Margaret Nevinski

Photos: Sue Hylen

Kids! Click onto my kid-friendly blog, Yellow Pencils, for writing activities and topics to spark your imagination.

Art by Alyssa L., age 11

Random Thoughts on What I'm Reading

Roddy Doyle's A Greyhound of a Girl is a book I found in one of the Little Free Libraries that dot Bainbridge Island. In this “grand” novel, a ghost story set in Ireland, four generations of women go on a journey exploring life and death.

There’s 12-year-old Mary, who doesn’t consider herself a child anymore. There’s Scarlett, her mother. There’s Emer, Mary’s grandmother, who’s facing the biggest journey of all: death. And then there’s Tansey, Mary’s great-grandmother, who’s...well, a ghost.

As Mary and Scarlett try to cope with Emer’s fatal illness, Tansey appears to Mary one day. Mary isn’t scared, just curious. At first she thinks Tansey is one of the neighbors. But there’s something odd about her. She fades in and out. She’s young, but dresses and speaks in an old-fashioned way.

Mary and Scarlett accept that Tansey has come back to see Emer, her daughter. They learn Tansey's story: that she died as a young woman, when Emer was only three, and she wasn’t ready to let go of life. As Emer faces her final days, Tansey plans to help her.

When the four women take a midnight journey to the farm where Tansey and Emer lived, a farm that’s been a part of family lore, they discover the powerful bonds that connect them. They also witness the strength and love it requires to say good-bye.

If I’m making this novel sound maudlin, it isn’t. Mary is cheeky, her brothers “Dommo” and “Killer” are hilarious, and Tansey is full of quips.

Best of all is the language. Roddy Doyle writes primarily for adults and is known for his sharp and spot-on dialogue. Here the characters speak in an Irish lilt that will make you start trying to copy them.

Instead, you can reread A Greyhound of a Girl and relive Mary’s journey, which is our journey, too. Ages 9 and up.

I'm continuing my quest to read all the Newbery Award books. The 1972 winner, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien, is a delight.

Mrs. Frisby, a mouse, lives on the Fitzgibbons’ farm. Even though her husband, Jonathan Frisby, had a tragic death, Mrs. Frisby lives contentedly in a cinder block with her four children: Theresa, Martin, Timothy, and Cynthia.

All is well until the day Timothy gets sick. It’s time for planting on the farm, and the Frisby family must move to their summer house along the brook. If they don’t, their house will be plowed under. But Timothy is too sick to move. What will Mrs. Frisby do?

Through Mr. Ages, an elderly mouse, she meets a wise owl who gives her advice: she must ask for help from the rats. The rats? Everyone knows they live beneath the rose bush, but why should they help her? Still, Mrs. Frisby has no choice.

She approaches the rats and meets the extraordinary Nickodemus, Justin, and other rats who have an amazing story to tell. The rats beneath the rosebush are no ordinary rodents. They’ve been used in laboratory experiments at NIMH, where they’ve developed unusual powers. And Mrs. Frisby's husband, Jonathan, had a connection to these special rats. What is NIMH? The author never tells us, but the reader will have fun figuring it out.

I can’t tell you more without giving away too much of the story, but suffice it to say that Mrs. Frisby and the rats of NIMH make a formidable team. This fun animal fantasy has mystery, drama, and suspense. For ages 8-12.

Winner of the 2014 Printz Award for best teen book, Midwinter-blood by Marcus Sedgwick has an intriguing structure and setting: seven linked stories on a Scandinavian island. It's a book of mystery, time, love, and sacrifice.

The time frame is intriguing, too. The first story, "Midsummer Sun," begins in 2073. The final story, "Midwinterblood," takes place during Time Unknown. The book moves backward in time, introducing characters in 2011, during World War II, 1902, 1848, and the 10th century, during Viking times.

Each story features characters named Erik and Merle, or variations of their names. Mysteriously, the first character we meet in 2073 is named Eric Seven, a journalist sent to Blessed Island. He's investigating rumors that people on Blessed can live forever. There he begins to fall in love with a beautiful woman named Merle. But before Eric can get any work done, his mind becomes fogged by the tea he's given, a tea made from the dragon orchid grown on Blessed.

By the time we meet King Eirikr and Queen Melle in the last story, we know that this orchid has dangerous, magical properties. We're not surprised that King Eirikr's story involves blood sacrifice, because sacrifice is a theme running throughout the book.

