For Parents

5 Ways to Remember What You Read: And Do You Need to “Remember” At All?

I wish I had a photographic memory. But I don’t. In order to remember something, I typically need to write about it. And as a children’s author, I want to remember the books that I read.

Through the years, I’ve tried several methods to chronicle the books I read. These techniques include the following:

A Reader Response Journal

This is where I note my immediate responses to a book. My writing is sloppy and comes out in a gush. In classrooms, teachers say they enjoy using this method as a way for students to learn how to become close readers. Readers organically engage with texts, and this feels very intimate. Additionally, you don’t have to write about an entire book, you can simply respond to particular passages or chapters.

For me, one of my flaws is that I tend to sometimes write  responses on my phone, sometimes in a journal and sometimes as a Word document and they are not collected in one place. But this is separate issue—more about my tendency to shirk from instituting routines/systems. How to organize everything could be its own separate post.

Craft Journal

This is very similar to a reader response journal in that you’re quickly responding to text, but the goals are different. In this sort of journal, I actively search the text for answers to a particular craft question. My reading itself becomes more strategic and less about pleasure. I might read for voice. Or to see how a particular author handles tertiary characters or how she folds in setting. The list goes on and on.


Sometimes I will post a quick review on GoodReads. Ha! I just fibbed. I’m not capable of writing something speedily that will be posted on a social media platform (even on X formerly known as Twitter). I’m not as active on GoodReads as I hoped to be. It seems like a smart way of chronicling books as well as boosting fellow authors. As an author, I really appreciate it when readers post their reviews on GoodReads as well as on retailer websites. However, I think that my ego gets in the way, and I want my review to be clever and it can stop me from posting here. I need to tame my ego!

Book Groups

In the past (pre-motherhood), I have been part of book groups. I love that these groups create community. I’m all in for circle time. As an author I have visited some book groups. I would like to get active in a book group again (but I also worry about time/commitment).


Not me. At least yet. Now that TikTok will likely be banned, I suspect that the action will be on Reels.

How do you chronicle your reading? What works for you? And do you even need to chronicle the books you read? Is it enough to just enjoy them? Ponder them? Love them?

Hillary Homzie is the author of the Ellie May chapter book series (Charlesbridge, 2018), Apple Pie Promises (Sky Pony/Swirl, 2018), Pumpkin Spice Secrets (Sky Pony/Swirl, 2017), Queen of Likes (Simon & Schuster MIX 2016), The Hot List (Simon & Schuster MIX 2011) and Things Are Gonna Be Ugly (Simon & Schuster, 2009) as well as the Alien Clones From Outer Space (Simon & Schuster Aladdin 2002) chapter book series. She’s also a contributor to the Kate the Chemist middle grade series (Philomel Books/Penguin Random House). And her nonfiction picture book, If You Were a Princess: True Stories of Brave Leaders From Around the World is a look at historical and current princesses from many diverse lands who have made their mark (Simon & Schuster, August 2022). During the year, Hillary teaches at Sonoma State University. In the summer, she teaches in the graduate program in children’s literature, writing and illustration at Hollins University. She also is an instructor for the Children’s Book Academy.

She can be found at and on Instagram, her Facebook page as well as on Twitter

Winter is Upon Us! (five winter themed middle grade novels)

I live in California so winter here means we can still get away with no socks, but I grew up in the east and I remember how exciting the first snow was and how we’d stare out the window, fingers crossed, just hoping for a snow day.

When I went looking for middle grade books that take place in the winter I was surprised by how few there were. Maybe it’s easier to write about kids when they have the freedom of summer break or can run around outside in the good weather.

But no matter what climate you live in, I think you’ll find this selection of winter themed novels plunges you right into the chilly heart of winter.


Dog Driven, by Terry Lynn Johnson

McKenna Barney is trying to hide her worsening eyesight and has been isolating herself for the last year. But at the request of her little sister, she signs up for a commemorative mail run race in the Canadian wilderness—a race she doesn’t know if she can even see to run.

Winning would mean getting her disease—and her sister’s—national media coverage, but it would also pit McKenna and her team of eight sled dogs against racers from across the globe for three days of shifting lake ice, sudden owl attacks, snow squalls, and bitterly cold nights.

A page-turning adventure about living with disability and surviving the wilderness, Dog Driven is the story of one girl’s self-determination and the courage it takes to trust in others.


The Girl Who Speaks Bear, by Sophie Anderson

“They call me Yanka the Bear. Not because of where I was found. Only a few people know about that. They call me Yanka the Bear because I am so big and strong.”

