Interview with Laura Diamond, author of The Zodiac Collector

  1. What inspired you to write The Zodiac Collector?Zodiac-collector

The Renaissance Faire. Yep. I visited New York’s Ren Faire in Tuxedo, NY a few years ago and fell in love with the liveliness, the costumes, the jousting, the wares, the music, and the magic of it. It got my imagination going and by the time I was driving home, I’d “met” my main characters, twins Anne and Mary, the witch who wanted to collect all the Zodiac’s power, and I’d decided a fair bit of the book needed to take place at the faire.

  1. In ZC, we meet a sorceress that collects zodiac signs. Are you a collector yourself (not necessarily of zodiac-themed items)?

When I was a kid, I loved collecting stickers, Ty beanie babies, and, yes, rocks. For a while, I also collected Breyer horses, but my collections never got very big, lol. Nowadays, all I collect are BOOKS. 😉

  1. What’s your writing process like? Do you plot everything ahead of time, or just let the words flow?

At heart, I’m definitely a panster. Usually, a character will weasel their way up from my subconscious (or unconscious as us psych types like to officially call it) to my conscious imagination. My characters tend to be close talkers, meaning, when they pop in to say hello, they’re face on and nose to nose with me. Kind of hard to ignore them that way.

My M.O. is to let them talk. They tell me about their life, what they love, what they hate, and what troubles they’re having. And I jot everything down, like a good therapist would, so I don’t miss anything. I’m not sure if I count that as outlining, but it is pseudo-outlining at the very least. Once I start writing their story down, however, I encounter unexpected twists and turns that drive me right off any kind of “outline” I think I’ve drafted.

  1. What sort of reader would enjoy ZC?

THE ZODIAC COLLECTOR falls in the young adult category (12-18), however, it’s also sweet and light with slight touches of romance, so it can appeal to middle grade (8-12) audiences as well. Plus, I’ve thrown in a fair bit of the Renaissance Faire with a ton of magic, so it should appeal to grown ups who love paranormal and fantasy too!

  1. What’s next for you as a writer?

I’ve just finished writing a young adult psychological thriller titled BEAT. It’s a about a sixteen-year-old boy waiting for a heart transplant. He’s not sure if he wants to live or die—living means another person has to die for him to get a heart and dying means the end of suffering—and he’s not sure if his psychiatrist wants him to live or die either. My plan is to polish up my query letter and send it to agents this summer. Wish me luck!

Want to learn more? Read more about Laura here. Read more about The Zodiac Collector, here.

Book Discussion Questons, Silent Starsong

silentstarsongforweb1. Throughout recorded history, the stars have driven scientists, artists, writers, and more to explore and wonder. People still wish upon stars. What are some stories and beliefs about stars that might have inspired the author to think about a group of people who could hear the future based on the “songs of the stars”?



2. When we first meet Kyra Starbard, she is coming home from an operation that failed to fix her hearing. Who do you know, or know about, who is deaf or has a disability? What are ways people treat others who can’t or don’t do things the way others do? How might these people feel when everyone around them expects them to “fix” their life so they better fit in?



3. Marne begins his journey in the book being sold as a slave. How does that affect his life? As Kyra becomes friends with him, it’s clear he is a “person,” and not just property. What are ways that the culture on Kyra’s planet supports the slavery of the Narratsets? How do they keep people thinking they are “property”, instead of “persons”?



4. Kyra and Marne both consider the other to be “alien.” There are definitely some things they consider “weird” about each other. What are some of these things? How do you feel about Marne’s alien differences? How do you feel about the human things Marne considers “alien”? How do Kyra and Marne overcome these differences to become friends?


5. Marne has telepathy, which is the power to read minds and speak directly into a person’s mind. How is this ability treated by the different people in Kyra’s family? If you had this ability, how would you use it? Would it scare people? What would you be scared of if someone you knew had this power? If you could have any alien power, what would it be and why?