Each story is also identified by a moon—the Flower Moon, Hay Moon, Snow Moon, Blood Moon--linking the entire book to nature and the seasons. Even futuristic 2073, with its modern technology and cool "OneDegree" app (sort of a Facebook of the future), is tied to agriculture and the weather. Some things never change.

Midwinterblood is a thought-provoking read. When I finished it, I was tempted to reread the book in reverse order, following Erik's journey in chronological order. As the stories unfold, they tell of people who live in the time of the story, but who have also moved between times. Ages 14 and up.

If you want to laugh until your sides hurt, rush out and find a copy of Jack the Castaway by Lisa Doan.

Eleven-year-old Jack just wants to attend school, do homework, and avoid poisonous frogs.

Unfortunately his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Berenson, have other ideas. Their get-rich-quick schemes have involved panning for gold in the Amazon, taking unsuspecting tourists on safari in Kenya, and exporting precious stones from India--all of them a disaster.

When they announce their newest scheme, which means moving to a Caribbean island, Jack has no choice but to go along.

Jack is reminded daily that the Berensons aren't like other parents. They encourage him to eat candy for breakfast, plan to educate him with their "home-schooling thingy," and don't worry in the least after Jack has disappeared for several hours in a foreign country.

When the Berensons launch their new scheme, a snorkeling business, Jack knows it will be another disaster. But he doesn't know it will be his disaster until he finds himself cast ashore on a deserted island circled by a whale shark. His only company is a parrot named Loco whose favorite phrase is, "Bad dog." Not exactly helpful when you're almost out of food and water.

Will the Berensons find Jack? Will they finally follow a checklist as Jack has been begging them to?

Fortunately, the hilarious Jack the Castaway is the first book in the Berenson Schemes series. I'm looking forward to more adventures and misadventures--assuming Jack and Loco get off that island. Ages 9 to 12.


I'm a writer, teacher, reader, walker, and bicycle rider on Bainbridge Island, Washington. Jump in and explore my writing world.

Teen writers! On Monday, April 28, I'm leading a free, drop-in Teen Writers' Group at the Bainbridge Public Library. We'll meet from 2 to 4 pm.

No need to sign up. If you're in Grade 7 to 12, please join us! This is a great opportunity to ask your writing questions, or just find some time to write.

Margaret with Dorothy Matthews and Susan Callan

Paint It. Write It. Book It. A Travel-Journal Adventure
(Ages 18 and up)

On the weekend of May 2-4, I'm teaching a class with the fabulous Dorothy Matthews (watercolor artist) and Susan Callan (book artist).

Learn the skills you need to create an exciting, handcrafted travel journal. We'll lead two easily walkable mini-trips to capture local sites in small watercolor sketches and text. For all the details, go to my classes page.

About Me

I write for children and teens because I still love to take shortcuts through backyards. I’ve written several books for the school market, which are read by kids across the country. I also write short stories and poems. Currently I’m working on a young adult novel set in the 1960s.

I grew up in the Midwest in a large extended family with over fifty cousins, so reading became a place to explore by myself. Once I discovered how great reading was, I couldn't stop. Later I began to write fiction for adults. I switched to writing for kids when I realized the audience was more fun. Along the way I sold corn at the Wisconsin State Fair, worked in a drugstore, answered phones at a used car lot, got degrees in linguistics, library science, and writing for children, and worked as a librarian and book buyer at independent bookstores.

Besides writing, I teach writing workshops for children, teens, and adults. Twice I’ve taught English to kids in Poland.

I love to walk and bicycle. I've done two long walking trips in England. Closer to home, I like to walk and bike around Bainbridge Island and Seattle, discovering new neighborhoods and stopping often for coffee.

When I’m not bicycling, teaching, or taking shortcuts through yards, I’m writing and revising, revising, revising--my favorite part of creating a story. I’m in an email book club with a few of those fifty cousins. And I still read whenever I can.

Here's Some of My Work

Seventeen-year-old Courtney dreams about her future husband on January 20th, the Eve of St. Agnes. One problem: he's the geekiest guy at her school. Can St. Agnes help?
Elena discovers friendship, trust, and forgiveness as she learns to float.
Iris—not your typical Greek goddess—dreams of flying to the sun.
Nine-year-old Lily must move to an internment camp with her family during World War II.
Whimsical poems about a salamander, squirrel, coyote, snake, and more!
In 1960, first-grader Ruby Bridges faces an angry mob when she starts school.

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