The Inspiration (& Cover!!) for Flight of the Puffin

My next book FLIGHT OF THE PUFFIN is coming out May 4th, and I’m so excited to share the cover with you. It was designed by artist Chanelle Nibbelink, and it takes my breath away. Here it is in all its glory!

Isn’t it amazing??? It’s the PERFECT cover for this book. I wrote about the inspiration for the book for the Nerdy Book Club‘s cover reveal, and I’m sharing it here. As you’ll see, this is a book of my heart.


The Inspiration Behind Flight of the Puffin

A book about…
connections that cross political divides
love over hate
kids discovering the power of their actions
and HOPE

I’ve always avoided conflict. Every day when I was in preschool, one of the other girls at the dress-up station would tell me, “You can wear the purple dress tomorrow.” I never pushed back. I never told the teacher. I also almost never wore the purple dress. (Except for one glorious day when that girl was absent.) Even as an adult, I avoid tricky left turns because of the pressure from the people behind me.

But back in 2013, with my newborn daughter strapped onto me, I stood at a podium, shaking with nerves, and gave a speech at a press conference about one of the most controversial issues in our country: guns. Because I cared more about finding common ground than avoiding conflict. Because all the yelling back and forth was doing nothing to change the situation. Soon, I was president of a brand-new grassroots organization and heading into absurdly polarized water.

Plunging yourself into the work of listening to two sides argue is its own education. You realize that underneath the yelling and the anger is often the same plea: You don’t understand me. You’re not hearing me. You’re not respecting me. The current divisions in our country are no different. So how will we ever find common ground? How can we stop judging each other?

With stories.

Stories—good stories—say this to the reader: You are seen. You are heard. You matter. Only when we hear those things will our clenched fists relax.

I have watched what can happen when a child feels seen by a book with The Benefits of Being an Octopus. But honestly, it doesn’t need to be a whole book to affect someone. Sometimes it just takes an index card and some colored pencils.

I’m serious. Stay with me here.

Four years ago, hate speech became more emboldened and public than it’d been in decades, and after a few weeks of sobbing and wringing my hands, I realized something: If regular people were perpetuating most of the hate, then regular people should be able to stop it. When I heard that the Islamic Society in my state had gotten hate mail, I decided we should send them postcards covered in hearts to show them they were loved. They ended up getting five hundred love postcards. That poor little hate message found itself drowned out—by a bigger, more powerful story.

We called ourselves the Local Love Brigade, and we started sending postcards to others who needed love: a nine-year-old girl who had been bullied for being Jewish, another girl dealing with a racist classmate, Syrian refugees resettling nearby, and many others.

Some of the people even wrote back. It was reading those letters that pushed me to recognize the power of what we were doing. And that sometimes one postcard—even from a stranger; sometimes, especially from a stranger—is all it takes for someone to feel seen, to feel heard, to know they matter.

The power of one small act of kindness from a stranger is what inspired my next book, Flight of the Puffin, coming out this May. It’s about four kids living in different parts of the country, and it explores political divides, gender boxes, and how a tiny action can send out ripples you’d never expect. I’m so excited for #PuffinBrigades to sprout up in schools and communities and spread kindness. Keep your eye out for more information about that coming soon.

Today, I am thrilled to be sharing Flight of the Puffin’s gorgeous cover with you. Artist Chanelle Nibbelink’s soaring puffin makes for such an inspiring image.

So, yes, there are deep divides in our country, but there are plenty of things that connect us. And when we take the time to let others know we care—and feel that they do too—that’s when there’s hope.

Here’s to all of us holding on to hope like the glorious, soul-filling sunrise that it is.

A 3-Part Video Series on Creative Writing

I’m excited to offer a 3-part video series on creative writing:

“What to Write When You Don’t Know What to Write (And You Don’t Think You’re a Writer)”

All ages of participants are welcome! I always tell students that if I can write, they can write — it’s just about breaking the process down into small manageable steps.  

The videos will launch at 1pm EST on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week, and I’ll post the YouTube links right here.

If you or your students have questions about the writing process, comment below, and I’ll try to answer as many as I can!






Download the this worksheet with 13 Questions to help you figure out your story’s plot!


The Beginnings of the Local Love Brigade


It’s been almost three years since I helped start the Local Love Brigade, and it makes me so happy that it is thriving and growing (both Kansas and Florida have formed new chapters in the past week!) I just happened upon this video of our very first get-together to make love postcards. It was put together by the fabulous photographer Ezlerh Oreste, and it’s like seeing my kids’ baby videos!