6. When Kyra meets her grandfather and tells him of her deafness being “unfixable”, he says, “If they couldn’t fix you, perhaps you really didn’t need to be fixed.” What are some things Kyra learns because she is deaf? What are things she notices and does that others could not do? What other ways does she sense the world when she cannot hear? Why would he say that she doesn’t need to be fixed?


7. When Kyra decides to run away because she is certain there is no better option, Marne disagrees but goes with her anyway. When has there been a time when you’ve had a friend who needed your help with something you didn’t agree with? How did you handle that situation? Have you ever made a decision that a friend thought was foolish or dangerous? How did you work through your friendship during these times?

Read a sample of Silent Starsong here.

Happy Book Birthday to Silent Starsong! Hear the first chapter…

silentstarsongforwebHappy Book Birthday to Silent


This month’s realease is Silent Starsong,  by T.J. Wooldridge, author of The Kelpie.  Like The Kelpie, Silent Starsong is a middle grade fantasy novel, but instead of taking the reader to the Scottish Highlands, Starsong soars upwards into the night sky, to far away worlds.  We are introduced to the Starbard family–a family known for their ability to foretell the future from the songs of the stars.  Eleven-year-old Kyra Starbard, however, was born deaf and will never be able to starsing. With the help of her best friend, Marne, a small alien telepath sold into slavery by his own people for being “too weak,” Kyra decides to make her own fate.

TJ Wooldridge reads from the first chapter of Silent Starsong, in which Kyra and Marne,  rejected and overlooked by their own kind, meet and form a close bond of friendship that will take them places neither ever expected to go. To hear the first chapter read by the author click here.

Interested in purchasing Silent Starsong?Order the book on  Amazon, Barnes and Noble or BAM!

Get to know the author by visiting her author page.



Discussion Questions and Classroom Unit for The Last Child of Hamelin

The Last Child of Hamelin by Ray Ballantyne

Classroom Study Unit for The Last Child of Hamelin


You may be reading The Last Child of Hamelin to your class or they might be reading it themselves. Either way, before they experience the novel, be sure your students are familiar with “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” tale.

  • 1.0 Tell the story out loud if possible.
  • 2.0 If you are reading it out loud:
  • -with older kids, you might read the Browning poem/story of the Pied Piper. Pick one where the illustrator does  not sentimentalize the ending.
  • -with younger children, find a retelling that is straight-forward and honest. Again, avoid a sentimental ending, that emphasizes the wonder of the land inside the mountain without examining the tragedy inherent in the story.

-compare illustrations in various versions.

-Ask: which ones capture your sense of the story?

3.0 Discuss the tale:

  • 3.1 How did you react to the ending of “The Pied Piper?” What were your emotions?
  • 3.2 What do think the ending was like for the children?
  • 3.3 What do think the ending was like for the parents?
  • 3.4 How would other people in Hamelin have reacted to losing the children?
  • 3.5 Did Hamelin deserve to lose the children? Why or why not?
  • 3.6 What might it be like for the children inside the mountain in a month? a year? five years?
  • 3.7 If you were the child left behind like the lame boy, what might you be feeling


Study the illustration on the cover. Look carefully. Share what you see.

2.0Pieter’s Life in Hamelin

  • 2.1 What surprised you about how people lived in the 1300s A.D.?
  • 2.2 Why do you think Hamelin was surrounded by walls?
  • 2.3 Why was no music allowed in Hamelin?
  • 2.4 Draw a plan of Pieter’s house.
  1. -where is the cooking fire?
  2. -where is the “center post?”
  3. -what was it like inside the house?
  4. -what do you see?
  5. -what sounds would you hear?
  6. -what would the table top feel like? the floor? The wood in the doors?
  7. -what smells would be present?

[Teachers: Similar questions can be used with any of the buildings in the story: Keeper’s house, The Square Pig, The Tower of the Lays, etc.]

  • 2.5 Find Hamelin on the map in the front of the book. Locate Koppelberg Mountain. Where do you think Pieter’s secret valley is located?

