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At the dawn of the 20th Century, thousands of immigrants are arriving in the promised land of New York City. Sarah has always dreamed of America, a land of freedom and possibility. From her small village she stares at a postcard of the Statue of Liberty and imagines the Lady beckoning to her. When Sarah and her mother finally journey across the Atlantic, though, tragedy strikes—and Sarah finds herself being sent back before she even sets foot in the country.
Yet just as Sarah is ushered onto the boat that will send her away from the land of her dreams, she makes a life or death decision. She daringly jumps off the back of the boat, and swims as hard as she can toward Liberty Island, and a new life.
Her leap of faith leads her to an unbelievable hiding place: the Statue of Liberty itself. Now Sarah must find a way to the mainland, while avoiding the night watchman and scavenging enough food food to survive. When a surprising ally helps bring her to Manhattan, Sarah finds herself facing new dangers and a life on her own. Will she ever find a true home in America?
From acclaimed author Robert Sharenow comes this heartfelt novel of resilience, hope, and discovering a family where you least expect it.
Robert was kind enough to swing by The Pageturn and answer some questions for us!
What inspired you to write this story? Do you know the story of how your ancestors came to America?
One of my great-grandfathers came to this country with very little money or possessions. But he was a button-hole maker and owned his own tailoring scissors. It amazes me that he was able to forge a life for himself in a brand new country with such meager beginnings. I was also fascinated by the fact that the first immigrant processed at Ellis Island was an Irish teenager named Annie Moore who was traveling with her siblings to meet her parents who were already in the U.S. I couldn’t imagine sending my own children on such a daring journey. And, of course, there is the Statue of Liberty itself, which has always loomed large as a powerful symbol of the positive promise of America around the world. The exact moment of inspiration came when I re-read Emma Lazarus’ poem about the statue that described her as “Mother of Exiles.” The idea of a motherless immigrant girl and the Statue of Liberty becoming like mother and child set the whole thing in motion.
What kind of research did you do for this novel?
I always read history books and novels set in the time period I’m writing about. But for this one, I was also able to walk the streets of Chinatown and the Lower East Side of New York and see many of the places described in the book. Of course, I also visited landmarks like the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty, but there are also lots of ordinary 19th century factory buildings and apartments that have changed very little too.
Would you have wanted to live in New York at the time Sarah lived? Why or why not?
I would be fascinated to experience life at that time, to see, touch and feel what it was like. It was a time of great hope and progress, but also of great struggle. Times were harder then. Scores of children lived in poverty and on the streets. There were brutal living and work conditions for poor people and much more overt and institutionalized prejudice than there is today. So, I definitely prefer our modern New York. The Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side of Manhattan gives you a wonderful sense of what every day life was like for new immigrants at that time. And it was not at all luxurious or easy.
Have you ever been to the Statue of Liberty? If so, do you remember the first time you visited?
Yes. I’ve been a couple of times. My parents took me when I was 7 years old and it is one of the fondest memories of my childhood. I remember being completely awed by her. I still get a feeling of wonder whenever I see the Statue of Liberty, even from afar. When I visited more recently during the writing of the book, I was amazed at the incredible variety of people from so many different countries, races and religions. The power and reach of the Statue’s symbolism has only grown since Sarah’s time.
Do you have a favorite neighborhood or place that Sarah visits in the novel?
I’ve always loved New York’s Chinatown. And it remains a very distinct and exciting neighborhood. You can walk the crowded sidewalks and not hear much English and feel like you are lost in a foreign country. The streets are alive with sights and smells of the food vendors and shops, and the signs are written in colorful Chinese characters. And, as described in the book, it’s very close to the Jewish Lower East Side and Little Italy, so you get a sense of just what a melting pot New York was and continues to be.
When asked to explain the plot of Even in Paradise, my first young adult novel, I start by saying, “Well it’s a realistic, contemporary story inspired by Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited.”
