Posts Tagged fiction

STEM Author Spotlight– Laura Stegman

We are delighted to have Laura Stegman, author of The Chambered Nautilus on the blog today.

Laura StegmanLaura Segal Stegman is a Los Angeles-based publicist and author whose middle grade debut novel, Summer of L.U.C.K., and its sequel, Ready or Not, were published by Young Dragons. The Chambered Nautilus, the third in the L.U.C.K. trilogy, will follow. L.A. Parent Magazine lauded Summer of L.U.C.K. as a “good read,” Readers’ Favorite awarded it 5 Stars, and a Macaroni Kid reviewer said, “I was instantly captivated and couldn’t put it down.” Laura serves as a judge for Society of Young Inklings and Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) writer competitions, and she shares her author journey in engaging virtual and in-person visits to schools and libraries. Her non-fiction credits include collaboration on the travel book Only in New York. Her feature stories have appeared in the Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles Magazine. A long-time publicity consultant, she owns Laura Segal Stegman Public Relations, LLC, which has represented a wide-ranging client list of businesses, arts organizations, and non-profit events over the years. She is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of UC Irvine with a B.A. in Drama.



The Chambered Nautilus book

All about the book! Get ready for a whirlwind adventure with The Chambered Nautilus, the thrilling conclusion to Laura Segal Stegman’s enchanting Summer of L.U.C.K. trilogy.

Best friends Darby, Justin, and Naz are facing their biggest challenge yet. Since last summer’s adventure, they find themselves growing apart, making new friends, and being pulled in different directions. But when a ride at ghostly Mr. Usher’s carnival experiences a mysterious malfunction, the trio reunites to answer his desperate call for help.

With expulsion from camp and the carnival’s very existence on the line, Darby, Justin, and Naz will have to rely on their wits-and one another-to unravel the mysteries surrounding Mr. Usher’s plea. The camp’s newest attraction, the Chambered Nautilus, may hold the key, but it will take everything they have to unlock its secret.

Join them in a heart-pounding journey filled with friendship, courage, and the power of never giving up. Will they save the carnival and their cherished memories before it’s too late? Find out in this magical tale of adventure, discovery, and the true meaning of loyalty.


Laura, thanks for answering my questions:

JS: This is such a fun book with a great cast of characters. Were they inspired by yourself? Or maybe kids you knew or grew up with? You don’t have to give specific names, of course, but it’s always fun to learn where authors get their characters.


LS: I appreciate your describing The Chambered Nautilus as a fun book! I sure had fun writing it! It’s the third in my middle grade trilogy about three kids whose friendship with a ghost livens up – to put it mildly – their summer camp experiences over a three-year span. In Summer of L.U.C.K., the first book, we meet Darby, Justin, and Naz, who are struggling with communicating, and the ghost, Leroy Usher, who helps them find their voices via adventures in his magical carnival. The kids have more magical adventures in the sequel, but Ready or Not sees Mr. Usher helping Justin, who faces a tricky choice: stand up to bigotry or let fear hold him back. In The Chambered Nautilus, the conclusion to the series, the trio receives an urgent plea from Mr. Usher, and they must figure out how to help him without destroying his beloved, now real-life carnival or getting expelled from camp.

It’s certainly accurate to say that the kid  characters were inspired by me. A lot of Darby is based on my own experiences learning to find my voice. I never lost a parent as a kid, the way Justin does, but I’ve felt his sense of not being heard. As for Naz, whose endearing personality makes me laugh, I share his tenacity and his love of junk food.


JS: Your book has a ghost! How cool is that? Can you explain what made you decide to put a ghost in it? 

LS: I needed a character not only with magical powers but who was also deeply compassionate. A friendly ghost fit the bill. I modeled Mr. Usher on the kind of loving, understanding adult that kids like me loved to be around. I had a grade school teacher like that. She helped me navigate tough times and gave me a sense of security and trust. Like her, Mr. Usher adores kids and does everything he can to help them, which is why Darby, Justin, and Naz are so drawn to him. My teacher’s name was Mrs. Warner, and for all I know she has passed on, but perhaps she haunts my old elementary school, still helping kids. Ha!


JS: Why did you pick a chambered nautilus? This is not a typical ride at a carnival.

Agreed! The Chambered Nautilus in this book exists nowhere but my imagination. The carnival attraction is shaped like a nautilus shell (think giant snail). When kids enter, they (and readers) learn all about chambered nautiluses and their threatened status. As they go from room to room – each smaller than the last, like a real nautilus – they must answer multiple choice questions about what they’ve learned to get to the final room and win a prize.

