Confessions of a STEM Girl

Technically, I’m the E in STEM. My degree is in mechanical engineering, and before becoming a full-time writer, I worked in the automotive and aerospace industries. But my first STEM love was M. Can I get a hip-hip-array for MATH?

In my debut middle grade novel, The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl, the main character Lucy is a 12-year-old math genius and an all-around numbers nerd. And I mean this as the highest compliment. She is not me. I am not a genius. But I am a STEM girl and have been since stem was only part of a plant and not a career path.

Here’s what being a “STEM girl” has meant for me:

Read the rest at


I have an author bucket list. It started simple. 1) Get traditionally published. I guess I was naive because I didn't realize how this list would grow (and continues to grow). But one thing that's been on my radar for years is a mention on A MIGHTY GIRL. Their mission is to inspire girls and they highlight women and girls who are making a difference. Earlier this week, they had The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl as a "Mighty Girl Pick of the Day."

Thank you, Mighty Girl, for sharing my novel and all that you do for girls.

Brave Kids - Meet Ellie

Meet Ellie.


It's hard to be away from our loved ones, especially for young kids. Ellie and her mom know what this is like, and they've found ways to make it work.

Here's what mom had to say.

I want to nominate my six-year-old daughter, Ellie, as a Brave Kid. I am currently in an MFA program that requires me to leave my family and travel across the country for residencies twice a year. The separations are very hard on Ellie, but she handles them bravely. She writes me letters, draws pictures, and calls me on FaceTime during my breaks. She gets very sad during the separations, but she never asks me not to go because she knows Mom is out chasing dreams, just like I encourage her to chase her own.

Good luck to Ellie and mom as they chase their dreams.

Brave Kids - Meet Enzo

This is Enzo.


Recently, Enzo started a new school. I remember changing schools in fourth grade. The adjustment took time, and I was certainly nervous.

Here's what his mom had to say.

Enzo just began a new school this year. Our public education district has expanded a pilot program using a dyslexia therapy into an entire school.

While he was nervous about attending a new school, etc., he was up for the challenge. And, he’s not alone... the entire school 87 students and all the professors (they call them professors not teachers) are all embarking on this challenge together.

Wishing Enzo, all the students, and professors the best school year.

Brave Kids - Meet Olivia

This is Olivia.


Olivia and I have something in common. A bit of apprehension when it comes to roller coasters. This story makes me giggle.

Here's what her mom shared.

I am nominating my daughter, Olivia. Last weekend she went to Bush Gardens with my parents. They called me to tell me that she was standing on the balcony of the hotel the night before and she looked out and said, “This is high, but I’m going to overcome my fears”. The next morning they went to the amusement park. She usually avoids the roller coasters and sits with my dad while my mom and other daughter go on the rides, but that day was different. They were deciding on whether they were going on a big roller coaster and Olivia wanted to ride! She said, “I have to overcome my fears.” She went on the ride and loved it! She went to my dad and told him he had to go on the ride because it “wasn’t that bad” and not to be a “scaredy cat” (he hates roller coasters). She convinced him to go and he still hates them, but they got a good laugh from the 7 year old as he put it “shaming him into almost having a heart attack”.

We could all be more like Olivia and say to ourselves, "I have to overcome my fears."

Brave Kids - Meet Charlotte

This is Charlotte.


This is Charlotte and her parents.


And here's their story that mom shared with me.

Our daughter, Charlotte, is incredibly brave. At age 5, she is a pediatric brain tumor survivor and her mom (me) is a breast cancer survivor. All of this happened in the last 2 years. She decided to dress as a Super Hero going into her brain surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital in February of 2017 and we did too! Charlotte is making incredible progress. Her tumor was benign but has a high recurrence rate. That’s why as a family we raise money for pediatric brain tumor research (the PLGA Program at Dana-Farber and A Kids’ Brain Tumor Cure Foundation) and are cycling 27 miles in the 2017 Pan-Mass Challenge.

Charlotte and her mom are certainly super heroes.

Brave Kids - Meet Liora

This is Liora.


