My Reading Process: Organizing My Reading Life

Market Research

By day I am an elementary school librarian and in the wee hours of the morning, I work on my children’s writing. Luckily these two fields feed each other in many ways. I often find that market research helps me in both careers. I write for the age group that I teach.

Both librarians and children’s book writers ask me how I keep track of what I read, how do I know what to read, and then how do I keep it organized in a way that I can refer to it later.

I’m going to walk you through my process that has taken me years to figure out what will really work for me. You may have a totally different process. This is a sneak peek into mine.


I have a separate email that I use for subscribing to blogs, email newsletters, and store coupons. You know when you go to a store or when you order online and they ask you for an email address? I don’t give them my main email address. I use one email address for personal correspondence and queries and another email address for the subscription stuff. This insures that my personal stuff doesn’t get buried in the spam. It also allows me to only check the subscription email when I’m ready to.

How do I know about new books coming out?


The blogs I’m listing are only ones I follow for finding out what new books are coming out. I follow a lot of other bloggers for writing advice and business related information. This list is probably not all inclusive, but when I listed the ones I read this week, and they are the ones that I typically read in a given week.

These blogs have lots of great book lists, but I can’t figure out how to follow by email. (If you figure out the email thing, let me know. I’d love to have these come into my inbox on a regular basis). However, I do like to read these:


Follow your favorite authors and illustrators. Are there people who you consistently read? Whose work you always admire? Follow all of them on Amazon.  Amazon sends me emails when their forthcoming books go up on Amazon.


In addition to the ones listed below, I also sign up for publishers newsletters and author newsletters. However, the ones listed below are the ones where I get the majority of my reading lists.

Your local indie bookstore newsletters are also really important. My local bookstores One More Page Books, Hooray For Books, and Politics & Prose do a ton of children’s events. They also send out great newsletters full of good reading suggestions. Sign up for your indie bookstores newsletters. Even when I lived a few hours away, I still signed up for indie newsletters because they give such good reading suggestions.

Twitter, Instagram, Facebook

I follow authors, illustrators, publishers, agents, librarians, educators, and so many more. When people put up pictures of their books, I go look them up.

Print Resources

I still dearly love getting print magazines in the mail. I have subscriptions to these and I dog ear the pages, rip out pages, and make my bigger lists from reading these magazines. I typically do this every few months, not weekly like I do with email.

Planning Ahead for Reading

Many times when I read about a book, it hasn’t come out yet. I had to develop a system that allowed me to write down the title and come back to it at its publication date.

Bullet Journal

I know a lot of people use Good Reads or Wish Lists on Amazon. After a lot of trial and error, I use my bullet journal. At the beginning the year, when I set up the front pages for my bullet journal, I set up 13 pages for writing down when books are coming out. I use one page per month. There are 13 pages because September gets two pages. A lot of books come out in September. As I find out about books in blog posts or newsletters, I write them down on the correct month of release. Sometimes, it’s unclear from the blog post of their pub date, so I look it up on Amazon.

Each month, I reserve books at my local public library. Of course they don’t have everything I want to read, but by the end of the month or the beginning of the next month, I’m able to get most of what I want to read. I check it off as I place it on hold. If it isn’t checked off, my local library doesn’t have it yet.

Keeping Track of Reading

As I read books, I keep track of them in my bullet journal. I have one spread that is for Middle Grade, YA, Craft Books, Nonfiction, Adult Fiction. I might take a few notes about them, but usually I just write down the title.

For picture books, I take much more copious notes. I jot down the title, the author, the publisher and year it was published. I take notes on the content or what I liked (or didn’t like) about it. Then I have a column for whether I’m going to buy it for my library or not. This extensive reference helps me when I go to order books for my library. It also helps me tremendously with comp title research for my picture books.


I love doing things electronically, and I have lots of excel spreadsheets at school for different lists teachers frequently request. However, for my at-home personal reading, this has worked well. Because I index my bullet journals, things aren’t too difficult to find. If I find books that would make good comp titles for a specific book I’m writing, I move them over to an electronic pitch sheet I keep on each book.


How about you? How do you keep track of your reading? What blogs do you follow that I’ve missed? Leave a comment to let me know.

Deep Concept Books: ReFoReMo 2018


For the last several years, I’ve been honored to contribute a mentor text list to ReFoReMo (Read For Research Month). This year, I focused on concept books for older readers that really hone in on deep concepts. Take a peek at my list here.