But it’s not as simple as all that. The Chambered Nautilus attraction is Mr. Usher’s son’s misbegotten attempt to bring his late father’s plans to life. Mr. Usher never intended it to be built anywhere except in his magical realm, but his son doesn’t know that. And of course everything goes wrong. When pieces of the carnival start disappearing, the three kids must rescue the trapped Mr. Usher so he can go back to rest once and for all.


JS: You have a little STEM in your book. Why did you add that?

My favorite book as a kid, The Diamond in the Window by Jane Langton, had a chambered nautilus-related scene, so I knew a little about them. But as I did research for my book, I became fascinated by their intriguing biology, their intricately designed shells, and their precarious status as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. For young readers who’ve never heard of chambered nautiluses, I’m hoping to inspire their interest in these soft-bodied cephalopod class creatures, which have cruised in deep ocean coral reefs for more than 480 million years.


JS: What do you want young readers to find interesting and exciting about your book?

LS: Aside from discovering chambered nautiluses, I hope they’ll be engaged by the relationship between Darby, Justin, and Naz and enjoy sharing their adventures. In The Chambered Nautilus and the other two books in the trilogy, there’s a lot about finding self-acceptance, perseverance, ways to deal with life’s unfairness, and the power of friendship. It would be great if my readers also learn that whatever they’re struggling with, other kids struggle too, that they’re not alone, and that help is possible, even if you don’t have the guidance of a friendly ghost).


JS: Do you have any tips for writers who want to break into fiction children’s books?

LS: What helps me the most are these things, in no particular order:

1) Reading widely, especially contemporary middle grade but also other genres.

2) Making contact with as many other middle grade writers as possible, especially those at the same stage of their careers as I am.

3) Joining or creating a critique group.

4) Learning as much as possible about the publishing industry by taking advantage of the range of no-cost writer’s resources, from social media (X/Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, for me) to web sites/blogs.

5) Joining the SCBWI and, when eligible, the Author’s Guild, which offers everything from free contract reviews to webinars,  workshops, seminars, and events to website building and hosting and much more.

6) Continuing to write, never giving up, and remembering that there is no age limit to our dreams.


JS: What are you working on now?

LS: I’m deep in revisions for my fourth book, a contemporary middle grade novel about a self-conscious twelve-year-old who flourishes in an acting class only to confront her binge eating when it jeopardizes all her progress. This story of healing, self-acceptance, and hope is especially dear to my heart, and I hope it eventually finds a home. I also have an idea for another MG contemporary about a blended family, which is in such rudimentary stages that I haven’t been able to decide where the story begins.


Laura Stegman




Not (Always) the Lonely: Books About Only Children

My friend Nicole—a fellow only child—recently sent me an article from The Atlantic entitled, “Why Are People Weird About Only Children?” Not surprisingly, the piece included the usual tropes associated with onlies: We’re spoiled, selfish, maladjusted weirdos who can’t get along with others or share our toys. We’re also bad at team sports, cooperative projects, and group-socialization in general. Why? Because it’s all about me, me, ME!

This got me thinking about my own only childhood, where I spent Saturday mornings alone in my room, watching TV and scarfing Pop Tarts while my parents slept in. I knew I was lucky to have my own TV, but the shows I watched—The Partridge Family, The Brady Bunch, Eight Is Enough, Good Times—all featured large, boisterous families whose lives seemed way more exciting than mine. The Partridge family had its own tour bus, for goodness’ sake! But as entertaining as those shows were, I couldn’t relate to them. Maybe that’s why I was drawn to books that featured only children.

Pippi, Fern, Mary, and Harriet…

I started with such classics as Pippi Longstocking, Charlotte’s Web, and The Secret Garden before graduating to Harriet the Spy—a book I’ve reread annually since the age of ten. Harriet resonated particularly deeply, because, like me, Harriet spent a lot of time alone in her room while her parents were busy. (Harriet didn’t have her own TV, though, which could explain why she felt the need to spy on people and write about them in her notebook.) Unlike me, Harriet was sassy, outspoken, and she didn’t always mind her manners. To say I found this thrilling was an understatement.

Are You There, Margaret?