I foolishly try to shed light on my plot by describing the plot of Brideshead. “It’s a novel set in post-World War I England. The protagonist’s an artist named Charles Ryder, and his friendship with a fellow Oxford University student leads to Charles’s life becoming inextricably intertwined with the majestic and tragic Marchmain family.”
The quizzical expressions deepen, prompting me to wax poetic about Waugh’s classic.
Fifteen or so minutes later, my audience is usually still confused—if not a little bored and thinking about lunch.
At this point, I sigh and give the one-sentence pitch I should have delivered at the beginning—an explanation that is just as true as my convoluted original. “Even in Paradise is about a teen girl who falls in love with a Kennedy-esque family with a tragic secret.”
I could just as easily say, “It’s a novel about different kinds of love.” Or “It’s about friendship and family.” Or “My story looks at class, sexuality, and the destructive nature of secrets.”
Though, Even in Paradise began as a modern retelling of Brideshead, it is now very different from Waugh’s novel. As I wrote deeper and deeper into my story, I found that I couldn’t keep within the confines of another’s—even if that story was written by a maestro. By moving Brideshead from the front of my imagination to the back, I made room for other sources of unexpected—but welcomed—inspiration, such as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and my own memories.
Even in Paradise turned out to be as much a deliberate homage to books and writers I adore as it is a collage of untraceable ideas. It took time and many drafts to realize that I could not have written my first novel any other way.
Going Bovine by Libba Bray (Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes)
Beauty Queens by Libba Bray (Lord of the Flies by William Golding)
March by Geraldine Brooks (Little Women by Louisa May Alcott)
The Hours by Michael Cunningham (Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf)
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling)
Ash by Malinda Lo (Cinderella by the Brothers Grimm)
Far Far Away by Tom McNeal (Grimm’s Fairy Tales)
“His Dark Material” trilogy by Philip Pullman (Paradise Lost by John Milton)
Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu (The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen)
The Real Boy by Anne Ursu (The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi)
Chelsey Philpot grew up on a farm in New Hampshire and now works as a book reviews editor at School Library Journal. She’s written for the New York Times, Boston Globe, Slate, and numerous other publications. Like her main character, Charlie, Chelsey attended boarding school in New England, and then earned a degree in English from Vassar College and a master’s in Journalism from Boston University. Visit her online at www.chelseyphilpot.com and on Twitter @ChelseyPhilpot.
A perfect pick for kids who love Percy Jackson, Kingdom Keepers, or Seven Wonders series, The Copernicus Legacy is a Da Vinci Code-style story for young readers. The book follows four kids who stumble upon a powerful ancient secret of the famous astronomer, Nicolaus Copernicus. Protected by notables throughout history, it now falls to our young heroes to become guardians of Copernicus’s secret, racing across the globe, cracking codes, and unraveling centuries-old mysteries in order to prevent it from falling into the hands of a vast and evil shadow network called the New Teutonic Order.
It’s the worldwide adventure and historical scope that makes the series both page turning and educational, earning it many great reviews including a starred review from Kirkus: “With engaging characters, a globe-trotting plot and dangerous villains, it is hard to find something not to like. Equal parts edge-of-your-seat suspense and heartfelt coming-of-age.”
To celebrate the launch of the next books in this exciting series, on Saturday, September 13th, Tony Abbott will be leading a scavenger hunt at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where four lucky winners of a national sweepstakes will work together to find hidden clues amongst the exhibits, crack codes, and earn prizes. You and all readers across the country will have another chance to win a trip to New York for the second Relic Hunt starting October 7 at www.thecopernicuslegacy.com!
After the Relic Hunt, Tony Abbott will be signing copies of The Forbidden Stone at 2:30pm at the Barnes & Noble on 82nd and Broadway in Manhattan. The Barnes & Noble event is open to the public, and we invite you to join us there for a pizza party! It’s no mystery—the whole family will be in for good food and fun!