She loves school even though it's sometimes hard, and she wants to be scientist. Go, Liora!

Here's what her mom had to say:

I’m nominating my 9 year old daughter. She has dyslexia in reading, writing, and math, so basically every subject in school is difficult for her. However, she loves school and her teachers and faces every day with a huge smile.

Sometimes at night, however, she does cry and ask if life is easier without dyslexia.

So, I would love to honor my girl who has a pretty intense learning disability but still plans to be a scientist (and inventor). She is one of the most positive and upbeat people in the school, even when her hand cramps after writing or her eyes hurt after reading.

Another amazing kid. I feel inspired.

Brave Kids - Meet Victoria

This is Victoria. Her name means victory. Read her story and you'll see why.


With only fourteen hour notice, Victoria came home to her adopted parents on the first night of Hanukkah. She was two days old. Her parents called it a miracle.

I'll let her mom tell the rest of the story.

However, the real miracle was not how she came to us, but what she taught us.  At three months old we discovered she was legally blind.  I was “recovering” first grade teacher in Detroit.  I witnessed a lot—but was never prepared for a child with this challenge.  Most people are not.  My daughter is always the only one with dark glasses and a white cane where ever we go.  People don’t know how to react.  But, Victoria always does.  She greets people with a smiley, “HI!” or “What’s up, dude?”  She makes people laugh.  She hugs.  She loves everyone from such a genuine and authentic place.   I’ve witnessed the toughest looking of men melt into happiness around her.

Not once has she ever complained that she was like all the other kids.  She is mainstreamed at school.  Victoria has always been happy being her.  She tries to do everything the other kids can do.  On recess, she runs, swings, and climbs.  She is not the fastest kid or the most graceful--but she has the most joy! 

Recently she went to a sleepover camp for visually impaired kids for a week—longest she had been away from home ever!  She loved it!  She climbed a huge rock wall and made lots of new friends. 

Sometimes, people praise me for raising her.  But, I never look at her challenge as a disability—but a spectacular ability!

Does anyone else need tissues? Victoria is an amazing kid, and I'm thankful to her mom for sharing this story. There are certainly days when I need to be more like Victoria.

Brave Kids - Meet Peter

This is Peter.

Pete Brave.JPG

He was nominated by him mom and here's what she said:

Peter (age 7) was just diagnosed with Crohn's disease in July. He's spent the summer on the couch or in doctor's offices. He had to brave shots, an IV, blood draws, and anesthesia. He also had to endure a colonoscopy after months of stomach pain. Now that he's feeling better, Pete learned how to ride a bike without training wheels!  We are so proud of him for being brave!

Kids are amazing and inspiring.

Brave Kids - Meet Daphne

This is Daphne.


Here's why her mom thinks Daphne is brave:

Daphne is six years old.  She was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder when she was four.  We spend a lot of time talking about and practicing being brave at our house. We recently went to Yellowstone National Park as a family.  Daphne was very nervous about going.  She was afraid to see a bear and afraid to stand on a volcano. She wanted to stay home. Eventually, after reading some books about Yellowstone, she was able to think about all the interesting and different qualities of the animals we might see, and she put her fears behind her. She was brave, came on the trip and had so much fun.  (We even saw two bears, from our car, and it wasn't scary). 

Way to go, Daphne! (And Mom!) I'm glad she got to enjoy the majesty of Yellowstone.

Brave Kids - Meet Josiah

This is Josiah.


Josiah has Downs Syndrome and was born with a heart condition that has required multiple heart surgeries. He's faced numerous medical procedures since birth. And Josiah has triumphed. He's gone from needing nourishment via a G-tube to being able to sit at the table and eat meals with his family. He's worked hard for everything he's learned. He's had hours and hours of intensive therapy to develop skills that come simply to other children.

He was nominated by his Aunt Elizabeth. Here's some of what she had to say.

Quite simply he is the bravest child I have ever known. He rarely cries or complains despite the many obstacles he has faced and he rises to the occasion with every challenge he has been given. He continues to beat the odds with a pure, unadulterated joy for life. To me that is true bravery.

Doesn't that smile melt your heart?