My other favorite book, Judy Blume’s 1974 classic, Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, was deeply relatable as well—and not just because the eponymous protagonist spent a lot of time alone in her room (although she spoke to God instead of watching TV). Like Harriet, Margaret had the ability to say what was on her mind, even when she thought no one was listening. The fact that she was flat-chested, had hard-to-manage hair, and yearned for her period was just icing on the cake.

Above all, these books offered me the “mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors” I craved as an only child. I felt seen, and less alone. Sure, reading books about fellow onlies wasn’t as exciting as crisscrossing the country in a rainbow-colored tour bus. But it came pretty darn close.

(For more on how Harriet the Spy shaped my identity, click here. And for my love for Judy Blume, the beloved author of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, click here.)

And now…

Books That Feature Only Children

J.R. Silver Writes Her World by Melissa Dassori

Sixth grade is off to a difficult start for Josephine Rose Silver. Her best friend, Violet, returns from camp with a new best friend; her parents refuse to grant her more independence; and her homeroom teacher, Ms. Kline, is full of secrets. When Ms. Kline unveils a collection of old Gothamite magazines and tells her students to build their writing skills by crafting short stories inspired by the iconic covers, J.R. discovers a peculiar power: The stories she writes come true. Soon J.R. is getting a cell phone, scoring game-winning goals, and triggering school cancellations. But it’s not long before she realizes that each new story creates as many conflicts as it does solutions.

Some Places More Than Others by Renée Watson

All Amara wants for her birthday is to visit her father’s family in Harlem. She can’t wait to finally meet Grandpa Earl and her cousins, and to stay in the brownstone where her father grew up. But New York City is not what Amara thought it would be. It’s crowded, with confusing subways, suffocating sidewalks, and her father is too busy  to spend time with her and too angry to spend time with Grandpa Earl. As she explores, asks questions, and learns more about Harlem and her father’s family history, she realizes how she connects with her dad, her home, and her family.

Birdie’s Billions by Edith Cohn

For as long as eleven-year-old Birdie can remember, it’s always been just her and her mom—which means there’s not a lot of extra money to spend on things like new clothes and batons from the fancy gymnastics store. Still, they always find a way to make ends meet. Then Birdie makes one silly mistake that has a big consequence: Mom loses her job. Now things are more dire than ever, and Birdie knows it’s up to her to fix it.

One Kid’s Trash by Jamie Sumner

Hugo is not happy about being dragged halfway across the state of Colorado just because his dad had a midlife crisis and decided to become a ski instructor. But when his fellow students discover his remarkable talent for garbology, the science of studying trash, Hugo becomes the cool kid for the first time in his life. But what happens when it all goes to his head?

Genesis Begins Again by Alica D. Williams

Thirteen-year-old Genesis dislikes herself for ninety-six reasons. She knows the exact number because she keeps a list: Her family is always being put out of their house; her dad has a gambling problem—and maybe a drinking problem, too—and Genesis is convinced this is all her fault. She also knows she wasn’t born looking like Mama, and that she is too Black. Genesis is determined to fix her family, and she’s willing to try anything to do so—even if it means harming herself in the process. But when Genesis starts to find a thing or two she actually likes about herself, she discovers that changing her own attitude is the first step in helping to change others.

My Dad’s Girlfriend and Other Anxieties by Kellye Crocker

Dad hasn’t been dating his new girlfriend that long, so Ava is sure nothing has to change in her life. Until the day after sixth grade ends and Dad whisks her away to meet The Girlfriend and her daughter in terrifying Colorado, where even the squirrels can kill you. Managing her anxiety while avoiding altitude sickness might take all of Ava’s strength, but at least this trip will only last two weeks. If she survives…

How to Win a Slime War by Mae Respicio

Alex Manalo and his dad have just moved back to Sacramento to revive their extended family’s struggling Filipino market. While Alex likes helping at the store, his true passion is making slime. Encouraged by a new friend at school, Alex begins to sell his creations, leading to a sell-off battle with a girl who previously had a slime-opoly. But Alex’s dad thinks Alex should focus on “traditional” boy pastimes like sports, since Dad is the new soccer coach. Alex is battling on multiple fronts, and it will be a sticky race to the finish to see who oozes out on top.

Taking Up Space by Alison Gerber

Sarah loves basketball more than anything. It’s the only thing that helps her ignore how much it hurts when her mom forgets to feed her. But lately Sarah can’t even play basketball right. She’s slower now, and missing shots. Her body doesn’t feel like it’s her own anymore. She’s worried that changing herself back to how she used to be is the only way she can take control over what’s happening. Then, when Sarah’s crush asks her to be partners in a cooking competition, she feels pulled in a million directions. She’ll have to dig deep to stand up for what she needs at home, be honest with her best friends, and accept that she doesn’t need to change to feel good about herself.

