Book Talk: The Emerald Key

Sponsored: I received a free Advance Reader’s Copy of The Emerald Key in exchange for writing a review. All thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

So one of my friends has written a book! Co-authored, actually.

The Emerald Key, by Mark Frederickson and Melora Pineda, is the story of a group of friends who discover a journal and accidentally open a portal to another world. The main characters, Penny and Laci, are life-long friends who anticipate a dull vacation and an unwelcome family wedding, but find themselves transported to another reality filled with danger and dragons.


I enjoyed the book–it’s fast-paced, with lots of action, and the characters are likeable. And while Penny and Laci and their friends go through a number of trials throughout the story, it seems like an adventure that tweens might actually imagine they want to have.

I was curious to get some of the story behind the story, and Melora granted me an interview.

1) What was your inspiration for The Emerald Key?
Both Mark and I have tweenage daughters. His daughter is extremely athletic, and I have on occasion, had to threaten mine to get her to put her book down and meet basic needs, such as eating and showering. Our goal was to write a story that would entertain their age group, but also have a little bit of each of them in it.

2) What made you decide to write a book as a co-author, and how did you develop a process that made that work?
Mark and I had worked on a treatment for a children’s show a few years prior to starting The Emerald Key, so we knew we worked well together. Originally we decided to write a screenplay aimed at a middle-grade audience, but by writing it as a book, we created the source material first. Our process was countless hours on the phone hashing out ideas. I took notes and wrote the first version of each chapter. One by one I sent them to him and he expanded them. Next, we spent an entire weekend reading the book aloud and laughing at some of our blatant mistakes, such as the repeated use of our characters “starting” to do something instead of just doing it. I edited per our crazy weekend and then submitted to various publishers.

3) Laci and Penny have a close and supportive friendship, in spite of–or perhaps because of–the many ways in which they are different. How did you develop the characters?
We wanted an unlikely pair of friends to create more contrast in their skills and more challenges in getting themselves out of the mess they landed in. We began with qualities from each of our daughters, but these are fictional characters, so added more differences than actually exist between them.

4) I noticed some references to Norse mythology throughout the book. Were there particular legends or features that inspired you as you wrote?
Although Hallvard’s village was not seafaring and the Norse dragons are more serpent-like than the ones found in Botkyrka, we used a lot of Norse mythology to relate to popular culture (thanks, Marvel). We mention Thor and the mythology surrounding him frequently, but Beowulf is an Old English poem and wyverns are considered to be from European mythology, so we clearly played around with various dragon-based myths. By having Hallvard familiar with the same mythology the kids knew, we could bridge the gap between the cultures and create a camaraderie.

5) What would you like readers to take away from The Emerald Key?

I hope this book reminds our readers to search for and have faith in their own strengths instead of comparing themselves to others. As well as believing in themselves, they should never forget the importance of trusting their friends, and that in the end, it’s a combination of strengths working together that can overcome obstacles. And beat the bad guys!


Remember when I talked about how routine is important, but disrupting the routine is, too?


That’s okay. Here’s a link. But you don’t necessarily need to read that, because I’ve got more examples from this weekend.

  • Mr. Sandwich read one of her “Touchy Feely” books using the adjective written on the page, but not the one Baguette prefers. She didn’t get upset, and she didn’t repeat the original phrase. Instead she corrected him, saying, “They are prickly.”
  • We were in the car, and she started to get a little fussy. She asked for her book (she has a sequence in which she reads the Touchy-Feely books, which are firmly in rotation. I asked, “Do you want Mommy to read That’s Not My Dragon?” And she answered, “I want Baguette That’s Not My Dragon.”
  • She’s been playing with the apps for The Monster at the End of This Book and Another Monster at the End of this Book. On Saturday she made up her own chant based on phrases from the apps: “Grover is furry, Grover is furry, YOU! Elmo is cute, Elmo is cute, YOU!”
  • As usual, we went to the zoo. Elephants are her favorite animal, and the demonstration enclosure is always one of our first stops at the L.A. Zoo. But the male elephant sometimes trumpets loudly and scares her. Yesterday the females were doing the demonstration, and she sat on my lap. Almost immediately, she said, “Time to say bye-bye elephants.” I said, “Are you sure? Don’t you want to watch them eat carrots?” She looked at me and said, “I want to go see giraffes please.”
  • When we reached the carousel, toward the end of our visit, I asked if she wanted to ride on one of the animals (she never does–we only ride on the bench seat). She answered with “I want to ride peacock, please.”
  • Last night, she handed Mr. Sandwich one of her stuffed animals and unilaterally changed one of her common Baguette-focused phrases (“I want Daddy take elephant”) to a straightforward instruction: “Daddy, take elephant.”
  • “Frozen” is also back in rotation, and she’s memorized even more of the dialogue. She’s also tailoring it to her own preferences, as in last night’s pronouncement: “It was an accident. She was scared. She didn’t mean it. She didn’t mean any of this. Tonight was my fault–I should be the one to go after her. Bring me my elephant.”

