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Small Child Book Love

Written by Beck McDowell. Posted in Home

A small red-haired boy gave me a much-needed refresher course last week in inspiring a love of reading in our children. No, he wasn’t a family member. In fact, I’d never seen him before. He was shopping at the Huntsville Madison Public Library’s used bookstore with his grandmother. As I scanned the shelves in the young adult section (my favorite hang-out) I eavesdropped on their conversation. It’s a rude habit writers have, but he was one of those precocious children whose every statement is a pronouncement, so pretty much everyone in the place heard them.

My readers know what a HUGE advocate I am for giving kids choice in reading.  It’s my personal bandwagon/soapbox/mission. That commitment was sorely tested when this little guy loudly proclaimed his preference for a rather boring-looking Christmas book over the 101 Dalmatians his grandmother suggested. “But it’s July,” G’mom kept saying, an argument totally lost on a four-year-old. I have to admit, I secretly sided with her.

The grandmother noticed my smile and when her grandson picked up a book that was clearly a young adult book, and she held it out to me. “This is a book for TEENAGERS, ISN’T it?” Her wink was implied in her tone.  I reluctantly agreed that it was, but then I wondered how many times I’d told my high schoolers, when they wanted to read books I'd taught to middle schoolers, that these books were not age appropriate. If it’s the first book a senior’s ever actually finished, will it matter so much if it’s a book that's easy to read – especially a good one he missed along the way? When kids are starting from scratch, we have to meet them where they are, right? Some of my favorite recent books were written for fairly young adolescents - One for the Murphys, See You at Harry's, Wonder, When You Reach Me, Counting By 7's. I'd recommend them to any of my adult friends looking for a good read.

I wanted to tell the grandmother how important it was to let the boy choose his books, but they were already at the check-out counter by the time I'd sorted all this out in my head. And then came the best moment of the day. Tiny Book Lover reached up and carefully laid the three books he’d chosen on the counter and said confidently, “Don’t worry. We’ll bring these back on time.” The volunteer behind the desk smiled and said, “Well, actually, these are books you keep. You’ve paid for them, so you don’t have to bring them back.”

“WHAT?” he shouted incredulously.  His face was absolutely luminous with joy. Patrons throughout the store turned to smile as he stood beaming at the astounding news that these were HIS books – not loans from the library, but his books for always.

I’d almost forgotten – until that moment - how much I loved picking out my own books as a child. I’m sure my Dad guided my decisions now and then, but the wealth of choices was always big part of my love for libraries. Bins and walls and baskets and shelves and tubs and racks of books - beautiful books all waiting for me to pick them. I chose books the same way I choose them today – studying the front cover, reading the back copy, and peeking inside the pages to determine whether THIS one would make the trip home with me. I still remember the feel of the covers, the smell of the pages, the glossy sheen of the pictures inside, and the eager anticipation I felt cradling them on the ride home.

Just before I left the library that day, I ran into Jessica, a sweet former student – with her two precious children. The pre-schoolers overcame their shyness when I asked about the books they were checking out. The youngest is barely old enough to make a sentence, but I heard “Cat in Hat” very clearly in her lovely baby babble as she proudly showed me her choice. It thrilled me to see a book lover I helped create who was creating book lovers of her own. It's one of the very best gifts we can give our children. I'm glad my Dad knew that, too.

Have you taken a child to the library lately? You can't start too early in teaching them a life-long love of books. I’m “overdue” for a trip with some small people I love, but I’ll be taking them soon. Hope to see you there! 

School Library Journal

Written by Beck McDowell. Posted in Home

MCDOWELL, Beck. This Is Not a Drill. 216p. CIP. Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Bks. 2012.Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-399-25794-0. LC 2012011083.

Gr 7 UpHigh school students Jake and Emery have been paired up to teach French three mornings a week to Mrs. Campbell’s first-grade class. They’re in the middle of a lesson when a student’s father bursts through the classroom door to get his son. Mrs. Campbell cannot release the boy until she is given permission from the office, and she stands her ground even after the man pulls a gun, but when the diabetic teacher goes into insulin shock, Jake and Emery are left alone to deal with the children and the gunman. The story is told from the alternating perspectives of the two teens. It shifts between what’s taking place in the classroom and memories of events in their lives, including their own failed relationship. What makes this story stand out are the discussions between Emery and the gunman, who is suffering from PTSD. He tells her about his experiences in Iraq and how they have affected his life back home. He talks about how his frequent violent nightmares have led to his pending divorce and the loss of custody of his son. Despite the fact that he is holding a classroom of first graders hostage at gunpoint, readers clearly see that he is as much a victim as the school security guard he just shot. McDowell balances the gunman’s plight against his son’s shame, fear, and divided loyalties. Written in a format that will appeal to reluctant readers, this first novel is an excellent choice for sparking classroom discussion.–Cary Frostick, Mary Riley Styles Public Library, Falls ChurchVA


Written by Drew McDowell. Posted in Home

I knew about Fairhope’s reputation as a haven for artists and writers before I visited last weekend. And Karin Wilson, owner of Page & Palette is known nationally as a passionate advocate for books and a generous host to thousands of authors through the years. So I felt right at home when I walked into the store and found my book prominently displayed.