Past ReFoReMo posts:

2017–Reader Engagement

2016–Back Matter

2015–2nd person POV

NF10for10 2018: Sidebars are Not for Skipping

As a kid, I’m pretty sure I only read sidebars if they looked interesting. But there are a whole bunch of nonfiction picture books with excellent sidebars.

As a writer and a librarian I’ve been keenly interested in nonfiction books that have two levels of text—a main text and text that supports. The supporting or secondary level text often appears as a sidebar or text box.

I love that the same book can appeal to varying ages of readers or interest levels.

Here are some of my favorites that offer more than one level of text:






Snowflake Bentley

Written by Jacqueline Briggs Martin

Illustrated by Mary Azarian

This book is a classic and one of the first books I remember reading to students that had two levels of text in a picture book. I still lean on this one every year.






Octopuses One to Ten

Written by Ellen Jackson

Illustrated by Robin Page

This is a counting book with numbers 1-10 and main text that relates the numbers to an octopus. But the book has a rich secondary text with octopus facts.






Mr. Ferris and His Wheel

Written by Katheryn Gibbs Davis

Illustrated by Gilbert Ford

Following the story of how the Ferris Wheel made it to the World’s Fair, the sidebar information gives extra details that expand upon the main text.







A Beetle is Shy

Written by Dianna Aston

Illustrated by Sylvia Long

I love all of the books in this series (A Nest is Noisy, A Butterfly is Patient, A Seed is Sleepy, A Rock is Lively, An Egg is Quiet). They each have a lovely lyrical poem, with a phrase or a line on each page. Then each page has generous subtext with lots more information about the topic.






From Here to There and Me to You: A Book of Bridges

Written by Cheryl Keely

Illustrated by Celia Krampien

The main text is very simple about specific bridges and the concept of bridges. The sidebars give extra information about some of specific bridges mentioned and about certain types of bridges. A nice blend of a concept of bridges and the facts about bridges.






Tree of Wonder: The Many Marvelous Lives of a Rainforest Tree

Written by Kate Messner

Illustrated by Simona Mulazzani

This book lets the reader into the rainforest animals that depend on the Almendro Tree. There is a main text, numbers that double on every page, and more detailed information about the animal mentioned on the page.






Sewing Stories: Harriet Powers’ Journey from Slave to Artist

Written by Barbara Herkert

Illustrated Vanessa Brantley-Newton

This picture book biography tells the story of Harriet Powers, a quilt artist. The sidebars give the reader context of the time period.







Feathers: Not Just for Flying

Written by Melissa Stewart

Illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen

This books talks about all the different ways that birds use feathers. Each page has a small amount of main text and includes a text box with extra information about a specific bird that uses the feather in the way mentioned.






28 Days: Moments in Black History that Changed the World

Written by Charles R. Smith, Jr.

Illustrated by Shane W. Evans

This is a collection of poems about 28 important days in black history. Each day has longer text, mostly page-length poems. On each page, there is a little bit more information about a key person from that day. This could be used with upper elementary-high school.






Prairie Dog Song

Written by Susan L. Roth and Cindy Trumbore

Collages by Susan L. Roth

This book’s main text is a rewritten folk song. Then at the bottom of each verse, there is another text that is written in prose with extended information about things that are mentioned in the verse and more.


What are some of your favorite nonfiction picture books with interesting sidebars?

For other Nonfiction 10 for 10 Posts, check out the hashtag: #NF10for10


Research Site and Instagram

Research Site

I have a number of nonfiction writing projects going on right now. I found myself trying to organize the sites I go to often in the research process. For most projects, I often start with Google and Amazon to find out what books are already out there, but there were places that I went to consistently no matter the project.

For about a year, I’ve been using a private Google Site to curate these links and use them myself. However, I thought it might be helpful to put it out there into the world so others could use it as well.

Link to Research Site

If you have suggestions or favorite sites you think need to be included, comment below or email me with suggestions. It’s a work-in-progress.


I’ve been on Instagram for awhile, but I’ve never been very active on it. I got inspired last weekend to post a little more often. I’ve decided my Instagram (for now) is all about showing daily ins and outs of a writer’s life. Feel free to follow me over at my Instagram page.

2017 Successes

I haven’t written on here in ages. Call it what you will: a move, a new job (2 years ago, I know) my kids’ lives are getting busier and busier, and lots of writing happening. I have spent less time updating the blog and more time in focused writing.