Local Love Brigade Postcard Making

Local Love Brigade Postcard Making

Friday, February 24th, 2017

“Be Part of the Local Love Brigade! Come by and make postcards to send out in an avalanche of love to support victims of hate. You’ll be part of a movement that has begun to illuminate the power of fierce love.”

Posted by Ezlerh Oreste on Monday, February 20, 2017



My next book, THE FLIGHT OF THE PUFFIN, was inspired by the Local Love Brigade and the way that the actions of a stranger can have ripple effects that go out and affect things in ways you wouldn’t expect. I’ll be digging in revisions of it soon, and it’s so important to reminder that even little actions — when they are based on love — can make a big difference.

Back-to-School Giveaways & New Ways for Students to SPEAK UP

Octopus in Paperback! Plus: A HUGE GIVEAWAY!

Later today the custom paperback edition of THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS releases from the non-profit First Book for just $3.85! If your school or program qualifies as Title I, you’re eligible to shop on the First Book marketplace and get fabulous discounts like this one. Here’s the link to the paperback of OCTOPUS, but it’s worth exploring their whole site because they stock amazing books for amazing prices.

To celebrate we’re doing a huge giveaway! FIVE DIFFERENT TITLE I SCHOOLS WILL WIN A CLASS SET OF THIRTY BOOKS EACH! The giveaway is happening on Twitter and Facebook. To enter: comment with your school name and retweet the original tweet and/or share the Facebook post to be entered! (Doing both means to get to enter twice!) The deadline is September 1st.


#TeamOctopus T-shirts for Everyone!

In June, the Windham Southeast Supervisory Union launched a community read of OCTOPUS, and as part of that a group of students decided to march in the July 4th parade to help spread the word. And something came up about how we should all have #TeamOctopus t-shirts… Well, thanks to many of you, we able to fundraise enough to provide t-shirts for all the kids that marched in the parade! And now those same t-shirts are for sale again, and the proceeds go to helping get the book into the hands of kids at Title 1 schools! 

Order your own shirt here!
(The sale ends on Monday, September 9th.) 

It is *quite* fun to meet up with fellow #TeamOctopus folks and all be wearing matching shirts! Here is a group of us at Nerdcamp in Michigan!


#TeamOctopus T-shirt GIVEAWAY!

Enter to win a Class Read Aloud Kit including:
 – A CLASS SET of #TeamOctopus T-shirts for all your students!
Check out the brand new #TeamOctopus Forum for directions to enter the giveaway.

Brand New #TeamOctopus Forum

This month we launched the #TeamOctopus Forum! This is a place you can:

  • Pair up with other classrooms reading OCTOPUS this year
  • Get ideas for social action projects that connect to the book
  • Pose questions to other teachers who have used OCTOPUS
  • And, of course, enter the giveaway for #TeamOctopus T-shirts for your students!

Check out the forum here:



At schools, I’m always talking with students about importance of speaking up, so I’m super excited to give students who have read OCTOPUS a new chance to share their voice with others. For this school year, students are invited to choose one of these prompts, and share what’s important to them! Their thoughts can be shared either through writing, speaking, or art. Then, if they’d like, it can be published on my website.

  1. People at Zoey’s school don’t understand her as a person and what her life’s like. Describe one thing about you or your life that people at school don’t know or understand.
  2. If you could change one thing about your world, what would you change? Why? Who would you need to talk to to start making that change? What would you say?
  3. You get to write your own version of a sequel! In your mind, what happens next––or down the road? (Your thoughts as a reader are just as valid as the author’s!)

Visit to submit student work!
It can be either a text submission, a photo, or a video. I can’t wait to receive them. Students might even get a little #TeamOctopus love in the mail in response!

Finally, check out this except from a song written by a student in South Carolina, inspired by the book! Isn’t it AMAZING???

Logistics for #TeamOctopus in the July 4th Parade

Join us to march with #TeamOctopus in the Brattleboro, VT July 4th parade and help launch the Community Read!

Here are the logistics…

Who: You! Did you read the book? Are you excited to read it? Do you promise to remind yourself of your inner strength? Then, you should come march with us! All ages welcome!

When: July 4th at 9:40am in the middle section of the BUHS student parking lot. (The parade starts at 10am.)*

What to Wear: #TeamOctopus T-shirts! We’ve been able to fundraise enough so that we can provide FREE T-SHIRTS to every kid who is part of the parade. I’ll have them at the meeting spot ready for you. (Or if you’d like to pick yours up ahead of time, they’ll be at Brooks Memorial Library in the children’s room on July 3rd.)

What to Bring: Water bottles! (It’s a hot parade so let’s make sure we stay hydrated. I’ll have a wagon that you can put your water bottle in during the parade.)