I was lucky to have sister Susan Siniard traveling with me on this trip, and after our six hour drive, it didn’t take us long to find a great spot to rest and recuperate.


Sharing the stage with amazing Penguin sales rep and highly respected dynamo Doni Kay was a treat. It was my first time to talk about THIS IS NOT A DRILL because it won’t actually be published Oct. 25, but was released early to Page & Palette just in time for the festival.


And signing books is always fun for me – like giving my stories a little stamp of approval before sending them out into the world to do good things. Thanks to lovely niece and Mobile resident Margaret McDowell Miller for this photo (and for coming.)


It was great meeting Adam Gidwitz, whose book A TALE DARK AND GRIMM has just been chosen as Al Roker’s next book club pick. Adam’s smart and fun and had lots of terrific advice about writing and book promotion. (I know because I pounded him with questions.) Looking forward to seeing him on the Today show in November.


And I LOVED talking to Fairhope Middle Schoolers, who were an attentive audience with eager faces and intelligent questions. When I explained that my publisher, Penguin, sent a special box of books to Fairhope ahead of my publication date, one girl heard that without the commas and thought my publisher was actually a penguin – some rare breed known as a publisher penguin, I suppose. The picture in my head of a penguin packing a box of books made it a little hard to continue my presentation without giggling, but she was a good sport about the laughter her comment brought.

It was a great inaugural trip for THIS IS NOT A DRILL. Everyone in Fairhope is ridiculously friendly and there’s great shopping, eating, and relaxing by the bay. Can’t wait for my next chance to visit! If you’re anywhere near Page & Palette, you can snag a copy of THIS IS NOT A DRILL before anyone else in the country, so hurry on down to one of the South’s best indie bookstores.



Written by Beck McDowell. Posted in Home


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Past Events 




Wednesday, November 30, 2016


7:00 pm - Jacksonville State University - Phi Delta Kappa Induction Ceremon





Friday, November 1, 2016


9:30 am - 3:00 pm - Mountain Brook Junior High School




Saturday, June 4, 2016 


10:00 am - 3:00 pm - Catfish Literary Festival, Athens-Limestone Public Library


2:10 pm - 2:55 pm - YA Panel at Catfish Literary Festival




Wednesday, July 20, 2016


1:00 - Tennesee Librarian Summer Institute - Chattanooga Public Library




Thursday, May 19, 2016


5:00 pm - 8:00 pm - Book Signing - Local Authors - Harrison Brothers, Huntsville, AL



Friday, September 11, 2015


11:30 am - Madison County LIbrarians - Huntsville, AL  



Thursday, August 27, 2015


6:30 pm - 8:30 pm - Signing, Last Bus Out - Green Street Market Store



Thursday, March 10, 2016


9:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m. - Eagleville High School, Eagleville, Tennessee



Friday, March 11, 2016 - SE-YA in the Boro


MTSU campus - Murfreesboro, Tennessee

Session 1 - 9:00 - 9:45 - BAS S102 (with IW Gregorio, Jasmine Warga, Katie Cotugnu) 

10:00 a.m. - 10:45 a.m. - Book Signing



Saturday, March 12, 2016 - SE-YA in the Boro


MTSU Campus - Murfreesboro, Tennessee


9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. - Community Day




 Tuesday, June 9, 2015


8:00 am - Books and Bytes - Fayetteville, TN



Friday, April 10, 2015


9:00 - Alabama Library Association - Point Clear, Fairhope, Alabama



Saturday, March 21, 2015


10:00 am - 4:00 pm - Southern Authors Expo - Huntsville Madison Public Library


Friday, November 7, 2014

9:15 am, 10:30 am - Alabama School LIbrary Association  - Florence, Alabama


Friday, October 24, 2014

8:30 am - Tennessee Association of School Librarians Conference - Murfreesboro, TN


Monday, June 2, 2014

10:00 am - Alabama School Library Association Summer Conference, Shades Valley High School, Birmingham, AL


Thursday, April 17, 2014

9:00 am - 2:00 pm Starkville High School, Starkville, MS

4:00 pm - Starkville-Oktibbeha County Public Library


Thursday, April 24, 2014

10:00 - Alabama Library Association - Author Speed Date Event


Thurday, February 20, 2014

 9:00 am - Lee High School/ New Century High School 

2:00 pm - Huntsville City School Librarian Association


Saturday, November 23, 2013

2:45 - 4:00 pm - presentation with Liz Hester Shults - "Reinventing English: Multiple Approaches to Using Young Adult Literature, Choice: A Critical Component in Reinventing Attitudes About Reading"


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Cherokee High School, Atlanta, GA 