The Comeback by E.L. Shen

Twelve-year-old Maxine Chen is trying to nail that perfect landing: on the ice, in middle school, and at home, where her parents worry that competitive skating is too much pressure for a budding tween. Maxine isn’t concerned, however―she’s determined to glide to victory. But then a bully at school starts teasing Maxine for her Chinese heritage, leaving her stunned and speechless. And at the rink, she finds herself up against a stellar new skater named Hollie, whose grace and skill threaten to edge Maxine out of the competition. Will Maxine crash under the pressure? Or can she power her way to a comeback?

Life in the Balance by Jen Petro-Roy

Veronica Conway has been looking forward to trying out for the All-Star softball team for years. But right before tryouts, Veronica’s mom announces that she’s entering rehab for alcoholism, and her dad tells her that they may not be able to afford the fees needed to be on the team. Veronica decides to enter the town talent show in an effort to make her own money, but along the way discovers a new hobby that leads her to doubt her feelings for the game she thought she loved so much.

Red, White, and Whole by Rajani LaRocca

Reha feels torn between two worlds: school, where she’s the only Indian American student, and home, with her family’s traditions and strict expectations. Reha feels disconnected from her mother, or Amma, who doesn’t understand how conflicted she feels. Although their names are linked—Reha means “star” and Punam means “moon”—they are a universe apart. And then Amma is diagnosed with leukemia. Reha, who dreams of becoming a doctor one day despite her aversion to blood and guts, is determined to make her mother well again. She’ll be the perfect daughter, if it means saving Amma’s life.

Take Back the Block by Chrystal D. Giles

Wes Henderson has the best style in sixth grade. That and hanging out with his best friends and playing video games is what Wes wants to be thinking about at the start of the school year–not the protests his parents are always dragging him to. But when a powerful real-estate developer makes an offer to buy Kensington Oaks, the neighborhood Wes has lived in his whole life, everything changes. And Wes isn’t about to give up the only home he’s ever known without a fight.

Many Points of Me by Caroline Gertler

Georgia Rosenbloom’s father was a famous artist. His most well-known paintings were a series of asterisms—patterns of stars. One represented a bird, one himself, and one Georgia’s mother. There was supposed to be a fourth asterism, but Georgia’s father died before he could paint it. Georgia’s mother and her best friend, Theo, are certain that the last asterism would’ve been of Georgia, but Georgia isn’t so sure. Then Georgia finds a sketch her father made of her. Could this finally be the proof that the last painting would have been of her?

The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise by Dan Gemeinhart

For the past five years, Coyote and her dad have been crisscrossing the country in an old school bus. It’s also how long Coyote lost her mom and two sisters in a car crash. Coyote hasn’t been home in all that time, but when she learns that the park in her old neighborhood is being demolished―the very same park where she, her mom, and her sisters buried a treasured memory box―she devises an elaborate plan to get her dad to drive 3,600 miles back to Washington state in four days…without him realizing it.

Brave Like That by Lindsey Stoddard

Cyrus Olson’s dad is a hero—Northfield’s former football star and now one of their finest firefighters. Everyone expects Cyrus to follow in his dad’s record-breaking footsteps, and he wishes they were right—except he’s never been brave like that. But this year, with the help of a stray dog, a few new friends, a little bit of rhythm, and a lot of nerve, he may just discover that actually…he is.

From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks

Middle-school baking enthusiast Zoe Washington isn’t sure what to write. What does a girl say to the father she’s never met, hadn’t heard from until his letter arrived on her twelfth birthday, and who’s been in prison for a crime he says he didn’t commit? Could Marcus really be innocent? Zoe is determined to uncover the truth, even if it means hiding his letters and her investigation from the rest of her family.

The Miscalculations of Lightnight Girl by Stacy McAnulty

Lucy Callahan’s life was changed forever when she was struck by lightning. She doesn’t remember it, but the zap gave her genius-level math skills, and she’s been homeschooled ever since. Now, at the age of twelve, she’s technically ready for college. She just has to pass one more test–middle school.

Violet and the Pie of Life by Debra Green

Twelve-year-old Violet has two great loves in her life: math and pie. And she loves her parents, even though her mom never stops nagging and her dad can be unreliable. Mom plus Dad doesn’t equal perfection. Still, Violet knows her parents could solve their problems if they just applied simple math.


