Tag Archives: Jane Kurtz

This week’s booktalks 5/15 – 5/18

18 May

Only one five day week until the end of the school year!!!

Here are the four books I booktalked this week:




Author’s Website Summary: Mia Chen is on what her mother calls a Grand Adventure. She’s not sure what to make of this family trip to China, and didn’t want to leave her friends for the summer, but she’s excited about the prospect of exploring with her Aunt Lin, the only adult who truly understands her.

Then Aunt Lin disappears, right after her old nemesis, a man named Ying, comes to visit. Mia knows that years ago, when Aunt Lin and Ying were sent to the Fuzhou countryside to work as laborers, the two searched for an ancient treasure together–one that still hasn’t been found. She’s suspicious that their shared history might be linked to Aunt Lin’s disappearance.

When Mia discovers an old map filled with riddles in Aunt Lin’s room, she quickly pieces together her mission: find the treasure, find her aunt. Now, Mia, along with her big brother, Jake, must solve the clues to rescue the person she knows best in the world—and maybe unearth a treasure greater than her wildest dreams.


Planet Jupiter revised cover B

Author’s Website Summary: Jupiter and her family have spent their lives on the road, moving from town to town in a trusty old van, making do, and earning their living busking for tourists. But when their van breaks down, Jupiter’s mother rents an actual house in Portland for the summer so that Jupiter’s annoying cousin Edom, recently adopted from Ethiopia, can stay with them. Luckily, Edom doesn’t want to be in Portland any more than Jupiter wants her there, and the two hatch a plan to send Edom back to her mother. In the process, Jupiter learns that community — and family — aren’t always what you expect them to be.




Author’s Website Summary: With the rise of the Berlin Wall, twelve-year-old Gerta finds her family divided overnight. She, her mother, and her brother Fritz live on the eastern side, controlled by the Soviets. Her father and middle brother, who had gone west in search of work, cannot return home. Gerta knows it is dangerous to watch the wall, to think forbidden thoughts of freedom, yet she can’t help herself. She sees the East German soldiers with their guns trained on their own citizens; she, her family, her neighbors and friends are prisoners in their own city.

But one day, while on her way to school, Gerta spots her father on a viewing platform on the western side, pantomiming a peculiar dance. Then, when she receives a mysterious drawing, Gerta puts two and two together and concludes that her father wants Gerta and Fritz to tunnel beneath the wall, out of East Berlin. However, if they are caught, the consequences will be deadly. No one can be trusted. Will Gerta and her family find their way to freedom?


Author’s Website Summary: The_Unwanteds_book_coverEvery year in Quill, thirteen-year-olds are sorted into categories: the strong, intelligent Wanteds go to university, and the artistic Unwanteds are sent to their graves.

On the day of the Purge, identical twins Alex and Aaron Stowe await their fate. While Aaron is hopeful of becoming a Wanted, Alex knows his chances are slim. He’s been caught drawing with a stick in the dirt-and in the stark gray land of Quill, being creative is a death sentence.

But when Alex and the other Unwanteds face the Eliminators, they discover an eccentric magician named Mr. Today and his hidden world that exists to save the condemned children. Artimé is a colorful place of talking statues, uncommon creatures, and artistic magic, where creativity is considered a gift… and a weapon.

Jane Kurtz’s Planet Jupiter Blog Tour

13 May

The sign on the Music Millennium store near my house says it all:


Jane Kurtz’s new book, Planet Jupiter,  celebrates Portland’s weirdness while telling a beautiful middle grade story of family and belonging.

Planet Jupiter revised cover B

Author’s Summary: Jupiter and her family have spent their lives on the road, moving from town to town in a trusty old van, making do, and earning their living busking for tourists. But when their van breaks down, Jupiter’s mother rents an actual house in Portland for the summer so that Jupiter’s annoying cousin Edom, recently adopted from Ethiopia, can stay with them. Luckily, Edom doesn’t want to be in Portland any more than Jupiter wants her there, and the two hatch a plan to send Edom back to her mother. In the process, Jupiter learns that community — and family — aren’t always what you expect them to be.