Tueday, November 19, 2013

River Ridge High School, Atlanta, GA


Tuesday, October 15, 2013

9:30 - 11:30 am - Marion County High School Community Library, Guin, Alabama

6:00 - 7:00 pm - Winfield Public Library, Winfield, Alabama


Monday, October 14, 2013

6:00 - 7:00 pm - Mary Wallace Cobb Memorial Library, Vernon, Alabama


Sunday, October 13, 2013

3:30 - 4:30 pm - Southern Festival of Books, Nashville, TN, Rm 29

 4:30 - 5:00 pm - Signing This Is Not a Drill, Colonnade


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

1:00 pm - Young Adult Literature calss, Athens State College


Saturday, June 22, 2013

1:00 - 3:00 - Writers' Workshop - Eleanor Murphy Library


Thursday, May 16, 2013

1:30 - Grissom High School, Huntsville, AL - AP Classes


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

10:00 am - Hampton Cove Middle School


Saturday, April 27, 2013

9:00 - 3:15 - Monte Sano Writer's Conference with Homer Hickam - Monte Sano Methodist Church


 Thursday, April 25, 2013

1:00 pm - Alabama Library Association Convention - Montgomery, AL - signing


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

11:30 am - FUMC Book Club, Huntsville, AL


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

World Book Night - Free Book Distribution - Downtown Square, Huntsville, AL


Saturday, April 20, 2013

 1:00 pm - Alabama Book Festival, North Tent


Friday, April 19, 2013

8:00 am - Sparkman Middle School, Huntsville, Alabama


Friday, April 12, 2012

 1:45 - 2:45 pm - University of Southern Mississippi, Hattiesburg, MS, Speaker, Faye B. Kaigler Children's Book Festival, Session: "Convincing Teens that Reading is a Choice, Not a Chore."


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

 3:00 pm - signing Barnes & Noble, Hattiesburg, MS


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

8:00 am - Buckhorn High School, Huntsville, AL


Thursday, March 21, 2013

 6:30 pm - Guest Speaker at Decatur Public Library Grand Re-opening. Decatur, AL 


 Thursday, March 7, 2013

 4:00 pm - St. Mark's Book Club, Huntsville


Sunday, February 24, 2013

9:00 am - General Session, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators - Springmingle Conference, Atlanta, GA  "Great Expectations" with agent Jill Corcoran. What does an author expect from an agent and vice-versa? What expectations are realistic? How do both parties establish guidelines for a good relationship?


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

12:00 noon - Huntsville Madison Public Library - Lunch and Learn. "The Challenges of Writing for Young Adults"


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

7:00 p.m. - Jones Valley Book Club, Huntsville, Alabama 


Saturday, January 19, 2013

9:30 am – 1:00 pm  Featured Speaker: SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Regional Schmooze at Huntsville Madison County Public Library, Topic: "First Pages" Learn to activate your story to attract the attention of agents and editors. Bring the first three pages of your Work-In-Progress for group critique and learn to improve your story's opening.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

9:30 am - Sylvania School, Dekalb Co., AL


Friday, November 16, 2012

11:00 am – National Council of Teachers of English – MGM Grand, Las Vegas – Presentation: Igniting the Love of Reading in Your Struggling Readers

1:00 – 2:00 -  NCTE – MGM Grand, Las Vegas - Signing THIS IS NOT A DRILL  - Penguin Booth

5:00 – 6:00 – NCTE – MGM Grand, Las Vegas - Signing  THIS IS NOT A DRILL – Anderson’s Bookshop Booth


Friday, November 9, 2012

8:00 am - Briarwood School, Birmingham, AL


Thursday, November 8, 2012

4:00 pm - 6:00 pm -Little Professor Book Center - Birmingham, AL (Homewood) - Signing THIS IS NOT A DRILL 


Tuesday, November 6, 2012

8:00 am - Huntsville High School - AP classes


Saturday, November 3, 2012

6:00 pm – Young Adult Library Services Literature Symposium – St. Louis – Book Blitz


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

7:00 am - Channel 2 Morning Show, Cullman, AL


Sunday, October 28, 2012

2:00 pm - Huntsville Mad. Co. Public Library – THIS IS NOT A DRILL Book Launch, Reading, Signing, Q & A  


Thursday, October 25, 2012

BOOK LAUNCH! – 6:00 - 8:00 pm - THIS IS NOT A DRILL. Barnes & Noble, Carl T. Jones Drive, Huntsville, AL

Signing and Trick-or-Treat Benefit for Boys and Girls Club of North Alabama 


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

11:00 am - WAAY- TV, Channel 31 news interview


Friday, October 6, 2012

3:00 pm - Page and Palette’s Grand Festival of Books – Fairhope, AL, Speaking and Signing 


Tuesday, October 2, 2012

6:30 pm - Huntsville Madison County Public Library. “How I Write: NaNoWriMo 101” Panel, Huntsville, AL


Thursday, July 12, 2012

6:30 pm - Decatur Public Library, Decatur, AL - Speaking, Reading, Q & A


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

1:00 pm - Alabama School Library Association - Mt. Brook High School, Birmingham, AL


April 26-28, 2012

Speaker, Southern Mississippi Literary Festival - Columbia, MS


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

11:30 am - Keynote Speaker - Alabama Library Association Young Adult Library Services Breakfast - Wynfrey Hotel, Birmingham, AL


January 26 & February 2, 9, 2012

3:30 pm - Learning Quest - Writing Class - Huntsville Madison County Public Library