Melissa Roske is a writer of middle-grade fiction. Before spending her days with imaginary people, she interviewed real ones as a journalist in Europe. In London she landed a job as an advice columnist for Just Seventeen magazine. Upon returning to her native New York, Melissa contributed to several books and magazines, selected jokes for Reader’s Digest (just the funny ones), and received certification as a life coach from NYU. In addition to her debut novel Kat Greene Comes Clean (Charlesbridge), Melissa’s short story “Grandma Merle’s Last Wish” appears in the Jewish middle-grade anthology, Coming of Age: 13 B’Nai Mitzvah Stories (Albert Whitman). Learn more about Melissa on her Website and follow her on  TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

Painting with an Allegorical Brush

The messages we convey through our storytelling are important and lasting, and those that are evident but not directly stated offer readers plenty to think about. One way to get those deeper-meaning messages across while offering middle graders real opportunities to engage with stories is through allegory.

What an allegory can do (and how it’s different from symbolism and metaphor)

It’s easy to confuse allegory with metaphor and symbolism—they are closely related literary devices with some overlap between them.

Metaphor – A comparison of two unlike things that points out how they, in fact, are alike: That girl is a night owl. The sun was a golden coin.

Symbol – Usually an object, character, event, or idea that has its own literal role in the story but also represents some important idea on a figurative level: The green light on Daisy’s dock, the raven perching on a statue of Athena.

Allegory – A little more didactic, allegories point the reader in a particular direction of thought or behavior with more comprehensive lessons about or inspired by life, morals, politics, religion, history, myth, or other big ideas. An allegorical character or situation might extend through the whole work, or a whole work can be an allegory with multiple meaningful elements.

You’ll recall allegories from studying adult lit. In the allegorical medieval morality play Everyman, for example, main character Everyman (that’s his name) doesn’t want to go on a journey of reckoning with Death (someone Everyman meets), and he is surprised that his buddies Fellowship, Kindred, and Goods won’t go along with him to the afterlife. He discovers, though, that Good Deeds will follow him on his journey, though he’s been remiss in attending to them and must turn to Knowledge and Confession to help Good Deeds along. (Medieval audiences got the allegorical message, loud and clear.) Other allegories you’ve probably studied convey political or societal messages, such as Animal Farm, Metamorphosis, and The Crucible.

It may be helpful, as a writer, to think about these devices’ comparative size and scope: In a story, metaphors are typically brief expressions for a passing effect on a reader (with extended metaphors really driving the point home with additional references). The scale of importance grows with a symbol, as it carries the weight of some important takeaway that enriches the reader’s comprehension of plot and character. An allegory uses symbols and metaphors and intends even more sweeping effect on the reader, with a message or meaning about life the reader can effectively employ for their betterment and/or the betterment of everyone.

Allegories seem heavy: Too much for MG?

You might wonder so, but remember, fairy tales and fables have been serving up allegorical lessons for young audiences since once upon a time. And think about some classic children’s stories widely accepted as allegories: The Chronicles of Narnia, The Golden Compass, The Giving Tree, The Phantom Tollbooth, The Little Prince. There are modern examples of MG fiction with allegorical elements we can turn to for cues as well:

The Ogress and the Orphans by Kelly Barnhill — This allegorical fantasy reveals what happens to a community when its members are swayed by suspicion and start rejecting those unlike themselves.

When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller – In this Newbery Medal winner, tales told by the characters are allegories for family love and for the power stories have to inspire.

The Puppets of Spelhorst by Kate DiCamillo – This story’s allegorical plot and character actions represent big ideas about being called to one’s true purpose and following the heart.

The Language of Spells – Garret Weyr – This adventure reveals the power of perception when considering what makes us special and points to what we tragically lose during times of conflict.

How might you employ the allegorical brush in your writing?

Experimenting with allegory in your writing? Some ideas to chart your course:

  1. What’s the big-picture message you want to send to readers?
  2. What are the most important elements of that message, and what’s the best way to convey them? Symbolic characters? Objects that recur? A quest, a battle, something else?
  3. Imply your message clearly but inconspicuously. Trust the reader: They will get the takeaway if the individual parallels are there.
  4. Keep the story strong and interesting…and prioritize it. The allegorical message flows from a story that is substantive and fulfilling all on its own.

I hope these ideas on allegory are helpful in your current projects, and thanks for reading!