Brave Kids - Meet James and Hudson

My new picture book, Brave, hits shelves in just over two weeks, and I'm celebrating by sharing advance copies with brave kids across the country. Today, I'd like to introduce you to James and Hudson.

James and Hudson

James was nominated by his mom. Here's what she wrote.

Nominating James for trying surfing at camp this summer. He was really nervous, really hesitant but went out there and tried. Now has done it twice and planning to go again!

James not only found the courage to try surfing, he inspired his five-year-old brother, Hudson, who also gave surfing a try.


Beautiful in Pictures

Here's my growing collection of pictures sent to me by fans of Beautiful. These were all shared publicly on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter. I love them all. Please keep sending these pictures my way.

This picture was shared by Anne Turner on Facebook. She asked her kindergartners to dress in whatever made them feel beautiful.

This picture was shared by Anne Turner on Facebook. She asked her kindergartners to dress in whatever made them feel beautiful.

Love this little one looking at the book. From @thehomeexantus on Instagram

Love this little one looking at the book. From @thehomeexantus on Instagram

From Jackie Fioretino on Twitter. This second grade teacher asked her students to add a page of text to the book.

From Jackie Fioretino on Twitter. This second grade teacher asked her students to add a page of text to the book.

From Jill Merkle on Twitter. They read the book on International Women's Day.

From Jill Merkle on Twitter. They read the book on International Women's Day.

This adorbaleness is from @crystalandfrankie on Instagram

This adorbaleness is from @crystalandfrankie on Instagram

Another sweet pick from Instagram @booksbeyondthenest

Another sweet pick from Instagram @booksbeyondthenest

Thanks @darlingconcept on Instagram for this darling picture.

Thanks @darlingconcept on Instagram for this darling picture.

Another wee one reading Beautiful on Instagram from @lifeisgood10.

Another wee one reading Beautiful on Instagram from @lifeisgood10.

From Shelly Moses on Twitter who wrote: Blessed to share it with my BEAUTIFUL girls!

From Shelly Moses on Twitter who wrote: Blessed to share it with my BEAUTIFUL girls!

Emily Kilgore wrote on Twitter: Student bought me this book from the #scholastic #bookfair and I am in LOVE!

Emily Kilgore wrote on Twitter: Student bought me this book from the #scholastic #bookfair and I am in LOVE!

And this Georgia teacher shared on Instagram and wrote a wonderful blog post about using Beautiful in the classroom.

And this Georgia teacher shared on Instagram and wrote a wonderful blog post about using Beautiful in the classroom.

Tales From a Critique Ninja

For the month of February, I was a "Critique Ninja" at 12x12. Each day I would stalk the "full manuscript forum" and select one to critique. It's still not clear if the selected manuscript (and writer) was lucky or cursed. In total, I gave my opinion to 24 or 25 pieces. (I did take a few days off.) Here are my takeaways from this experience.

What I Avoided

I don't feel qualified to critique rhyme. So I avoid those manuscripts for the most part. I also stayed away from anything over 700 words. IMHO, these are just too long. This year I didn't review any non-fiction, but that was more just by chance.

What I Found

Quite a bit of talent! Every manuscript I critiqued had potential. Some days, I got lucky and the first post I clicked caught my attention. Other days, I'd read 3 or 4 before selecting a manuscript. So even if I was harsh in my critique, there was something that drew me to that manuscript's potential.

I'm Brutal

Think of me as your mother-in-law. I complain about everything. I'm never happy. Even with my own work. When I read my published books aloud at schools and bookstores, I still edit. (I drop a few words every time I read Excellent Ed.) We can all be a kind kidlit community, but when it comes to critiques, I prefer the brutally honest folks.

My Most Common Criticism/Suggestion

I found myself asking this over and over. Is this a short story or a picture book? I think most new PB writers have a tendency to write short stories. They leave no work for the illustrator.  We should aim for a 50-50 split in the breakdown of the story telling. The words alone should not tell the story. The pictures alone should not tell the story. It's a happy marriage. Do you need to write Matthew was a crocodile? Won't the reader know this just by looking at the cover? (That's a very simple example, but maybe it illustrates my point.)