Each year, I love to reflect on all the things that I’ve done. For the past several years, I have participated in Julie Hedlund’s 12 Days of Christmas for Writers program. It’s a great way to reflect on the year that has passed. Each year we make a list of SUCCESSES instead of resolutions. To see previous posts from years past, click on the year.

2016–I skipped this year.





1. I read a LOT. There are still a few days left in 2017 and I’m mostly done with several more books, so these numbers are likely to go up this weekend. But…

  • 492 picture books
  • 119 middle grade novels
  • 9 young adult novels
  • 29 adult fiction
  • 10 adult nonfiction
  • 3 craft (writing, that is)

2. Anyone that knows my writing really well knows that my writing is all over the map. I write fiction picture books, nonfiction picture books, middle grade, YA, and poetry. I sent out 76 submissions. This includes submissions from all of my writing, and it includes things like conference critiques as well.

3. I received 34 rejections. The good news is that many of these have been very specific rejections. Some have even been “revise and resubmit” requests or “send me something else, but I’m not buying this” notes.

4. I revised a middle grade novel. Or I actually rewrote it completely from the ground up. While it didn’t feel like a first draft because I finally know these characters, it still needs a LOT of work. More revising to do.

5. I drafted a historical fiction novel-in-verse. The draft is one. A lot more work remains in revision.

6. I continue to participate in a picture book critique group.

7. I continue to participate in a middle grade critique group.

8. I meet with a friend for a “write-in” at least once a month (sometimes more, depending on our schedules).

9. I text an accountability partner/friend every day to talk about what we are writing. This was a new thing for 2017, and it was a fabulous addition.

10.  I’ve been invited to speak in 2018 at a education conference on writing, and I’m so excited and honored!

11. I did a presentation at Virginia Association for School Librarians along with Moira Rose Donohue about helping kids write nonfiction.

12. My co-director, Meighan and I, completed our 4th year as directors of Hollinsummer, a writing camp for teenage girls.

13. I attended 14 conferences/workshops, both big and small this year including a yearly writing retreat, a poetry workshop with Carole Boston Weatherford, nErDcamp MI, Long Road from Brown (NEH weeklong workshop), Mid-Atlantic SCBWI annual conference, and events at the National Archives.

14. I took 15 research trips to various museums and sites to help with my ongoing projects. Most of them were close by, but I have learned a TON this year.

15. I have some freelance work coming up that I’m excited about.

16. I went to numerous book launch parties and children’s book events in the DC metro area. There is a vibrant group of writers here, and I love being a part of the community.

17. I have a consistent daily writing routine.


There are always a lot of stumbling blocks in the writing life, but like I say at the end of every year. I am a better writing now than I was on January 1.


ReFoReMo is Here!

ReFoReMo stands for Reading for Research Month. It is run by Carrie Charley Brown and her team and focuses on diving into picture books as mentor texts.

My post is the first one in the line up today with a focus on reader engagement in picture books. Hop on over there to read my post about these 10 picture books. 

New Mentor Text Lessons, Mentor Texts Lists, and More!

Guest Posts Around the Web

You may have noticed I haven’t been blogging much lately, but I have been doing some writing out and about on the web-o-sphere.

Using Mentor Texts to Revise a Novel in Verse at Teach Mentor Texts (Jen Vincent’s blog)

Author Study on Newbery Award Winner, Matt de la Peña at Picture Book Summit

New Mentor Text Lesson Plans

I have added 4 new mentor text lesson plans for Laura Murray’s Gingerbread Man books. You can find all of the links at this page or by clicking on the titles below.

The Gingerbread Man Loose at Christmas

The Gingerbread Man Loose on the Firetruck

The Gingerbread Man Loose on the School

The Gingerbread Man Loose at the Zoo

collage of gingerbread men

What Do You Need as a Writer? Three Things Highlights Gave Me

Highlights desk

I am over at the GROG with a post about my recent Highlights trip. Hop on over there to find out what I loved the most.

Back Matter in Picture Books

Collage of books

Carrie Charley Brown is hosting ReFoReMo (Read for Research Month), a time when writers challenge themselves to read picture books as mentor texts to improve their writing. I’m the guest author/educator there today talking about back matter in picture books. Hop over to her blog and give it a read.

Plot Holes? Resources for Repair

I’m struggling with plotting in my middle grade novel. While I’m getting better at plotting, it’s still something that doesn’t come naturally to me. I wrote a post recently about the resources that I use when plotting. If you are struggling with plotting, these resources might help you too!

Plot Holes? Resources for Repair is on the GROG blog here.