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Dedicated to Master Gardeners & to All Who Aspire To Prune With Confidence

Four years ago to the day I wrote this post…Yesterday as I was leaving after a visit with my parents, my mom handed me a newspaper article on how to prune blueberries. She knows I struggle…Today is still cold and foggy. The blueberries and hydrangea await. Probably not today.

The past few days have presented us with marvelous weather in these parts. I’ve finally gotten outdoors and pruned my three blueberry bushes, the pear tree, the hydrangea, and trained the boysenberry bushes.

The blueberries are of different varieties and seem a bit different in the way I should be pruning them. And even though I got my Master Gardener certification and grew up on a farm, I still struggle with this. Sigh.

pruning Blueberry Bushes

Sometimes I google and watch videos on pruning. Sometimes I get out my notes and instructions from Master Gardener class. My sister gave me a few tips this year, and I looked at different web pages than I usually do. You know, the promised “6 easy steps” ones.

boysenberry Training the Boysenberry Bush

One thing I know for sure: It was vastly easier writing the scene in Heirloom about blueberry pruning than it has been for me…

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Book Review of Hatchet

A few weeks ago I wrote a review of My Side of the Mountain. As I mentioned in that review, I was so underwhelmed at the beginning of reading it, that I checked out reviews on its Amazon page, most notably the minority 1 star reviews. Many of those naysayers compared it to Hatchet, saying Hatchet was the better book. Well I just happened to also have a copy of Hatchet on the home bookshelf, so Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen, became my next read.



Let’s start by saying these two books are drastically different. Drastically. About the only thing they have in common are boy protagonists of about the same age living temporarily in the wilderness. Everything else is different. Sam Gribley (My Side of the Mountain) runs off to live in the wild on his own accord and comes and goes to a nearby town whenever he needs to. He has educated himself on how to survive and though much of what he accomplishes is a little hard to believe, he gets by well and it’s a happy story. He remains in the wilderness for a full year, through all four seasons.

In Hatchet, on the other hand, Brian Robeson is the sole survivor of an airplane crash after the pilot has a massive heart attack. Brian knows nothing about living in the wild, but manages to survive a couple of months. But it’s very difficult and with not a lot of happy moments.

The writing styles of the two books are also vastly different. Paulsen uses a lot of very long sentences without even a breath for commas in some instances, helping to create tension, whereas the style and vocabulary of Mountain is much simpler. What I thought a little unusual was that Hatchet was told in third person, whereas, Mountain is in first person. I think if Hatchet were written today it would be in first person present tense which has been so popular recently, but which I personally hate. 

An example of the Hatchet writing:

And there was the tenderness in her voice that she had when he was small, the tenderness that she had when he was small and sick, with a cold, and she put her hand on his forehead, and the burning came into his eyes again and he had turned away from her and looked out the window, forgotten the hatchet on his belt and so arrived at the plane with the hatchet still on his belt.

From My Side of the Mountain:

I looked at the tree. Somehow I knew it was home, but I was not quite sure how it was home. The limbs were high and not right for a tree house. I could build a bark extension around it, but that would look silly. Slowly I circled the great trunk.

My opinion: Both books are worth the read. I think My Side of the Mountain is better for younger readers. Hatchet has some harrowing scenes such as the plane crash and Brian later viewing the fish-eaten head of the dead pilot underwater that might bother younger kids. For me, I definitely enjoyed My Side of the Mountain more.

What do you think? Have you read Hatchet? Feel free to comment below. Oh, and don’t forget, in honor of World Read Aloud Day this week I’m hosting a giveaway for a free audiobook of Seed Savers-Treasure. Sign up here.

Sandra Smith is the author of the awesome and award-winning middle grade/YA series, Seed SaversVisit her Facebook and Pinterest pages. Follow her on TwitterSign up for the newsletter!


World Read Aloud Day 2020


This year we celebrate World Read Aloud Day on February 5.

I love the idea of celebrating reading aloud. Last year I wrote about my experiences as a child of having been read aloud to in the classroom. You can read that post here.

Today I’m reflecting on my role as a parent who read aloud to my children. Both my husband and I were avid readers to our kids for many years. With our first child I think we may have started reading to her in the womb!

The first two baby board books our daughter owned were baby shower gifts. They were Thomas the Tank Engine books. We read those books until they were falling apart. We read them to her while she was just a baby. I remember one time when she was in her infant car seat in the car and she started crying. We began reciting the Thomas book to her (yes, of course we knew it by heart)–she stopped crying to listen to the familiar words and cadence. 🙂

“All aboard,” called the conductor.

