Posts Tagged basketball

Taking Up Space: Author Interview + Giveaway


Think back to yourself in middle school. Were you comfortable in your own skin? Many kids are trying to make sense of all the changes that are happening to them—both inside and out. I enjoyed reading Taking Up Space by Alyson Gerber. It really reminded me of various internal battles that age group faces and how alone one can feel. Here is my interview with the author of Taking Up Space, Alyson Gerber. Be sure to enter the raffle at the end of the post for a chance to win a free copy of her book.
Taking Up Space book

About the Book

Hi Alyson! Thank you for sharing Taking Up Space with me. Can you give us a short summary about the book?

TAKING UP SPACE is the story about a basketball player struggling to feel good about her body and herself.
When did it come out?
Tuesday, May 18!


Tell us who would especially enjoy this book?

TAKING UP SPACE is for readers who love basketball, YouTube cooking competitions, and friendship stories. This book will start honest conversations between parents and kids, students and teachers, and among friends about just how hard it is for most of us to feel good about ourselves and in our bodies.

About the Author

Did you enjoy writing as a child? Do you remember anything you wrote?
I always loved storytelling and writing. I kept a journal at certain times. But most of the creative writing I did was actually in theater. I wrote scenes and plays. I had a very cool director, Mr. Wann, who really encouraged us to express ourselves and think differently. At graduation, he gave out his own awards to students who he knew wouldn’t be recognized by the institution. He instilled a confidence in me that helped me find my voice and taught me to appreciate the process of writing.


Tell us about you—what other jobs did you have that were or were not related to writing? 

Before I became a full-time author, I was the senior director of communications at a college. I loved the work, and I actually use a lot of the skills I learned from my years of in-house public relations and marketing in my job now.


How did you end up becoming an author?
I took a class on writing for magazines and newspapers. That was the first time I started exploring my experience. I tried writing a memoir, but it didn’t work. Fiction gave me the freedom to work out my feelings, while using my imagination to create drama, conflict, and tension. I don’t write real people or events. I invent characters and build out a made-up plot, but I use my real experiences and emotions to fuel the imaginary reality. I eventually got an MFA at the New School in Writing for Children and Teens, and that set on me the path to becoming an author.


Many of your books address issues that teens and tweens face. When you began writing, did you plan to write for this age group?

It didn’t take me very long to figure out that I was most interested in writing for tweens and teens. I had to grow up really fast, because of my scoliosis. I was managing adult responsibilities early on, so I could easily identify the adults who took me seriously from the ones who didn’t think I mattered or should get a say in what was happening to me. I want every kid to know they matter and deserve to be heard and seen and validated. 

What’s your connection with the topics in Taking Up Space you choose to write about?
TAKING UP SPACE is based on my experience overcoming struggles with body image, body dysmorphia, self-worth, and disordered eating.


Are you a basketball player? What position did you play?

I’m not a basketball player. But I’ve always loved the sport. And I definitely would have played guard!

What authors would you say influenced your writing style?
Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, and Ann M. Martin!



What was your original spark for the book?

I started writing TAKING UP SPACE, because after being in therapy and recovering from disordered eating, I had a relapse while I was pregnant with my daughter. The changes to my body triggered me and made me feel like I was going through puberty all over again. It was really scary for lots of reasons. But I got professional help immediately, and then I starting writing this book.

What research did you need to do?
While TAKING UP SPACE is own-voices and based on my experience, I did a lot of research. I interviewed social workers, psychiatrists, teachers, people in eating-disorder recovery. I also interviewed a few different people who grew up in houses where food was complicated. Between revisions, I read non-fiction books and research about bodies, food, trauma, and health. I really wanted to be informed and have a deep knowledge of the intersectional history of diet culture. I knew this story was so much bigger than me and my experience and I wanted to make sure I had a complete understanding of that bigger picture.

Did you face any challenges while writing Taking Up Space?
Writing this book was one big challenge after another for me. I had to face a lot of painful thoughts and feelings I had about myself. I knew it would be worth it and I was ready to take on this important topic, but every day when I went to write or revise, I had a sense of pushing myself to be as honest as possible. It felt a lot like cutting myself open and digging deep inside to see what I might find.

Share any writing exercises you did to learn more about your main character, Sarah.
I always do a few rounds of putting each of my characters into bad situations that are completely unrelated to the plot of the book to see what they do. I never use those scenes, but that writing helps me figure out how my characters make decisions. I get the chance to learn what matters to them and what doesn’t.


For Teachers

Any suggestions for ways to use Taking Up Space in the classroom?