My Second Most Common Criticism/Suggestion

Tie the ending to the beginning. Something in those first lines should be reflected in those last lines. I love it when it's very direct. Maybe even the same exact words. Or a change of 1 or 2 words. Once you have a satisfying ending, I encourage you to go back and see if you can tweak the beginning to reflect or hint at the last pages. Or look at the opening and see how you can put those feelings, words, or intentions in the last few lines.


After completing my critique-ninja tour of duty in 2016, I'd mentioned that I wanted to draft a list of trends, or a list of what I saw over and over again. I never did this. (I'm easily distracted and constantly under deadline--that's my excuse.) I remember a lot of bath books and dog books last year. I started avoiding bath and dog books by the end. Maybe agents and editors feel a similar fatigue. I'm not sure. Here's a list of what I saw frequently in 2017. (12x12 members can do this unofficial research on their own. This is solely my experience. And I'm doing it from memory. No notes. Not going back through my files.)

  • Ninjas. There were more than critique ninjas floating through the forums. They were popular characters.
  • Characters named after their species. A duck named Duck. A bear named Bear.
  • Friendship. Stories about making friends or making-up with friends.
  • Engineers and Scientists. And most of these STEM characters were girls.
  • Characters' Names in the Titles. Bill's Day at the Beach. Fred and John. (Not actual examples.)
  • Too Much Info in Opening Paragraph. There seems to be a tendency for the author to explain his/her objective or worries in a paragraph above the manuscript. (I tried not to read these or only read them after.)

Parting Wisdom

Keep writing. And keep critiquing each other. Writing--it's easy to fall into the trap of revising the same manuscript again and again. And yes, a manuscript will require 6, 7, or 20 rewrites. But that can't be all you're doing. Take a break between revisions and start something new. I promise your brain is still working on manuscript-A while you are writing manuscript-B. Critiquing--I was reading manuscripts nearly every day this month. And I'm a better writer for it. I see "problems" in other writers' works that are also in my own. I notice the strengths too. Make a commitment to read a manuscript every other day (or every third day) and make at least 1 constructive comment (not just I-like-it comments) and I promise you will learn and your own writing will improve. Good luck!

PS: For the most part, I do not go back and read any follow-up comments to my critiques.  


When Your Daughter Looks in the Mirror

When a five-year-old girl looks in the mirror, what does she see? Hopefully, she spots a friend. Someone she's going to make silly faces at and try to out maneuver. What does this girl see when she's eight? Or thirteen? Or sixteen?

When you look in the mirror, what do you see? I see someone who needs to stand up straight and suck in her belly--a belly that has carried three children, the smallest of whom was eight pounds, thirteen ounces. A belly that also prefers Krispy Kreme to sit ups. A belly that I hate.

And my daughters have picked up on this. Eventually, the mirror will stop being a friend and become a harsh critic. Ninety-seven percent of women will have an I-Hate-My-Body thought today.

We can blame TV, the internet, and glossy fashion magazines for an unrealistic expectation of beauty. We can blame air-brusing and Photoshop. But girls first learn about beauty standards from mom and other important women in their lives. My girls first learned it from me. Looking in the mirror, are you complaining about your gray hairs, crooked nose, or your weight? Are you setting the unrealistic expectations?

While working on my book BEAUTIFUL, I needed to redefine my essential definition of beauty.

I read dozens of posts and quotes on beauty. Watched numerous Dove commercials. And looked at the research on the subject--everything from the golden ratio, which mathematically examines feature placements on a face, to the studies on why men place a higher value on looks in their mate than women do.

And of course, I checked out Merriam-Webster's definition of beautythe quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit

I finally settled on this.

Beauty is a confidence driven by what you do and how you feel.

I'm never going to have a flat stomach. My hair will forever require chemicals. The laugh lines are here to stay. But what I can ultimately control is what I say to the girl in the mirror. "You're a good mom! And you rock those jeans."

                                    art by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff

                                    art by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff

Be kind to yourself. It matters! Your daughters are listening.