Optional: Hand-Made #TeamOctopus Signs! (I’ll have poster board and markers at the meet-up location, so if you come early enough you can make a sign beforehand.)

We’ll also hopefully have the giant “octopus” from Cotton Mill Hill to carry, and a variety of tentacles/stuffed octopuses to wave around, but you don’t have to bring those!

Let me know if you’re hoping to come. It’s going to be so fun! 



*Here are all the logistics from the organizers of the parade:

The Canal Street entrance to Fairground Road will be the only way to reach Brattleboro Union High School before the July 4 parade, as access from South Main Street will be barricaded to traffic.

Marchers needing to park can do so in lots on the school side of Fairground Road but not on the street. WE STRONGLY SUGGEST CARPOOLING.

We’ll be lining up in the student parking lot across the street from Brattleboro Union High School. Please enter only at the eastern end opposite the baseball grandstand (the western end opposite the auditorium is an exit) and position yourself with help of marshals.

Remind all marchers that, by participating, everyone is agreeing to the statement: “I’ve read the rules and agree my group will adhere to all. I also understand that the volunteer ‘By the People: Brattleboro Goes Fourth’ citizens committee assumes no liability for any damages or injuries that participants may sustain before, during or after the public event and, therefore, our group holds the committee harmless from any legal action.”

(We reserve the right to reject or remove anyone incompliant with the march’s standards or spirit.)


All entries must be capable of safely navigating the route (Fairground Road to Canal and Main streets to the Common) and no more than 12 feet in height so not to snap overhead wires. All drivers must have valid licenses and vehicles have proof of liability insurance. All bicyclists/skateboarders/unicyclists/other riders of self-propelled devices must wear helmets.

Participants shouldn’t stop to perform but instead maintain a steady forward pace so spectators don’t face large gaps. (Brattleboro Community Television asks that everyone slow down and “give us their best smiles” when marching past the live cameras on Main Street.)

NO STOPPING OR PARKING AT THE COMMON OR ADJACENT STREETS. Either exit onto Chapin Street or Route 30 or, if you must stop and park, continue to the American Legion lots on Linden Street.

Participants must walk street-side to distribute candy, flags, balloons or other family-friendly items. Our liability insurance policy prohibits throwing anything from moving vehicles, as someone may be hit or encouraged to get too close to turning wheels.

Because of an unusually high number of entries and concerns expressed by local environmental and energy-conservation groups, all units must limit themselves to one vehicle (the only exceptions: the Brattleboro Fire Department and senior/veterans groups who can’t all fit in one car).

Absolutely no unofficial sirens, flashing lights, smoke, flames, special effects or conduct that could cause a spectator and/or safety official to believe there’s an emergency.

All participants are urged to protect themselves by bringing sunscreen, shade hats and water. In the hopefully unlikely event that police/fire/rescue units must respond to an emergency, all marchers/vehicles should MOVE RIGHT so to clear the left lane for authorities.

Here’s where we’ll gather:

Brattleboro Elks #1499
Brattleboro American Legion color guard/band
Brattleboro Fire Department
Small Fry baseball
Affordable Towing
Guilford Volunteer Fire Department
Putney Fire Department
Vernon Fire Department
West Dummerston Fire Department
Chesterfield, N.H., Fire and Rescue
Rescue Inc.

police cruisers
Vermont Governor’s Institute on Current Issues & Youth Activism

Boys & Girls Club of Brattleboro
Brattleboro Detachment 798 Marine Corps League
Vietnam Veterans of America, Brattleboro Chapter 843
Vermont Patriot Guard Riders
Agape Christian Fellowship
Brattleboro Masonic Lodge #102
Ladies’ Oriental Shrine of North America Nile Court #94
Thompson House
Vernon Homes-Vernon Birches/Vernon Hall/Vernon Green
Brattleboro Union High School band

WSESU Let’s Read! Committee <––
Brattleboro Historical Society
WTSA Radio
Brattleboro Little League
Brattleboro Retreat Ride for Heroes
1049 Nash Icon 
Faith’s Ford

“We Celebrate Democracy/Civil Rights for All” banner
Alfred Hughes Jr. with local/state officials/officeholders


#TeamOctopus in the Brattleboro, VT July 4th Parade!

I always say that things happen one step at a time, right?

Well, I’m super excited that the Wellness Committee for my local WSESU school district is organizing a community read of THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS! That by ITSELF is thrilling, but I swear every time I cross paths with one of the committee members they have a new cool idea that they’re working on.  Like recently when one of them said, “We’re thinking we should have a group march in the July 4th parade!” And then next day when the update was “You know that giant octopus in Cotton Mill Hill? We got permission from the artist so that we can carry it on July 4th!”

Okay, so you know I’m already over the moon at this point, right?