She’s been in school for three days. It hasn’t been easy, and it hasn’t always felt good. But it is good.

Little girl with a big stack of books

BookTalk: More Please, The Hungry Animal Book


Dorothy Kunhardt is famous for writing Pat the Bunny. She also wrote More Please, which we discovered via Baguette’s speech therapist and may be the most maddening thing we own.

Baguette calls it “Make a Doggie.” I’m not sure why, because you don’t do that. You “feed” tiny pieces of posterboard shaped and colored like various items into the die-cut mouths of animals.

From a technical standpoint, I’m impressed. This was not easy to create.

From a parental standpoint, ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME????

The tiny pieces of posterboard are really tiny. Every time we read this book (and when it’s in rotation, I’m talking four or five times a day), I have to do an inventory of the parts. The text is maddeningly simplistic and sing-song. And the illustrations are just bad.

But Baguette loves it, and it definitely plays into her affection for animals.

Oh, and if you lose any of those tiny pieces? Yeah, I can’t find a replacement for less than $65 (a month ago, that price was $150). Hence the inventory.

If I didn’t like that speech therapist so much, I’d feel like she owes us an apology.

On Gifts

birthday presents

Baguette loves gifts, and she gets a lot of them. Mr. Sandwich and I are constantly buying her books, and she had grandparents on both sides who are always on the lookout for toys and games that will capture her interest.

What we’ve learned, though, is that giving Baguette something, and having her get it–well, those are two different things, and they happen in very different time frames.

For her birthday, in April, one pair of grandparents gave her a Monsters University Scare Factory and a Rescue City Center set. She started playing with it last week. This is August.

This week, four new Wibbly Pig books arrived in the mail. I suspect it will take us several weeks to get all of them into rotation, and Baguette loves Wibbly Pig.

We’ve seen this before, and we expect it. Baguette needs time to warm up to toys and books. She needs to decide how she wants to play with them. We’ve tried showing her, and it just doesn’t seem to work–but eventually she’ll figure it out and incorporate it into her play.

And while she’ll lose interest in a particular toy, the odds are pretty good that she’ll come back to it, months or a year later. You never know when that set of stacking rings is going to re-emerge.

I also understand, though, that as a gift-giver, people want a reaction. They want to see that they did actually pick the right gift, that they’ve brought happiness to the recipient. It’s hard to give something and feel like it didn’t even register. (We do have her say “Thank you,” but some enthusiasm is usually nice.)

Every once in a while, though, that magic moment happens. When Baguette was two and a half, we had a playdate. The other little girl had a Rockin’ Elmo that Baguette just loved. So I told my dad about it, and he bought it for her as a Christmas gift. And when she unwrapped it, and it started to sing and move, she was in raptures–delighted shrieks, beaming smiles, the works.

We got to see it again last weekend, at Mr. Sandwich’s 25-year high school reunion. It was at a restaurant, so we got a table and ate dinner there. That gave Baguette time to settle into the space and enjoy herself. Then we went out on the patio and mingled with the rest of the alumni.

One of his classmates, having heard about Baguette’s love of “Frozen,” brought her a set of character finger puppets. Baguette lit up and gave dazzling smiles. She even stopped eating her Pirates’ Booty for a moment (and let me tell you, it is hard to get her to respond to anything when she is eating).

And those finger puppets? On a nightly basis, in tiny, high-pitched voices, they act out this exchange from “In Summer”:

Kristoff: I’m gonna tell him.
Anna: Don’t you dare!

