Las Vegas Sun

October 20, 2017

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Author gets advice during middle school visit


Frances Vanderploeg

Author Jennifer Nails talks to students at Lyal Burkholder Middle School about her book “Next to Mexico.”

About the author

More about the author can be found at her Web site,

The world of children's literature involves going through a lot of adults first.

That's what author Jennifer Nails learned after writing her first book, "Next to Mexico." While visiting with relatives, the Las Vegas High School graduate stopped by Lyal Burkholder Middle School this week to talk with some of the students and read the first chapter of her book, released in August.

"In children's publishing, it's adults who make the decisions," Nails said. "It's great to come out of that world and into the world you wrote for."

Children listened attentively while Nails read from her book, which revolves around two sixth grade girls, Lilyce and Mexico. She also visited William E. Snyder Elementary School in Las Vegas Jan. 9 and Frank Lamping Elementary School in Henderson Jan. 12.

Students at Burkholder asked several questions, ranging from "How long did it take you to write the book?" to "What's up with the cover?"

She knows it took her four years to write the book, but she's not sure about the cover, which features a prominent cactus blooming in the foreground, with two black, girlish figures off in the distance.

She had some initial misgivings, she said, but her publishers reassured her it's age appropriate.

"Middle school-aged children don't like to be told what characters look like, so this allows you to decide for yourself," she said.

The students disagreed.

"It makes me think too much," one student said.

Jessica Rodriguez, 11, said she wouldn't normally read a book with a cactus on the cover, and she hasn't read this one despite it being available on the school library's shelves. She might now, though, she said.

After Nails finished her presentations, Cody Hudson, a seventh grader, came up to offer words of encouragement.

"It was awesome," he said of the presentation.

Many laughs and smiles later, Nails left the school, excited to have spent her morning with the Burkholder students learning what works from the age level she's aiming to please.

Next time? No cactus.

Frances Vanderploeg can be reached at 990-2660 or

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