3.0 Know the Characters

  • 3.1 Make a character sketch of Pieter.
  • 3.11 With words or short phrases, list descriptions of:
  1. -Appearance – face, hair, eyes, build, clothes, unusual features (scars, tattoos, physical deformities, etc.), age, body language. What does he most dislike about his appearance and body?
  2. -Strengths/Gifts – What does this character do well? What are his or her gifts?
  3. -Flaws and Weaknesses – What does this character do poorly? Which of these causes problems for him? What is his weakest trait? What does he or she most dislike about himself?
  4. -Ethics/Beliefs – What does this character believe strongly? How is that shown in actions or words? How             do those beliefs help? When do they get in the way?
  5. -Relationships – Who does this character care about the most? Who are his best friends? How does he treat people he meets?
  6. -Emotions – What are this character’s usual emotions? What makes him? How often? What makes him happy? What do you think he is most afraid of?
  7. -Change and Growth – Return to this as you read the book. Jot down ways in which he or she was changed or grown throughout the story.
  • 3.12 What do you wish you knew about him?
  • 3.13 What do you think you know about him, even though it is not stated in the text.
  • 3.2 Make a character sketch of Simon.
  • 3.21 With words or short phrases, list descriptions of his:
  1. -appearance
  2. -strengths and gifts
  3. -flaws and weaknesses
  4. -ethics and beliefs
  5. -relationships
  6. -emotions
  • 3.22 What do you wish you knew about him?
  • 3.23 What do you think you know about him, even though it is not stated in the text.
  • 3.3 What do you think makes Pieter’s father so angry?
  • 3.4 Describe Pieter’s relationship with Agnes, his little sister.

4.0 Early Events — Chapters 1 to 6

  • 4.1Why did Pieter return again and again to Koppelberg Mountain?
  • 4.2 Do you have a secret place like Pieter does? What do you do there? Describe it.
  • 4.3 Why didn’t Pieter obey the law against music?
  • 4.4 Why did Simon return again and again to Koppelberg Mountain? How do his reasons differ from Pieter’s?
  • 4.5 What do you think makes Simon such a sad man?

5.0      Leaving Hamelin – Chapters 7 to 14

  • 5.1 Why did Pieter leave Hamelin with Simon?
  • 5.2 Why did he continue traveling with Simon from Tracker’s cabin?
  • 5.3 Simon reads “The Piper’s Song,” which they find hard to understand. Pick a verse and discuss what it might mean.
  • 5.4 Why do you think the clues are so difficult to unravel?
  • 5.5 Who does Simon think Pieter will become?
  • 5.6 Follow Pieter on the map as they travel.

6.0      Silverfoot

  • 6.1 Why is Pieter unafraid of the wolf?
  • 6.2 What do you think is happening between Silverfoot and Pieter?
  • 6.3 If you could choose an animal friend like the wolf, what animal would you choose?
  • 6.4 Is Simon right to fear Silverfoot? Why or why not?

7.0      Gretchen – Chapters 15 and 16

  • 7.1 Make a character sketch of Gretchen.
  • 7.11 With words or phrases, list descriptions of her:
  1.   -appearance
  2.  -strengths and gifts
  3.  -flaws and weaknesses
  4.  -ethics and beliefs
  5.   -relationships
  6.   -emotions
  •  7.11 What do you wish you knew about her?
  •  7.12 What do you think you know about her, even though it is not stated in the text.
  •  7.2 Pieter and Gretchen don’t seem to be getting along. Why do you think this is?
  •  7.3 Was Simon right to take Gretchen with them? Why or why not?
  •  7.4 When the two children played and sang, why did Simon  weep?

8.0      The First Two Clues – Chapters 17 to 20

  • 8.1 Why were they confused about the first and second clues?
  • 8.2 How might the story have been different if they had missed Harmony Vale?