Discovered in a bear cave as a baby, 12-year-old Yanka dreams of knowing who she really is. Although Yanka is happy at home with her loving foster mother, she feels out of place in the village where the other children mock her for her unusual size and strength.

So when Yanka wakes up one morning to find her legs have become bear legs, she knows she has no choice but to leave her village. She has to find somewhere she truly belongs, so she ventures into the Snow Forest with her pet weasel, Mousetrap, in search of the truth about her past.

But deep in the forest there are many dangers and Yanka discovers that even the most fantastic stories she grew up hearing are true. And just as she draws close to discovering who she really is, something terrifying happens that could trap her in the forest . . . forever.


Icefall, by Matthew Kirby

Critically acclaimed author Matthew J. Kirby deftly weaves a stunning coming-of-age tale with chilling cleverness and subtle suspense that will leave readers racing breathlessly to the end.

Trapped in a hidden fortress tucked between towering mountains and a frozen sea, Solveig–along with her brother the crown prince, their older sister, and an army of restless warriors–anxiously awaits news of her father’s victory at battle. But as winter stretches on, and the unending ice refuses to break, terrible acts of treachery soon make it clear that a traitor lurks in their midst. Solveig must also embark on a journey to find her own path.

Yet, a malevolent air begins to seep through the fortress walls, as a smothering claustrophobia slowly turns these prisoners of winter against one another.Those charged with protecting the king’s children are all suspect, and the siblings must choose their allies wisely. But who can be trusted so far from their father’s watchful eye? Can Solveig survive the long winter months and expose the traitor before he manages to destroy a kingdom?


The Sea in Winter, by Christine Day

American Indian Youth Literature Award: Middle Grade Honor Book! In this evocative and heartwarming novel for readers who loved The Thing About Jellyfish, the author of I Can Make This Promise tells the story of a Native American girl struggling to find her joy again.

It’s been a hard year for Maisie Cannon, ever since she hurt her leg and could not keep up with her ballet training and auditions.

Her blended family is loving and supportive, but Maisie knows that they just can’t understand how hopeless she feels. With everything she’s dealing with, Maisie is not excited for their family midwinter road trip along the coast, near the Makah community where her mother grew up.

But soon, Maisie’s anxieties and dark moods start to hurt as much as the pain in her knee. How can she keep pretending to be strong when on the inside she feels as roiling and cold as the ocean?


Ruby in the Sky, by Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo

In Jeanne Zulick Ferruolo’s heartfelt middle-grade debut about family, friendship, and finding your own identity, Ruby Moon Hayes learns there’s more to a person’s story than what other people tell.

Twelve-year-old Ruby Moon Hayes does not want her new classmates to ask about her father. She does not want them to know her mother has been arrested. And she definitely does not want to make any friends. Ruby just wants to stay as silent and invisible as a new moon in the frozen sky. She and her mother won’t be staying long in Vermont anyway, and then things can go back to the way they were before everything went wrong.

But keeping to herself isn’t easy when Ahmad Saleem, a Syrian refugee, decides he’s her new best friend. Or when she meets “the Bird Lady,” a recluse named Abigail who lives in a ramshackle shed near Ruby’s house. Before long Ahmad and Abigail have become Ruby’s friends–and she realizes there is more to their stories than everyone knows.

As ugly rumors begin to swirl around the people Ruby loves, she must make a choice: break her silence, or risk losing everything that’s come to mean so much to her. Ruby in the Sky is a story of the walls we hide behind, and the magic that can happen when we’re brave enough to break free.

Interview with Author Jessica Vitalis

This week I chatted with Jessica Vitalis about her new middle grade novel COYOTE QUEEN (Out 10/10—GreenwillowBooks).

I’ve always believed that writers dig deep into their souls to find the best stories. Jessica has done a brilliant job of turning her pain into art.  

I’m excited for young readers to learn more about Fud’s ( and Jessica’s) emotional journey.  

Let’s do this . . . 

Please tell us about COYOTE QUEEN

Desperate to escape an abusive situation, twelve-year-old Fud enters a local beauty pageant hoping to win the prize money she and her mother need to leave. But an eerie connection to a local pack of coyotes causes strange changes to her body––her smell improves, she goes colorblind, and soon, she has to figure out how to win the pageant with a tail.

The story is so unique and fresh, how did you come up with this idea?