Naomi Shihab Nye‘s latest novel, THE TURTLE OF OMAN, came out last week, and our friend Connie Rockman, former librarian and all-around children’s lit expert, has prepared some treats for you. Keep reading for a book talk and some suggestions for using this powerful book to meet Common Core standards.
Aref is frightened to think about leaving home for three years and moving to the United States from his native country, Oman. Everything will be strange—the climate, the people, the food! Aref spends his last week before the move saying goodbye to friends and to familiar places. The three years he will spend in Michigan while his parents complete their graduate studies seems like an endless time to him. During the last week at home, Aref spends time with his beloved grandfather, Sidi, who leads him in subtle ways—with gentleness and humor—to pay attention to what the land and the animals have to teach him. Sidi gives Aref stones from various parts of their country to take with him and remind him of home. On an overnight trip to a desert camp, they encounter a falcon trainer and pass by a beach where the majestic sea turtles return to lay their eggs. They talk to people along the way in all walks of life, and, slowly but surely, Aref approaches his upcoming journey with a positive outlook. He knows now that like the birds, the butterflies, and the turtles, he will always come back home after migrating miles away.
This quiet and powerful story has great emotional depth for upper elementary students and, through the eyes of Aref and Sidi, they will become familiar with a faraway land and culture. Common Core connections include searching for actual pictures of Oman and the exotic place names that Aref visits and talks about with his grandfather. Drawing a map of the region will help students place Oman within its Middle East setting. Looking up the food that Aref eats will help them understand his culture and compare it to their own. Studying the wildlife that is mentioned in the book, they will learn why Aref draws connections between himself and the migrating reptiles, birds, and butterflies. Reading about Aref’s joy in making lists and collecting stones can lead to writing prompts about the activities that students enjoy in their own lives. Naomi Shihab Nye’s poetic prose provides a lovely insight into life in another part of the world.
When I was in my teens, I kept certain memories secret, even (as best I could) from myself; otherwise, they would scald me from the inside out, boil me up in my own shame. For instance, when I was seventeen some stuff happened in a car with a stranger. I didn’t mention that stuff to anyone—and I mean not a soul—for at least ten years.
In my new novel, Rabbit Ears, I give that one awful experience in the car to my character Kaya, who is largely based on my sister, Sarah. Sarah started running away from home when she was thirteen, and ended up selling sex to survive and struggling with addiction in Vancouver’s inner city. In 1998, she disappeared. In 2002, her DNA was found on a serial murderer’s property.
In the story, Kaya doesn’t tell about what happens in that car. Unlike me, but like my sister, she is already holding bigger secrets. Those secrets—that killing silence—led me to tell Kaya’s story.
A few years ago, a woman I knew only a little bit emailed to ask if she could meet with me. She had a secret, she said, a secret about my sister.
“Yes,” I said, dreading what she might tell me.
She came to my house, a friend in tow for support, and told me that when she was a kid, Sarah was sexually abused by a neighbor. It went on for years, she said. It went on until puberty. This woman knew, because it happened to her too.
It was shocking news, horrible to learn that Sarah had suffered in that way when she was small, and that she never told us, to realize that her suffering began so much earlier than we knew. I found myself haunted by this new information, trying to take it in, to understand this new part of my sister’s experience, and her silence. Rabbit Ears arose from that haunting.
The story is fiction, but the Sarah in the story is real.
It was a joy, for me, writing my sister to life so long after her death. There’s a scene on a swing set that is drawn straight from a story a woman told me about her and Sarah. I changed its location. The little grey house where Sarah lived, at Princess and Hastings, is in the story as is the corner where she, and, in the story, Kaya, worked. When Kaya goes into Sarah’s house, she sees spilled pudding that comes straight out of my memories. And a scrawny kitten. And, outside, a glorious garden.