9.0      Harmony Vale – Chapters 21 to 24

  •  9.1 How is Harmony Vale different from an ordinary valley?
  •  9.2 Make a character sketch of Keeper.
  •  9.11 With words or phrases, list descriptions of him:
  1.   -appearance
  2.  -strengths and gifts
  3. -flaws and weaknesses
  4. -ethics and beliefs
  5. -relationships
  6.  -emotions
  •  9.21 What do you wish you knew about him?
  •   9.22 What do you think you know about him, even though it is not stated in the text?
  • 9.23 Is there something wrong with Keeper or is he just different? What makes you think this?
  • 9.3 Do you think you would have been frightened by Keeper? Why or why not?
  •  9.4 How does Keeper “keep” the music?
  •  9.5 Draw a picture of Harmony Vale.

10.0    The Square Pig and the Monastery – Chapters 25 to 39

  • 10.1 Why were Pieter and Gretchen so successful in performing?
  •  10.11 Describe two or three things that were unusual about their music.
  •  10.12 How are Pieter and Gretchen getting along now? When do they argue? When do they not argue? Why?
  •  10.2 Make a character sketch of Theodus, the minstrel.
  •  10.11 With words or phrases, list descriptions of him:
  1. -appearance
  2.  -strengths and gifts
  3. -flaws and weaknesses
  4. -ethics and beliefs
  5. -relationships
  6.  -emotions
  • 10.21 What do you wish you knew about him?
  • 10.22 What do you think you know about him, even though it is not stated in the text?
  • 10.23 Would you want him to teach you music? Why or why not?
  • 10.3    Make a character sketch of the monk, Brother Rufus.
  •  10.31 With words or phrases, list descriptions of him:
  1. -appearance
  2.  -strengths and gifts
  3. -flaws and weaknesses
  4. -ethics and beliefs
  5. -relationships
  6.  -emotions
  •  10.32 What do you wish you knew about him?
  •  10.33 What do you think you know about him, even though it is not stated in the text?
  • 10.4 Mark the journey to Verden on the map.


11.0    On to Bondswick – Chapters 40 to 48

  • 11.1 Things seem tense between Brother Rufus and the old man, Simon. Why do you think this is?
  • 11. 2 Pieter did not want Gretchen to come with them. Yet she has been a help to them. List some specific ways she has      helped Pieter and/or Simon.
  • 11.3 How did Brother Rufus rescue them from the outlaws? Describe.
  • 11.4 On Cooper’s Island, Pieter becomes quite upset. What do you think is making him so angry? What does he fear?
  • 11.5 Follow Pieter on the map from the monastery to Bondswick.


12.0    Scopford and The Lady of the Lay – Chapters 48 to 52

  •  12.1 Vocabulary: Have you come across words that are new to you. Keep a list.
  • 12.2    Given how they are used in the story, what is your idea of  their meaning?
  •  12.3 Are you stumped by any of them? Use your dictionary when you finish reading for the day. Don’t stop and look up a word while you are reading. And don’t look them up too soon. Wait and see it the story makes  it clear later.
  •  12.4 Make a character sketch of the woman in the tower, Merle.
  •  12.41 With words or phrases, list descriptions of her:
  1. -appearance
  2.  -strengths and gifts
  3. -flaws and weaknesses
  4. -ethics and beliefs
  5. -relationships
  6.  -emotions
  • 12.5 What do you wish you knew about her?
  • 12.6 What do you think you know about her, even though it is not stated in the text?
  •  12.7 Who is Merle? How is she connected with Keeper?
  • 12.3 The last clue was not in the “Piper’s Song.” Where was it and how did they discover it?
  • 12.4 What do you think is happening between Merle and Gretchen?
  • 12.5  What did Gretchen do that surprised everyone (except perhaps, Merle)?
  •  12.51 How does Gretchen feel about this?
  •  12.52 How does Pieter feel about her new-found gift?


13.0    In the Mountains – Chapters 53 to 60

  • 13.1 Why did Pieter enter the cave by himself?
  •  13.2 What does the Pied Piper want Pieter to do?
  •  13.3 Make a character sketch of the Pied Piper.
  • 13.31 With words or phrases, list descriptions of him:
  1. -appearance
  2.  -strengths and gifts
  3. -flaws and weaknesses
  4. -ethics and beliefs
  5. -relationships
  6.  -emotions
  • 13.32 What do you wish you knew about him?
  • 13.33 What do you think you know about him?
  • 13.4 How do you feel about the Pied Piper now? Is he an antagonist or a protagonist? Explain your answer. 13.5 What flaws or weaknesses led the Pied Piper to take the children of Hamelin into the mountain?
  • 13.6 What must Pieter do to save the children?
  • 13.7 Why couldn’t Theodus, the minstrel, use the pipe?