I originally set out to write a memoir, but I soon learned that life didn’t follow a convenient narrative arc, and as a new writer, I didn’t have the chops to pull off the story. I set the memoir aside and started writing fiction, but the idea of writing about a girl in a difficult situation wouldn’t leave me alone. I tried again, this time fictionalizing several elements of the story, but it didn’t really come together until I incorporated the coyotes that used to howl around our one-room cabin on the Wyoming/South Dakota border at night. Inspired by THE NEST (by Kenneth Oppel), I decided to add a speculative twist to the story using the coyotes as a metaphor for Fud’s longing to escape, and that’s when the story took on a life of its own.

What was the most difficult aspect of writing this book?

When I first set out to write a memoir, my goal was to tell my story. As I got older (and found a really good therapist!), I realized the real goal was to write a story that would help children in difficult situations. Letting go of my story while at the same time digging deeply into all the emotional baggage I needed to sort through in order to write Fud’s story was a process that took nearly two decades.

How do your life experiences impact the stories you tell?

My stories are all impacted by my life experiences. COYOTE QUEEN is the most obvious example since I used my difficult childhood to shine a light on the kids who might otherwise not have much of a voice in contemporary literature. But with every one of my books, I try to bring a unique perspective formed by having experienced a vast array of different socio-economic situations (a theme that always seems to crop up in my work). Regardless of the story, my mission is always to write enjoyable and thought-provoking books that cause readers to ask big questions about themselves and the world around them.

Do you have a favorite chapter in this book?

Oh, that’s a hard one! Letting Fud’s authentic self shine in the pageant was a lot of fun, but I also really love the scene that takes place after she gets home, when she has to come to terms with what’s happening to her body. I won’t say anything more for fear of giving something away, but I love how the scene straddles the line between reality and fantasy, leaving it up to the reader to decide what’s really happening.

What books did you like to read when you were growing up? Do those books influence your writing?

As a kid, I read every book I could get my hands on. That said, we were always on the move and the books were almost always from libraries, so I rarely read a book twice. My writing is probably more influenced by contemporary writers I admire such as Gary D. Schmidt, Erin Entrada Kelly, Tahereh Mafi, and Kate DiCamillo since I carefully studied their writing in my own (very long) journey toward publication.

When did you decide you wanted to become a writer and why children’s books?

Living with domestic violence as a kid, I learned that it was safer to make myself invisible, but I had a deep-seated longing to be seen and heard. That longing carried into adulthood, and it’s what compelled me to try to write a memoir. At the same time, I’d always loved writing, and since I was constantly reading picture books to my young children, I also wrote several PB manuscripts; every time I brought one to my critique group, they said it would make a fantastic first chapter in a middle grade novel. Since I hadn’t read one of those since middle school, I checked out KIT’S WILDERNESS (by David Almond) from the library, and I’ve never looked back!

What advice would you give twelve-year-old Jessica?

I would tell her that she’s stronger than she knows, and that as long as she continues working hard and believing in herself, she’ll do just fine. I would also tell her that the key to writing is to focus on the character’s emotional arc rather than the plot––something that took me years to learn!

What do you hope readers will take away from COYOTE QUEEN?

The sad reality is that one BILLION children each year experience abuse; I hope this book, and sharing my story, shows anyone struggling that there is hope for the future, and that it gives them the courage to ask for help. For readers who have never experienced domestic violence (or lived with poverty), I hope this story serves as a powerful tool for building empathy and raising awareness.

What are you working on now?

I’m so glad you asked––my next novel, a historical novel in verse, publishes in the fall of 2024, and it finally has a title! I can’t wait to share more details about UNSINKABLE CAYENNE with you in the coming weeks and months!

Thank you so much for visiting the MUF Blog, Jessica. Congratulations and best wishes on the release of COYOTE QUEEN! 

JESSICA VITALIS is a Columbia MBA-wielding writer with Greenwillow / HarperCollins. She authored The Wolf’s Curse and The Rabbit’s Gift (which received two starred reviews and was named a Canadian Children’s Book Center Best Books for Kids and Teens 2023). Her next book, Coyote Queen, is a Junior Library Guild Gold Standard Selection and has already received a Kirkus starred review.

A novel in verse, Unsinkable Cayenne, comes out in 2024. Her work has been translated into three languages, and she was named a 2021 Canada Council of the Arts Grant Recipient and featured on CBCs Here and Now and CTVs Your Morning. Jessica lives in Ontario with her husband and two daughters but speaks at conferences, festivals, and schools all over North America.

To learn more about Jessica check out her website or follow her on social media.