It’s no surprise our daughter was 97th percentile in reading when they first tested her. She read Harry Potter at the age of seven. In her twenties now, she has a book club that meets at her home.

Does reading aloud to kids make a difference? Yeah, I’d say so.

Do you have a story about being read to or reading aloud to someone? Share it below and to celebrate #WRAD2020 I’ll put your name in the hat for a free audiobook of Seed Savers-Treasure*. After all, audiobooks are the next best thing…

Visit my Rafflecopter here for other ways to enter to win.

Happy Reading! (and listening) 🙂

*I’ll need an email address to be in touch if you win. The audiobook will be a code to download from Audible and is U.S. only.


Sandra Smith is the author of the awesome and award-winning middle grade/YA series, Seed SaversVisit her Facebook and Pinterest pages. Follow her on TwitterSign up for the newsletter!

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My Side of the Mountain Review…Sort Of



As an author, I occasionally read books on writing–On Writing by Stephen King and The Glamour of Grammar (Roy Peter Clark) among my favorites. As I was rereading On Writing recently I got to the section about how we need to read all the time so I walked in the other room and grabbed a King novel off the shelf ready to dive in. Uh no, a little voice said. You need to read middle grade since that’s what you’re working on right now.

Drats. I knew little voice was right. Too bad our public library is in the process of packing up and moving during a remodel. Little voice reminded me of the shelves of kid books I already own and the next thing I knew I had plucked My Side of the Mountain (Jean Craighead George) off the shelf.

To be honest, I thought I had read this book aloud to my children many years ago, but I soon discovered I had been thinking of Hatchet. (My daughter still insists that I surely read it.)

Anyway, as I began reading My Side of the Mountain, the writing didn’t strike me as particularly great. Wow, I thought. My writing’s at least this good!

Then the plot struck me as highly unlikely. Really? A boy runs away from home, tells every adult he meets that he is running away from home, and they all pretty much just wish him well? I check the date. Hmm. Published in the 1950s. I go to Mountain’s Amazon Page . . . 695 4 1/2 star reviews. I start reading the 1 star reviews. Yes, there are people who don’t love this beloved award-winning classic.

I return to the book and keep reading. I find My Side of the Mountain is best read in chunks, not all in one sitting. The boy, Sam Gribley, just accomplishes too many things to read it all at once. You must be able to suspend disbelief in order to get into and stay interested in the plot. Even then, there will be eye-rolling moments.

However, after sticking with it, I did really start to enjoy the life of Sam Gribley out in the wild, living an entire year with his animal friends and inside the tree he made into a home.

After all, don’t we all want to do that sometimes? And that’s the charm of the book.

Like any good book that sweeps away the reader, the key is the reader being able to suspend disbelief and be caught up in the story. And judging by the many positive ratings on Amazon, the vast majority of people can do that.

For those who are easily bored and must have nonstop page-turning adventure, I understand why they don’t like My Side of the Mountain. Those people would also do well to steer clear of the Little House On the Prairie books.

But for those who like to be enchanted and carried away to another time or place or lifestyle, My Side of the Mountain will always have an audience.


Sandra Smith is the author of the awesome and award-winning middle grade/YA series, Seed Savers. Visit her Facebook and Pinterest pages. Follow her on TwitterSign up for the newsletter!



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Schedule An Author Visit Today!



Are you a teacher, librarian, active parent or part of a large homeschool group? Want to inspire students in their writing and reading? Having an author visit is just the ticket! Author visits are great because kids realize authors are people just like themselves, while at the same time there’s a hint of *celebrity* that children enjoy. And if the kids are allowed to buy books–gulp–a book signed by the author!

Author visits are great for teachers and schools because they reinforce instruction. I always tell students how important it is for writers to also be readers. And what it means to revise, revise, revise!

I’m writing this post today to let everyone know that I still have openings in THIS SCHOOL YEAR to visit schools. Especially later April through June. My rates and what to expect from a visit are here.

If you’re looking for something different from what I offer, check out more authors at AIVS. (Authors & Illustrators Who Visit Schools.)

For ideas on how to fund author visits, read this (bottom part of the blog post).

Are you ready to inject excitement into your classroom by inviting an author to share about the writing process or discuss their book(s)?

Contact me at sandrasmithauthor [at] gmail.com today!