14.0 On to Hamelin – Chapters 60 to 64

  • 14.1 What are some reasons Pieter does not want to return to Hamelin?
  • 14.2 What are some reasons he does want to?
  • 14.3 Why did Pieter cause the wolves to jump off the cliff?
  • 14.31 Was this the right thing to do? Why or why not?
  •  14.4 What has changed about the fellowship and Silverfoot?
  • 14.5 How are things different now that Keeper has joined them?


15.0    Hamelin Once More – Chapter 65

  • 15.1 Describe the reunion between Pieter and his mother and sister.
  • 15.2 Why did Pieter go to The Tong and Anvil to see his father? Was this a good idea? Why or why not?
  • What might have happened if Pieter’s father had tried to hurt him?
  • 15.3 What led the people of Hamelin to gather in the square to hear Pieter?
  • 15.4 Why did they follow him to Koppelberg Mountain? Would you have gone? Why or why not?
  • 15.5 Describe the land inside the mountain. Use words or art.
  • 15.51 Is it a place you would want to go? Why or why not?
  • 15.52 How do the children feel about this place?
  • 15.6 What are some problems the children will have when they return to Hamelin?
  • 15.6 What problems might the adults have?
  • 15.7 Summarize the song Pieter sang to the children inside the mountain. What was the main thing he was trying to tell them?
  • 15.8 After he’d been inside the mountain for a while, what did Simon decide to do? Were you surprised? Why or why not?
  • 15.9 The title of this book is The Last Child of Hamelin. Who is the last child? Explain your answer.


16.0 What Happens Next?

  • 16.1 What do you think the next year be like for the children?
  • 16.2    What will Pieter do next?
  • 16.3 What about Gretchen? What do you think is coming in her life?
  • 16.4    Write the next chapter, one that starts after the end of The Last Child of Hamelin.

For a printable document of The Last Child of Hamelin STUDY QUESTIONS  click here!

Introducing a new clean tween read, The Zodiac Collector

Introducing a new clean tween read, The Zodiac Collector!

Zodiac-collectorOnce in a while our parent publisher, Spencer Hill Press, puts out a book for teens that is also a great read for the upper middle grade reader group. The Zodiac Collector is our first book choice to share with you as a clean tween read.

Available as paperback and e-book soon!

ISBN: 978-1937053635

The Zodiac Collector by Laura Diamond

For almost-16 year-old Anne Devans, the annual Renaissance Faire means three things—her dad spending weeks in the smithy, her bipolar mom doing some manic costume making, and another ruined birthday for her and her twin sister, Mary.

This year, Anne wants things to be different, and she’s going to do things her way.

On the eve of the Faire, Anne (along with a reluctant Mary) conjures up a spell that will make their 16th birthday party a whirlwind event.Little do they know that it’s a literal request.

After the mini tornado in their room subsides, the girls realize they’ve invoked the power of the Gemini Twins, Castor and Pollux. That’s the good news. The bad news is they also caught the attention of a sorceress named Zeena who has been collecting children born under each Zodiac Sign to enhance her power. Once she captures Anne and Mary, Gemini twins, the entire Zodiac—and the world—will be hers.

Anne leads the fight against Zeena, but her one-sided decisions could throw them into a world so far from home, even the Renaissance Faire would seem like a brilliant vacation. Between managing their new Zodiac powers, dodging their manic mother and trying to stop Zeena, they’ll get a 16th birthday they’ll never forget.

Interested in reading more? You can pre-order The Zodiac Collector now on Amazon, Barnes and Noble or BAM!

Find out more about the author on her author page.

Find The Zodiac Collector on Goodreads.