Right now, there are a lot of news stories circulating about bodies and food in the pandemic. I really hope teachers will use TAKING UP SPACE to support students. Kids are encountering diet culture—a society that values weight, size, and shape over actual well-being—starting at a very, very young age. By 8 years old, at least half of kids want to be thinner, and they feel better when they’re on a diet. Kids need the tools to navigate the information they’re encountering so they can help themselves and their friends. And struggles with food, body image, and self-worth impact kids of all ages, genders, races, sizes, and socio-economic classes.
Scholastic will be offering a one-sheet to educators that will be available at the start of the school year! 

What other groups do you see using this book?
TAKING UP SPACE is a perfect district, all-school, or grade-wide read. It would also be amazing in book clubs where adults and kids read together. 

Are you doing school visits related to this book? Tell us more!
Definitely. I am already booking up for the fall! Most of the visits I do are for students in fourth grade through eighth grade. I usually present to one or two grades at a time, depending on the size of the school. Students have the chance to go on an interactive journey with me, where they learn what I went through and how writing and telling my truth helped me develop agency. But recently I’ve had a few requests for programs that are geared toward families and also just adults, which is exciting!


How can we learn more about you?
Twitter: @alysongerber
Instagram: @alysongerber
Facebook: @alysongerberbooks 
Thanks so much for your time, Alyson!
Alyson Gerber will be giving away a copy of Taking Up Space to a lucky reader. Enter the giveaway below for a chance to win a copy. (U.S. addresses only)

Taking Up Space is available here:

Alyson Gerber is the author of the critically acclaimed, own-voices novels Braced and Focused published by Scholastic. Her third novel Taking Up Space will be in stores on May 18, 2021. She has an MFA from The New School in Writing for Children and lives in New York City with her family. Visit her at and find her everywhere else @alysongerber.

Sean McCollum New Release + 3-Book Giveaway

Prolific author Sean McCollum is here today to talk about his newest book, 1 For All. Sean has been in the educational and youth publishing business for nearly 30 years and is the author of more than 50 commercially published books and more than 300 articles for kids and teens. He is also an avid traveler and has journeyed to 65 countries so far! In 1 For All, he travels closer to home inside the world of 8th grade competitive basketball.

In 1 For All, J.J. Pickett, captain of the Traverse Middle School Musketeers, thinks this is the year he will lead his eighth-grade team to the conference title. But bad breaks, a new coach, and a long-standing grudge sabotage his hopes and leave him struggling on and off the court. Can J.J. and his teammates salvage a lost season?

Don’t miss your chance to win a copy of Sean’s new book! And as if that wasn’t enough of a goodie, Sean is also giving away two more of his books that are great companions to 1 For All. This includes, Pro Basketball’s All-Time Greatest Comebacks and Basketball’s Best and Worst: A Guide to the Game’s Good, Bad, and Ugly.

Check out the Rafflecopter contest below to enter this 3-book bundle!

Q&A with Sean:

  1. How did the idea for 1 For All come to you and would you say you are a basketball fan … and if so what team(s) do you root for?

Hi Donna!

This story has long-ago roots from my own days as a back-up guard for the Oconomowoc Junior High School Bulldogs in Wisconsin. I’ve been a Milwaukee Bucks and Marquette Warriors/Golden Eagles fan as long as I can remember … which happily includes the Bucks one and only NBA championship so far.

But at the heart of the story was a question I’ve had for a while: Why do people keep playing and competing when they’re no longer the best or are out of running for a championship or gold medal or whatever? I wanted to follow J.J. Pickett and his teammates as they try to figure out an answer for themselves.

  1. Team spirit, a love of the game, and self-restraint are integral to your story. How did you balance all of these within the 8th grade age and landscape of your characters?

Great question. Those themes really grew out of J.J.’s journey and his friendship and affection for his teammates. In my mind, to be a good teammate or partner of any kind requires the element of self-regulation to balance out one’s ego and passions. Middle school is where that struggle is joined for so many of us, though as I’ve learned the learning curve lasts a lifetime.

  1. Midwest Book Review notes in a glowing review that 1 for All “captures the strategies, challenges, and dilemmas of players, managers, and those involved in building basketball dreams”. With such deep layering of the game throughout the story, did it require a lot of basketball research?

I spent so much time watching and playing hoops and other sports growing up that the ebb and flow of a game is second nature. However, I did have to update my knowledge of what 13-year-old basketball players can do. Today’s young players bring a skill level and court awareness that makes my jaw drop.

  1. What was your process for writing this book and did it differ from other books you’ve written?

Nonfiction has been my career, so creating a work of fiction was both a challenge and an opportunity to let my imagination take the wheel. As a rule, nonfiction has a certain formula that I know in my bones at this point. Writing a middle grade novel required me to bring learner’s mind to the writing and revising process. My friends at Brattle Publishing, Rich Lena and Carol Karton, were fantastic at pointing out the weak points in the manuscript and encouraging me not to tweak but to re-vision them. My best friend and fellow writer Tod Olson was instrumental, too, in pushing me to connect the on-court and off-court plot points. At a certain point, every book becomes a collaborative process, but I leaned heavy on the framework of a three-act structure to build a strong story arc.