My book was always called Rabbit Ears because the older sister loves magic. I’ve only recently made the association between the ears and listening, paying attention. Then, while I was working on revisions, I saw an old video of my sister, and, for the first time in my life, saw that she had a Playboy Bunny tattooed on the top of her left breast. Rabbit ears. Thank you, Sarah, for your blessing!
I wanted to tell a story about a girl who went through what my sister went through, but survived, a story about a girl who broke the silence that was holding her prisoner, a story about a group of girls who paid attention, who reached out.
I believe in these possibilities for Kaya and for each one of us.
Maggie de Vries’s latest novel, Hunger Journeys, won the Sheila A. Egoff Children’s Literature Prize and was called “historical fiction at its best” by CM Magazine. She has written six other works for young readers, as well as one book for adults, Missing Sarah. A former children’s book editor and writer-in-residence for the Vancouver Public Library, she now focuses on teaching creating writing at the University of British Columbia and her own writing. She lives in Vancouver.
Looking for some recommendations for a middle grader who loves fantasy? Well, we’ve got just the list for you!
Here are some stellar picks for the kid looking for magical powers, mysterious forests, heros, and villains to take to the beach with him.
THE THICKETY, by J. A. White, is the start of a new fantasy series set in a world where magic is forbidden but exists in the dark woods called the Thickety. This book would be a great recommendation for fans of the Septimus Heap series, and here’s a book talk prepared by librarian, author, and Common Core workshop presenter Kathleen Odean:
How would you like to have the power to summon amazing creatures to do your will? When Kara finds a book in the Thickety, a dangerous forest, it awakens her magical powers. Local villagers view magic as evil but for Kara, it’s a connection to her mother, who was executed as a witch. The spells thrill Kara until the magic starts to change her in frightening ways. Is Kara in control of the magic—or is it in control of her? If she doesn’t figure it out soon, she could lose everyone and everything she loves.
There’s even a Common Core-aligned discussion guide with activities written by the author, J. A. White—an elementary school teacher! (You may not want to send this to the beach, though. Maybe save it for September.)
THE CASTLE BEHIND THORNS, by Schneider Award winner Merrie Haskell, is a magical adventure set in an enchanted castle that will appeal to fans of Gail Carson Levine, Karen Cushman, and Shannon Hale.
When Sand wakes up alone in a long-abandoned castle, he has no idea how he got there. Everything in the castle—from dishes to candles to apples—is torn in half or slashed to bits. Nothing lives here and nothing grows, except the vicious, thorny bramble that prevents Sand from leaving. To survive, Sand does what he knows best—he fires up the castle’s forge to mend what he needs to live. But the things he fixes work somehow better than they ought to. Is there magic in the mending, granted by the saints who once guarded this place? With gorgeous language and breathtaking magic, THE CASTLE BEHIND THORNS tells of the power of memory and story, forgiveness and strength, and the true gifts of craft and imagination.
Thinking ahead to the new school year, Common Core applications include: Comparing and contrasting texts in different forms or genres; determining the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text, including figurative and connotative meanings; and analyzing the impact of a specific word choice on meaning and tone.
THE DYERVILLE TALES, by M. P. Kozlowsky, tells the story of a young orphan who searches for his family and the meaning in his grandfather’s book of lost fairy tales.
Vince Elgin is an orphan, having lost his mother and father in a fire when he was young. With only a senile grandfather he barely knows to call family, Vince was interned in a group home, dreaming that his father, whose body was never found, might one day return for him. When a letter arrives telling Vince his grandfather has passed away, he is convinced that if his father is still alive, he’ll find him at the funeral. He strikes out for the small town of Dyerville carrying only one thing with him: his grandfather’s journal. The journal tells a fantastical story of witches and giants and magic, one that can’t be true. But as Vince reads on, he finds that his very real adventure may have more in common with his grandfather’s than he ever could have known.