Clearly, Kurtz’s depiction of Portland is one of the things I love. She captures the farmer’s market culture and all of the quirkiness of this city I call home. But there are other things that make this an excellent middle grade read.

The fact that Jupiter and her brother, Orion, are named after celestial bodies might seem contrived, but it is very Portland – I have neighbors who named their children after various species of trees! But Kurtz uses the names effectively and weaves celestial metaphors throughout her writing. This is the sort of thing I love pointing out to my students!

Jupiter’s fear of change and her desire to help Edom leave are like a snapshot of how Americans feel about refugees and immigrants generally. Fear of the other, fear of change are overcome when we have the opportunity to get to know people.

showing lily


Jane Kurtz is celebrating the release of her new book, Planet Jupiter, with an event May 16, 2017, at 7pm at Annie Bloom’s Books in Portland. Honoring the theme of music and busking in the book, she will be joined by special musical guests Colette and Madelaine Parry.

I hope to see you there!


Anna Was Here: Author Interview with Jane Kurtz

24 Feb

Some people are uncomfortable with portraits of Christianity in children’s literature. To my way of thinking, we should be no more uncomfortable with Christianity in kid lit than we are with portrayals  of Judaism, Islam or any other religion.


Anna Was Here by Jane Kurtz is a beautifully written novel that shows  the faith of a family in an honest way.

Ten-year-old Anna Nickel’s worst nightmare has come true. Her father has decided to move the family back to Cottondale, Kansas–where he grew up–in order to become the minister of the church there. New friends, new school, a new community, and a family of strangers await, and what’s even worse, it’s all smack-dab in the middle of Tornado Alley. Anna has always prided herself on being prepared (she keeps a notebook on how to cope with disasters, from hurricanes to shark bites), but she’ll be tested in Cottondale!

Author Jane Kurtz lives in Portland and I had the opportunity recently to have an e-mail interview with her, in which she talked about the book, her life and her writing process.


What planted the seeds for Anna Was Here?


A friend says, “I remember sitting in the car looking out at my second grade friends and bawling my heart out.”  I can’t even remember leaving Portland for the first time—but I remember plenty of other times of bawling my heart out. Also, when my kids were about Anna’s age, we also moved…from Colorado to North Dakota, stopping for a couple of weeks in Kansas, with the cat under the seat.


We all know it can happen. Of course we do. But somehow we also think it won’t. In 1997 when flood waters caught up with our family and our whole neighborhood was destroyed, I learned that most things we lie awake at night and worry about don’t happen, but some do.

Anna thinks moving is the most massive disaster of her life—of course that’s before she faces a water balloon in the face and starts seriously preparing for tornadoes, blizzards, and feral hogs. It’s before she lives through a tornado. Anna is partly me and partly my friend who says that when she read The Cat in the Hat, she always identified with the fish.

Some kids are born intense and others probably get that way when the ground starts shaking under them. For me, I imagine it started when my idealistic dad decided he could do the most good in this world if we moved from Portland to Ethiopia. He and my mom had a four-year-old, a two-year-old (me), a one-year-old…and although they didn’t realize it when they made the decision, another baby on the way. I believe I knew (in that way kids do know) that they were in over their heads. Somebody had better be in control. Clearly that somebody had better be me.

By the time I was Anna’s age, I had moved from Addis Ababa to a remote village in southwest Ethiopia and then, when I was seven, to a house near my grandparents’ farm in eastern Oregon, where I went to school for the first time, back to the Ethiopian village that felt like home—to get ready to leave for boarding school in Addis Ababa. Sure I knew that God watches over sparrows. But that didn’t seem too comforting when I wondered what would happen if I got chased by a wild boar or when I watched my dad dangling by a waterfall or on our grass roof as he tried to put a tarp over the grass on an extremely windy day.

Those are the seeds that grew into Anna Was Here.

Tell me about your life as a reader.

Books and stories got me through that somewhat chaotic and confusing if very interesting childhood.  My mom—an avid reader—taught me how to read taught me that books were precious. Books showed up every Christmas and birthday.  Stories grounded me and thrilled me and still do.

