an artist by any means, but with my eyes closed, I let go of judgement and I focused on my main character. I felt like a part of a community as I listened to the scribblings of my fellow writers and artists. And I definitely gained some insight into my MC’s emotions.

Kathi Appelt, author of The Underneath, talked about character beliefs. This was an eye-opening workshop for me as I didn’t quite understand what motivated my main character. It wasn’t until Kathi’s enlightening workshop that I was able to discover my MC’s core beliefs. It really re-ignited my passion for this WIP!

David Gill, author of the very funny Soul Enchilada, did his workshop on Visual Plotting. This was a game-changer for me! I’ve long known about the “three act structure” and have read about many different ways of plotting. As a writer who likes to plunge into a story rather than plot/outline, I’ve spent many “first drafts” trying to figure things out. I tried different methods of Plotting, but none really worked for me. In fact, with my current (new) WIP, I stalled about halfway through my draft because I’d plotted it out so deeply that I no longer cared about getting to the end. I knew what was going to happen. I felt like I’d already written the story and I lost steam and interest. But the way David suggested plotting allowed for a lot of wiggle room and surprise writing along the way. My long time friend and writing partner Jo Knowles and I went back to her room after the workshop and used David’s method to plot our WIPs. It helped to bounce ideas and brainstorm with each other. Success! We plotted out our WIPs and learned a lot about our stories and characters, too! Very exciting!

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Because of these workshops, I’m absolutely reinvigorated to get back to this WIP! And because of Kathi Appelt’s “write for 5 minutes a day,” I’ve not missed one day of writing. (The five minutes is just a starting point – write for 5 minutes or more.)

Last but definitely not least, Joy Peskin, editorial director for Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, gave an awesome workshop on the Top Ten Most Common Editorial Notes. She included actual examples of editorial letters she’s written to authors, as well as reading from novels she edited as examples. I felt better knowing that even published and veteran authors need guidance in shaping their stories and characters. There were a couple of big take-homes for me that apply to my writing in general and my current WIP. I’m keeping Joy’s top ten list on my desk so I can be reminded as I write!

The retreat had two tracks, critique and writing. Because I was working on something brand new, I signed up for the writing track. I made great headway and nothing motivates me more than being surrounded by like-minded writers. The retreat also included an open mike night. I always love hearing what others are working on. I’m always impressed and entertained.

Finally, it wasn’t all work, and no play. Cindy Faughnan drove a small group of us to a Sugar Shack to experience Sugar on Snow. Whoa! What an amazing treat of snow topped by hot and fresh maple sap and accompanied by donut, hot drink, and pickle (! to cut the sweet). Let’s just say I was on quite a sugar buzz for the rest of the afternoon. Delicious! I’m looking forward to the VCFA retreat next year! Maybe I’ll see you there!


Kathi Appelt, Cindy Faughnan, Kelly Bennet, and David Gill enjoy Sugar on Snow. YUM!

P.S. – Big thanks to dear friend and talented writer, Kristy Boyce, who kept me company on the long drive back and forth to the retreat and inspired me to write this post. Check out her thoughts on this same retreat: Musings on A Dream.