If you’d like to bring this one into your classroom next year, Common Core applications include: Determining the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in a text; analyzing the impact of a specific word choice on meaning and tone; describing how a particular story’s plot unfolds in a series of episodes; and describing how the characters respond or change as the plot moves toward a resolution.
Prince Liam. Prince Frederic. Prince Duncan. Prince Gustav. You think you know those guys pretty well by now, don’t you? Well, think again. Posters plastered across the thirteen kingdoms are saying that Briar Rose has been murdered—and the four Princes Charming are the prime suspects. Now they’re on the run in a desperate attempt to clear their names. Along the way, however, they discover that Briar’s murder is just one part of a nefarious plot to take control of all thirteen kingdoms—a plot that will lead to the doorstep of an eerily familiar fortress for a final showdown with an eerily familiar enemy.
And Common Core applications for this one include: Explaining how an author develops the point of view of the narrator or speaker in a text; comparing and contrasting texts in different forms or genres; and analyzing how differences in the points of view of the characters and the reader (e.g., created through the use of dramatic irony) create such effects as suspense or humor.
We’re so excited to share with you I AM A WITCH’S CAT, available this week, written and illustrated by Harriet Muncaster.
We in the HCCB School & Library department are pretty huge fans of tiny things (dollhouse food, figurines, these amazing things . . . you name it), and we couldn’t be more delighted to have found a kindred spirit in Harriet Muncaster. Harriet’s book tells the story of a little girl who believes that her mother is a good witch and that she is a special witch’s cat, and it’s illustrated with photographs of handmade miniatures—characters, furniture, accessories, and details, all lovingly crafted and composed into scenes. We just love it to pieces.
Harriet was kind enough to give us a behind-the-scenes looks at her process for creating the fantastic art from I AM A WITCH’S CAT.
I have always been fascinated by tiny things. When I was young I spent my time making miniature houses and clothes and writing minuscule fairy letters. That love of tiny things has never left me, and so, when I took illustration as my degree at university, it felt almost natural to start making my pictures in 3D. I create dollhouse-sized scenes (or sets, as I call them) out of cardboard and fabric and then photograph them to make a flat picture.
In these photos, you can see some of the process I go through to make the scenes. If it is a room, I usually start with a box-like shape and then put in the flooring and wallpaper. I either paint the wallpaper on or make it on the computer and stick it on as you would proper wallpaper (like in the bedroom scene below)!
Beginnings of the bedroom scene
The furniture is made from card stock. It gives me a lot of freedom to make everything from card because I can literally make it into any shape I like. I can use the card to make something really fancy or really plain and in whatever style I like.
I also like the way one can use lighting when creating a 3D picture. It is possible to really set the mood by using different sorts of atmospheric lighting. My favourite bit of lighting in the book is the scene where Witch’s Cat is saying goodbye to her Mom at the door and the coloured glass in the door is shining against the wall in a rainbow pattern. I got this effect by using coloured cellophane sweet wrappers and then shining a light behind them.
Experimenting with some lighting filters made from coloured cellophane chocolate wrappers as seen in the hallway scene
The hardest thing to make in the book was the trolley in the supermarket scenes. It took me absolutely ages and was extremely difficult and fiddly to make! It’s definitely the most delicate thing in the whole book.
The checkout scene in full, with trolley
One of my favourite things to make in the book was the patchwork quilt on the bed. I just love the colours in it, which are quite autumnal. I tried to incorporate a lot of autumnal colours into the room scenes, as it is a Halloween book.
Trying the mom character for size, with close-up of patchwork quilt
It feels very magical when a scene becomes finished and you can look right into it and touch it. It’s a real, tiny little world of its own with its own atmosphere and feel to it. I love how tangible it is!
Today we celebrate the birthday of Ida. B. Wells—activist, educator, writer, journalist, suffragette, and pioneering voice against the horror of lynching. Born on July 16, 1862, Ms. Wells used fierce determination and the power of the pen to educate the world about the unequal treatment of blacks in the United States.