What is your favorite childhood book memory?

I got to read aloud at the dinner table one evening.  I think the book was Caddie Woodlawn, and I remember that I proudly mispronounced the word beau because it was obvious looking at it that it was related to the word beautiful.  Another powerful memory is reading Charlotte’s Web to my brother Chris. He cried when Charlotte died—it sticks with me because I saw so vividly that stories make us empathize and make us feel things.

Did you always plan on a writing career? Did a teacher or mentor influence you in pursuing a writing career?

I never met any authors when I was young.  I’m sure if I had, I would have wanted that more than anything.  As it was, I thought I’d be a teacher—and I’ve taught at the elementary, high school, college and now masters level—or a storekeeper.  (Since I was growing up in a place that didn’t have any stores, the latter goal didn’t have much of a chance.) It was really reading aloud to my own children and watching their delight that made me determined to publish a book, and then I drew on my mom’s passion for reading and writing, my dad’s passion for telling stories, and everything I learned about books and stories from a string of teachers after that.

Are you in a writer’s group? If so, how does that work?

Before I moved back to Portland, I wasn’t in an area that had a lot of published children’s book authors. The writing group I’ve been part of for about 15 years consists of authors who don’t live near me. We meet for a retreat somewhere near Boston once a year, when we write all day and take turns reading to each other at night. Just before Anna Was Here went to copy-editing, I read the entire manuscript out loud to a friend on one of those retreats.

I’ve also reached out to authors from that group when I need someone to read a chapter or an entire middle grade novel—it’s hardly ever easy getting feedback but it is crucial to a story’s becoming what it could be. Here in Portland, I love seeing other authors occasionally to talk about where we are with our work or about the publishing life.

 Tell me about writing and collaborating with your brother, author Christopher Kurtz.

I first admired Chris’s writing when he was in Ethiopia as a young teacher and writing letters about his experiences. When he returned to the U.S. we wrote two picture books together that were rooted in his recent experiences in Ethiopia, Only a Pigeon and Water Hole Waiting. Then we wrote a trilogy about three sea-faring brothers. It was under contract until the editor moved to a different publishing house and our book was orphaned. I still want to get back to it someday. I’ve never laughed as hard in my writing life as when I’m working with Chris.  I love seeing him take risks and try new things—and visiting his third grade class to interview kids or try out an idea or hear what he’s reading aloud.

Do you have any writing tips for kids?

When I do author visits, I like to talk about the power of details. Even though I was a good writer when I set my goal of getting published, I didn’t really grasp how to hunt for and find a vivid, surprising detail. I also thought of writing as something that came out of a place that was mysterious…which is somewhat true, but somewhat not. Now I realize most of my details come from memory, observation, or research.  The final thing I never learned how to do as a kid is revise. I thought the point of being a good writer was to do it perfectly the first time. My drafts have gotten looser and messier as I publish more and more books.

What are you working on now?

My new middle grade novel is almost finished (at least its first draft) and this time it’s set in Portland, so I’m getting to look around me for the details. I’m also writing some new ready-to-read nonfiction books about four states and loving all the research.

You can read more about Anna Was Here  and jane Kurtz at her website.

Snowmageddon: Day 4

9 Feb

Today it is more like Icemageddon. My front stoop, which my neighbor has religiously been shoveling for the last 3 days, is now an ice rink.


Fiona can’t walk on it.Her arthritic old legs are too unstable on ice, so I have stamped down a path for her out the back door, which hasn’t been shoveled at all.


She doesn’t love this, especially since she crashes through the icy crust of she steps off the “path”. But she can walk  without falling here. I’m not even taking Lucy out the front. I tried first thing this morning but she slipped all over.

I am getting a little stir crazy. I read Two Boys Kissing and finished knitting a baby sweater for a baby shower on the 20th.Now, I have no knitting project to work on. I have a couple of  books sitting beside me, that I will probably pick up shortly: The Kingdom of Little Wounds, Killer of Enemies, and Anna Was Here. I have yet to decide which I feel most like reading right now.


More on these later.

How are you spending Icemageddon?

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