Summer in Santa Barbara

I wish we could spend the whole summer in Santa Barbara, but I really can’t complain about having a week there. While Kauai is our top vacation spot, it’s a little out of our reach right now. Three plane tickets are expensive, and Mr. Sandwich and I agree that Baguette is not yet ready for the flight experience.

Fortunately, Santa Barbara is only about an hour and 15 minutes away by car (if traffic isn’t bad, which it often is). So for the last four summers, we’ve gone to Santa Barbara for our vacation. We prefer to rent a condo or other place to stay, and have had mixed success with that based on budget and timing (year 1–Motel 6; year 2–studio which I mistakenly thought had a kitchen; year 3–Homewood Suites in Oxnard, which was further away but a terrific place to stay; year 4–cottage behind the owner’s house, and dingdingding I think we have a winner).

As on prior visits, we went to the Santa Barbara Zoo (three times), destroyed sandcastles and splashed at Leadbetter Beach (twice), visited the ducks and the elaborate playscape at Alice Keck Park and the adjacent Alameda Plaza, and drove out to Ballard to see Sicilian donkeys at Seein’ Spots Farm.







Because we had a kitchen, we ate breakfast in the cottage most days. While I like to go out to breakfast, I don’t like to have to go out to breakfast. We did get pancakes once at Garret’s Old Fashion, which is becoming a must-do on our Santa Barbara trips, but most mornings I was really happy with my toast and sunflower seed butter accompanied by yogurt and berries.

We did tend to eat lunch and dinner out, although even then we brought home leftovers that covered a few more meals. The standout new-to-us place was Eureka! In addition to excellent burgers, they had an array of beers and whiskeys.

By the way, in the past we’ve looked for bookstores in Santa Barbara. Apparently my previous Google searches failed miserably, because it turns out that there’s been an amazing one in our go-to neighborhood the whole time. It’s an independent store, and it’s got a children’s section that is large enough to be a separate children’s bookstore. So if you’re ever in Santa Barbara, stop by Chaucer’s Bookstore. You won’t be sorry.

Chaucer's Bookstore in Santa Barbara

And of course, we also paid a visit to McConnell’s.


In the end, Baguette didn’t want to leave Santa Barbara–and, truth be told, neither did we.

It Could–Would–Have Been So Much Worse

Another writing prompt from Ginger at Ramble Ramble: Tell us a story from ninth grade.


Just before ninth grade, my family moved from Maryland to Texas. As far as I was concerned, it was two years too late. All my life, I’ve had a Five Year Move Clock in my head, and I always felt like we stayed places too long.

So while some kids might have found this to be a horrible time to move, I was ready. Sure, I was going to miss the friends I’d grown up with. But I was more than ready for new sights and sounds and people.

Texas provided plenty of all of those. For a girl from the outskirts of D.C., it took some getting used to. Fortunately, I had some help.

First, there was the library. I didn’t know many people for the first semester, so I went to the school library a lot. And by “a lot,” I mean three times a day. I’d go before school and check out a book to read between classes. I’d return it at lunch and get another book, which I’d read between classes. And I’d go back at the end of the day to return that book.

(I am a very fast reader.)

Second, and more importantly, there were Beth and Kelly. Those are not their real names, because on this blog, no one has a real name. Unless I tell a story about a celebrity. I’m not sure if I’ve done that. But if I do, I’ll probably use the celebrity’s name.

Beth and Kelly were friends from middle school. They, like me, had decided to join Pep Squad. I don’t know their rationales, but I joined Pep Squad because my mother thought it would be a great way for me to know people on the first day of school, and I thought it would be a great way to get out of P.E.

Pep Squad had a week of summer training for new members, and when I arrived, I knew no one. But Beth and Kelly took me under their wing (wings?) and made me part of their group. While we didn’t do all of the drills together, we did meet for lunch every day and exchange stories. Kelly invited me to her birthday party (where I discovered MTV). They welcomed me into their existing circle of friends. We had classes together. They gave me people to stand with at the bus stop at the end of the day.

And while each of them later moved and changed schools, and we lost touch, I know that they made my freshman year of school bearable. They made it possible for me to decipher a new community and find my way.

Later, I found out why all of this happened. It turned out that, before camp started, they decided that they were going to find someone who looked like she had no friends, and be her friend.