Sandra Smith is the author of the awesome and award-winning middle grade/YA series, Seed Savers. Visit her Facebook and Pinterest pages. Follow her on TwitterSign up for the newsletter!


The Uncomfortableness of Religion in Children’s Literature

photo of a person kneeling in front of book

Photo by Abdullah Ghatasheh on Pexels.com

And so here we go again.

I hesitate to write about topics where we disagree and yet because of personal bias and discomfort combined with Amazon’s algorithm, one of those irksome little reviews has risen in the “top reviews” section for Seed Savers-Treasure. Never mind that it is over a year old and the ayes far outweigh the nays…it bothers me.

Here’s why: this particular review was left by a teacher who said they could not continue reading Treasure in their classroom because it had “the Bible” and “God” in it. Let me say that there are other reviews from teachers of classrooms who have used Treasure. Let me also say that one of the reasons this review has risen to the top is because someone commented on it. Amazon’s algorithm will add weight to reviews with comments. Here is what the commenter said:

“I don’t think it’s bad to talk about religion or God in class. Many of your diverse students probably believe. And we shouldn’t have to keep it a secret.” (left by a librarian)

Unfortunately, most people won’t even see the comment, because Amazon does not make it apparent that there is a comment. I only found the comment when I was wondering how this review floated to the top. Since then, however, because it is near the top, 14 people have marked it as “helpful.” ???? This is the second the reason I am bothered. All of these people must agree that it’s okay to ban a book with “the Bible” and “God” references. Whoa. In a culture that is becoming increasingly more divisive by the minute, educators are adding to that thought train? Should we also not read books where a character celebrates bar mitzvah, wears a hijab, or otherwise expresses a spiritual belief?

Or maybe the pushback would say minority religions are okay, but the so-called dominant religion needs to either be absent or be portrayed negatively. If that’s true, then why?

Going back to the comment left by the librarian, “I don’t think it’s bad to talk about religion or God in class. Many of your diverse students probably believe.” As an English as a Second Language teacher, this has been my experience. Most of my diverse students do believe in God and would most likely enjoy a tiny thread of religion in the story. THE BOOK REALLY IS ABOUT FOOD. I have an ESL teacher friend who actually sets her room up during Ramadan for kids to come in and pray during a set time when the room is empty.

Ok, enough griping. It irks me that this review has arisen to the top again. It tells nothing at all about the book, only that the teacher was uncomfortable with it. It irks me that it hurts sales. It irks me that people seem to be aghast when books are banned for one reason or another but then turn around and do the same thing. Please people, examine your attitudes. I haven’t seen much written from this perspective, but here’s an article from several years ago by School Library Journal.  I wrote initially about it here.



Sandra Smith is the author of the awesome and award-winning middle grade/YA series, Seed Savers. Visit her Facebook and Pinterest pages. Follow her on TwitterSign up for the newsletter!


New Hope for A New Year


Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

I don’t know what it is about a new year that brings new hope, but I felt its power again today, day one of a new year.

Sometimes hope is found in places some eyes would see as forlorn.

This morning for example, I dashed out between rain showers to take a walk while the sky was blue and sunny. I came across a home that had hundreds of pots in between the sidewalk and the street. I snapped photos thinking I might blog about the way it inspired hope. Looking at the photos later at home they seemed not very “pretty.”  But to me they whispered hope.


Writing a garden series as I have, whenever I see my urban neighbors attempting to grow things, even if it means hundreds of gathered pots, to me it says they’re trying; whether it’s vegetables or flowers, the intent is there. Obviously, in terms of gardening, spring is the season of hope, but even in the dreary dead of winter the many pots gave me a smile. So much hope.

Other sightings of new years hope: the Pasadena Rose Parade this morning had the theme, The Power of Hope. And just a few nights ago I watched the most recent Star Wars movie, which made me think of the original (I saw the first movie in the same theatre I saw the last movie!) Back in 1977 when I first saw Star Wars, that’s the only name we knew it by. Later, as the movies piled up, it began more and more to be referred to as “A New Hope.”


And so here we are, 2020. A new decade. A new year. A new hope. I had intended to write down lot of fine plans and resolutions today, but the day is nearly done. Mostly I managed to do a lot of laundry. But you know what? I’m still feeling inspired. Here’s to a new year. Blessings. 🙂

Sandra Smith is the author of the awesome and award-winning middle grade/YA series, Seed Savers. Visit her Facebook and Pinterest pages. Follow her on TwitterSign up for the newsletter!

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