I didn’t get into the kids’ book biz to save the world or anything. It just turned out that way.
Back in 1992, I decided to try writing a children’s book for the first time. I had two powerful reasons…
1. My son, Sam, was two years old.
2. My books for grownups had all bombed. So had all of my newspaper articles, magazine articles, and screenplays. I’d received countless rejection letters. I wasn’t making a living as a writer. I thought I might have to give it up and get (gasp!) A REAL JOB!
So after ten years of failure, I figured, “What the heck, let’s try writing for kids.” And as soon as I started writing for kids, I felt: THIS IS WHAT I’M GOOD AT! THIS IS WHAT I SHOULD HAVE BEEN DOING ALL ALONG!
In my new My Weirder School book, Miss Klute is a Hoot!, a dog comes to Ella Mentry School to help the students with their reading. A lot of kids are self-conscious about reading out loud in front of their class, but they have no problem reading to a well-trained therapy dog, who listens patiently without laughing or making fun of them.
I wish they had therapy dogs when I was a kid! I hated to read, especially in front of people. But for some reason, writing always came naturally to me. And when I started writing for kids, I found that I could relate really well to reluctant readers. I knew what turned them on, and I knew what bored them.
Reluctant readers don’t like page after page of beautiful, flowery writing describing people, rooms, scenery, or the weather. They like short sentences, short paragraphs, and short chapters. They like dialogue, action, and cliffhangers. They like it when one sentence, paragraph, and chapter leads naturally to the next one. They like it when each chapter is a self-contained story. They like killer openings, and surprise endings. And they like to laugh.
What I try to do is write stories that are so compelling that a reluctant reader will look up after an hour and think, “Wow, that didn’t feel like reading! It felt like I was watching a movie in my head!” That’s what I try to accomplish in my books.
Now, almost every day I receive an email from a parent who has a reluctant reader or a child with a learning disability who got turned on to reading after discovering my books. Just the other day I got this from a mom in Indiana…
Dear Mr. Gutman,
You have no idea how much your work has meant to my family. Our oldest son, Aidan, is in 2nd grade. He was surrounded by reading and books his whole life, but he would prefer to play hockey, baseball, soccer or do almost ANYTHING else BUT read! There were fights, tears and strong resistance.
The tide turned when we discovered My Weird School. The sense of humor and perspectives mirror Aidan’s, and since he started reading your books, we have actually had to turn off the light in his room after we thought he went to bed because he was secretly reading ONE MORE CHAPTER!
Just this week, he passed the 250,000 word mark- which he has accomplished in just ONE semester! the majority of those words were from your books. His father and I are amazed, overjoyed and so grateful to you for your work and your passion.
I’ve received hundreds of these letters. As I said, I didn’t start writing children’s books to save the world. I just wanted to make a living. But I can’t tell you how rewarding it is to make my living by writing some silly words on a page that make kids laugh and have such a positive impact on his their lives. I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do.
Dan Gutman is the author of over one hundred books for young readers, including the Baseball Card Adventures, the Genius Files, and the My Weird School series, which has sold more than eight million books around the world and is celebrating its 10th Anniversary this month.
Oscar Wilde once said that, “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life.” If he were alive today to witness our novel’s origin and road-to-publication, he would’ve seen his theory confirmed!
When we first decided to write a book together, we tossed around themes and kept circling back to the same topic: the large amount of time people spend with their electronic devices. Teens in particular are using them as a way to connect with friends and escape from the pressures of life. How many times have we seen a group of teens together yet alone, everyone focused on their phones?
We both thought the subject was intriguing, and before we knew it, intrigue turned into OBSESSION. We couldn’t stop researching technology (which was strange since neither of us are super tech-savvy) and talking about the effects it has on children, families, and relationships. We started having long discussions (over Skype, no less!) about how our virtual lives can actually threaten our real lives. Naturally, all of it inspired us to write our novel as an allegory for today’s society (though we set ELUSION in the near future, when people will be even more dependent on their devices.)