They picked me.

They were 13 years old, and they decided to make someone an insider instead of an outsider. They chose to be inclusive instead of exclusive.

We hear a lot about bullying. Maybe there would be less of it–and maybe it would be easier to endure–if we tried to get our children to think more like Beth and Kelly.

It’s not that I had no problems in high school. Of course I did. We all did. But those problems were made easier because I had a place in that school. And Beth and Kelly helped me find it, by making a conscious choice. At age 13.

Three Friends

Photo by Xiaozhuli, via Flickr. Creative Commons.

There Is No Serial Killer in the Back Yard

When I was in college, I injured my knee and spent six months in a knee immobilizer. This meant that when I was flying, I met every person in the airport. And also on the plane. I was constantly telling the story of How I Injured My Knee.

The result was that once I was off crutches, the last thing I wanted was to talk to people on planes. So I thought about how to avoid that.

I have always read a lot, so that’s my usual method of passing the time while in flight. I decided that what I needed was to select my books very carefully. If I read a bestseller, someone would want to know if I liked it, and whether I was going to see the movie, and what did I think of the casting. If I read one of the books for my classes, I’d probably have the great good luck of finding out I was sitting next to the author right after I said I thought it was boring.

It became clear that there was only one genre that would keep people from striking up conversations: true crime. Over the next couple of years, I read a lot of true crime. (By the way, that last one? Total BS, as is From Hell–both the graphic novel and the movie.)

My plan worked. No one wanted to talk to the girl reading about Jack the Ripper. And it wasn’t just coincidence–on one flight, a mildly creepy older guy sat down next to me, started to speak, looked at the title of the book on my lap, and stopped mid-sentence. He then talked to the man across the aisle for the rest of the flight. I call that a win.

Time passed. I stopped reading true crime because I got bored with it. But I did periodically watch movies about fictional killers. And Dennis Lehane’s Darkness, Take My Hand is a novel so scary and so well-written that I had to keep reminding myself that I didn’t actually believe in what he was describing.

Then a few things happened: I had two miscarriages, and Mr. Sandwich and I read Zodiac and watched the movie based on it. Both the book and the movie are very good. The Zodiac Killer was a really scary guy.

These things seem unrelated, but they weren’t. I developed mild depression after my second miscarriage, and suffered from insomnia. And since I was already distressed and exhausted, it didn’t take much for me to become unnerved by the Zodiac Killer.

“But,” you say, “That was decades ago.”

Of course, and that’s what the logical part of my mind told me (it also told me about how long the odds were). The other part, whatever you might call it, was scared. Not so scared that I wouldn’t go outside at night to hang up laundry–but scared enough to wonder, “What if?”

My brother, who knows that I enjoy thrillers and history, gave me a copy of The Truth of All Things by Kieran Shields. It involves a number of my interests, including detectives, mystery, and the Salem Witchcraft Trials.

But I’m choosing not to finish it. Because while I could get through the gruesome murder that takes place at the beginning of the book, later discoveries by the main characters made it clear that the killer was taking actions–and likely had a motivation–that I just couldn’t keep reading about.

Don’t get me wrong. I was enjoying the book. But I know what gets in my head, and what I don’t need to add. I didn’t need to see the posters for “The Strangers.” Or for any of the “Saw” movies.

There’s enough ugliness in the world. We can see that today in Boston. I don’t need to go looking for it.

Sunday Morning Toddler





“No!” (to offer of water)

Runs out of room and back in. “Daddy read!” (hands over book but refuses to let either of us read it to her)

Runs out of room and back in.“Mommy book!” (hands over book but refuses to let either of us read it to her)

Runs out of room and back in.“Ball!”

Runs out of room and back in. “Mommy!” (holds out indoor portion of indoor/outdoor thermometer)

Runs out of room and back in.

Runs out of room and back in.

Runs out of room and back in.

“Wicket!” (picks up dog’s toys one at a time and returns them when asked, albeit increasingly grudgingly)

Runs out of room and back in. (Sneezes, reaches for Kleenex, takes the one handed to her, drops pacifier on floor, and wipes nose)

Runs out of room and back in. (Without Kleenex, which we will probably find in or next to the trash can)

Lather, rinse, repeat.