But then I realized that this means that all the kids (and families) in the area who have read it so far (or are excited about it) can march with us! And THEN yesterday morning when I was announcing this at a local 4th grade class that read the book, they were so enthusiastic, and one of them said, “T-SHIRTS!”

And you KNOW I love T-shirts!

So, now the first ever #TeamOctopus t-shirts exist and are on sale for the next 3 days, and thanks to all the t-shirts that have already been bought and donations that have been made, I’m going to be able to provide a free #TeamOctopus t-shirt for every kid that marches in the parade! 


Here’s the link if you want to purchase one for yourself!

What a wirlwind spring of school visits!

Last week I wrapped up my last school visits of the year, and wow what incredible kids there are all over the place! All together I visited over 40 schools and initiated over 13,000 students as new member of #Team Octopus, and I loved every minute of it. Check out this #TeamOctopus slideshow and a news clip from one of my school visits in Baltimore County, Maryland. (A special thanks to Patricia DeFatta, Producer, BCPS-TV – The Education Channel and reading specialist Bonnie Belsinger for organizing!)



A few weeks ago, I sent out a newsletter to my subscribers with a recap from a busy fall, and I said something about how I was looking forward to enjoying a peaceful December writing and spending time with family. WELL. I have been writing and spending time with my family, but it’s like I ordered a simple bowl of vanilla ice cream and this month instead delivered the most delicious and epic banana split imaginable.

Not only was THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS listed as one of NPR’s Best Books of 2018, but then THIS happened!


It’s an understatement to say this is a dream come true. Because this is the kind of dream that I (a confident, optimistic person) did not even dare to think about. The idea of working with Nancy Paulsen has always seemed so out of my league that for years I never even brought her name up with my agent.

Here’s the backstory:

Last April I was excited to have my first book coming out soon and even though I knew it was with a small press, I thought I could make it work. Then, I got a call out of the blue from my agent that my publisher had just fired my editor, my publicist, and the entire children’s division! We didn’t know if the book was even going to go forward. When we found out that they were still going to publish it, I was relieved, but it was also clear that this book was going to get zero support from the publisher and it was up to me to make sure it could find its way to readers. I teamed up with the amazing goddess Kirsten Cappy, who not only loved the book but made it her personal mission to get the book into educators’ hands. We only had a handful of Advanced Reader Copies to work with, but it was just like doing grassroots organizing for GunSenseVT. Maybe you can only connect with a few people, but if they are moved, they might tell others and it can take on a life of its own. We were hoping…

Around that same time, I had the chance to talk with Karen Hesse (because she had just read the book and loved it!) She told me, “You need to be writing the next thing.”

I said, “nnnyugghhhhh.” (I hadn’t written something new since the election.)

She said: “When are you going to write.”

I took a deep breath. “Early morning.”

She said: “And what happens when someone invites you to breakfast?”

“I say ‘I can’t go because Karen Hesse told me I can’t.”


That day, I set a goal of hitting 45,000 words by September 1st, and I wrote 400 words every morning—and I hit my goal!

Then the first week of September, OCTOPUS released to WAY more buzz than I could have imagined, immediately went out of stock, & my agent, the fabulous Tricia Lawrence, called to ask if I could write up a pitch of what I’ve been working on because there might be editors interested.

And I said, “Yes,” and then I also decided I need to be brave and voice a dream that I hadn’t even been willing to voice aloud to myself before, and I said, “Can we send it to Nancy Paulsen, too?”

And NOW…HOLY BANANAS!!!! This makes  my non-swearing-self want to say many swears and leap around with abounding glee!!! But since I can’t do that all the time, I’m just going to sit here and write and feel the joy within me like sunlight because I get to work on this book (AND THE NEXT BOOK!) with Nancy Freakin’ Paulsen!

One step at a time. It’s how we make change in our world. It’s how we make change in ourselves. It’s how we can grab on to the tiny voice in the back of our heads whispering the dreams we long for, even as the rest of us doubts our ability to achieve them.

Have faith that one tiny step in the right direction

no matter how hard it is

or how small it is

is making that NEXT step possible.







On the Radio… About School Visits!

Yesterday I got some amazing letters from students that I got meet at a school visit last month…

“You inspired me to believe I can do anything.”

“I have many obstacles in my life, and I’m glad to know I can get through it.”

“I once got bullied and I lost all my hope, and when you told us we all have superpowers I felt better.”

“You motivated me when you said that everyone has a superpower but not everyone has discovered them yet. I knew that I haven’t discovered my superpower so I am looking for it.”

My heart!


And then this morning I got to chat with Olga Peters of WKTV about these school visits. Take a listen here!