  1. Do you envision writing more athletic-related stories in the near future and if so, what other sports might you dive into?

Funny you should ask! I’m in the process of revising a group of four short sports stories—one for the sports of basketball, baseball, and football, and one about skating (skateboards). I want to call it something like 4 Sports Shorts, and I originally conceived it as a series for reluctant readers. People keep telling me there’s no market for MG short stories, but oh well, that’s how these came out. I find that a story tells me what it wants to be.

  1. You’ve lived all over the world in some amazing places! What places have you written about in your books and what other locations do you see yourself writing about in the future?

I’ve written magazine articles for Boys’ Life, Junior Scholastic, and others based on travels in West Africa (Mali and Niger), Papua New Guinea, and parts of Alaska. But for some reason I’ve never put much energy into turning those personal adventures into stories. I guess I’ve never thought of my experiences as that interesting! Or maybe I just like to keep those adventures, many of them quite embarrassing, to myself.

  1. What project is on your writing plate at the moment that you’d like to share with us?

A picture book of mine, We CAN’T Go Outside!, recently won the Katherine Paterson prize for PBs from Hunger Mountain, the journal of Vermont College of Fine Arts ( So, I’m looking for an agent or publisher for that. I’m also revising a chapter book adventure called Daisy & May about a plucky prairie dog and a girl who tries to help her save her prairie dog town. Oh, and on deck is a YA novel called Lucky Boots about a disillusioned high school senior who attempts to hike the 2,600 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, which I did in 2012. (I still can’t feel my toes.) I’ve got more ideas in my notebooks than I’ll ever be able to write, but I love it when a new character or plot shows up in my imagination.

  1. Let us know how we can connect with you!
    (post social media/website links here)

People can follow me on Twitter @seandmccollum and seandmccollum on Instagram. My seedy little website is … I really must get around to upgrading that. :-/ Goodreads is a good place to see a listing of my nonfiction titles. (

Thank you, Donna, for giving me a chance to share!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

March Madness in the Bookshelves

Hello, my name is Tracy and I’m college basketball-obsessed. It’s been three minutes since I watched a men’s NCAA game, and I’m quite sure I’ll sneak away** from this post to check out another. I’d like to say my family is supportive of my attempts at recovery, but they’re not much more functional than me. And in the case of my 16-year-old son, I’d say he’s got it worse. At least I’m not constantly checking scores on my phone.

(Why yes, it is an ancient flip-phone. What’s your point?)

In addition to love-love-loving college basketball, I adore reading. Fortunately, there are lots of books out there for middle-grade readers who enjoy this sport. While I couldn’t find any books aimed at young people on the art and science of bracketology, I did find a broad array of fiction with basketball playing a prominent part in the story.


Tracy’s note: While author says she personally is “not tall, not very coordinated, and has no hustle,” Mills wrote a convincing story about a reluctant basketball player who makes funny observations on his way to becoming a player.


Tracy’s note: Grimes does a beautiful job writing in verse about what it’s like to be a 12-year-old girl who lives and breathes basketball, and then experiences both physical and emotional changes that affect how she views the boys she used to only see as competitors.


Tracy’s note: Being the mom of a long-time basketball player, this story, told from the point of view of three sixth-grade boys and one girl, rings absolutely true regarding parental expectations, highs and lows of competition, and the politics of team sports. While this book definitely would hook young readers, I think parents would also enjoy and benefit from these narrators’ insights.


Tracy’s note: Stanford loves basketball so much he’s willing to be tutored in English by “the world’s biggest nerdball, Millicent Min” so that he can be on the team. I can relate, seeing as I have to get these blurbs evenly spaced before I can get back to my beloved games. Aargh!

THE REAL SLAM DUNK by Charisse K. Richardson

Tracy’s note: This story of 10-year-old Marcus and his twin Mia doesn’t contain basketball action, but instead delivers a message about how it’s okay to dream of being a basketball star as long as you have other dreams, too.

DRAGON ROAD by Laurence Yep

Dragon Road cover

Tracy’s note: I’m interested in reading this book about a 1939 Chinese American basketball team, but stopped when I realized the protagonists are recent high school graduates (the book was shelved in the juvenile section of  my library but is at minimum an upper middle-grade story). If I can find time between games, I’m going to continue reading this.

The NCAA brackets have now been set. I watched Selection Sunday with my two sons as the teams and initial match-ups were announced, and am giddy with anticipation. Happy March Madness, everyone! The first games aren’t until tomorrow so you still have plenty of time to pick up a book. Please add any other basketball-inspired books in the comments and also tournament favorites or predictions.

**I watched the last minutes of the Wisconsin – Indiana game.  Shhh!

Tracy Abell wishes her free throw percentage was higher because, you know, they’re FREE throws.