Before we actually sat down to write though, we asked ourselves the big “what if” questions that helped us shape the story. What if there was an app that offered users an opportunity to visit a virtual world of their choice, a place where they could even meet up with friends and have adventures together, without the complications—or consequences—of real life? And what if the virtual reality app is not quite as wonderful as it appears and rumors surface about the potential for addiction, especially for teens?
Those are the questions we pose in ELUSION. Our heroine, Regan Welch, has the important and dangerous task of uncovering the secrets hidden in a virtual world created by an Equip: a device that uses a special type of hypnosis and technology to transport people to beautiful, seemingly-utopian landscapes.
While ELUSION was clearly inspired by what’s happening in our lives today, neither of us were prepared for what happened next. Just one week after ELUSION was published, Life began to imitate Art. Facebook announced they had paid two BILLION dollars for OCULUS VR, an up-and-coming virtual reality company. According to Mark Zuckerburg: “When you put it on, you enter a completely immersive computer-generated environment, like a game or a movie scene or a place far away. The incredible thing about the technology is that you feel like you’re actually present in another place with other people.”
Almost instantaneously, there were concerns about how much time kids were spending with their devices and the danger of addiction to a virtual reality.
We couldn’t believe it. The type of device and reaction that followed the announcement was almost identical to what we had written in ELUSION. But the similarities didn’t stop there. The young man who created Oculus V.R. is only 22, just slightly older than Patrick Simmons, the boy Wunderkind who helped Regan’s father build the world of Elusion and desperately wants it to succeed.
What had seemed like a far-off, fun premise for a novel had become reality overnight. Would we soon be able to immerse ourselves in a virtual world, much like the one in ELUSION? And would teens be especially vulnerable to dangers that world might present?
The sequel to the book—ETHERWORLD—comes out next March, and as excited as we are, we are also a little hesitant. The plot takes an ominous turn and the characters lives are at stake, so in that respect we don’t want Life to imitate Art again! But there are thrilling, unpredictable moments in ETHERWORLD, and we hope readers are waiting with bated breath to see how their lives are reflected in the conclusion to Regan’s story.
Claudia Gabel and Cheryl Klam are the authors of Elusion and Etherworld. They met when Claudia edited Cheryl’s previous novels, Learning to Swim and The Pretty One. Claudia works as an editor in New York, but she’s also the author of several books for tweens and teens, including the In or Out series and the mash-up Romeo & Juliet & Vampires. They liked working together so much that they decided to write a bunch of things together, including movie proposals and TV sitcom scripts. And then one day they had the idea for Elusion, and the rest is the future.
The lovely Lisa Ann Scott, author of the enchanting debut novel SCHOOL OF CHARM, stopped by recently to answer our “opening the book” questions. In case you missed it, here’s a little intro and sneak peek of the book from earlier this year. And now, without further ado . . . Lisa Ann Scott!
Which was your favorite book from childhood, and what are you reading right now? I am reading fellow Class of 2K14 member Rebecca Behrens’ adorable middle-grade novel, When Audrey Met Alice. Can I claim the entire Little House series as my favorite book growing up? [WE SAY "YES!"]
What is your secret talent? While I tend to kill most indoor plants, I have beautiful outdoor gardens and a koi pond. People tell me I should design gardens for a living. But then I wouldn’t have time to write!
Fill in the blank: My two kids always make me laugh.
My current obsessions are . . . Whatever series I’ve found on Netflix, HBO GO etc. that I will binge watch. (Game of Thrones and Dexter are recent addictions.)
Any gem of advice for aspiring writers? Never give up. (See story below.)
Finish this sentence: I hope a person who reads my book . . . . . . looks for real life magic in their world, and remembers all the wonderful things about themselves that make them unique and special.
How did you come to write this book? Grab a snack and sit back for this answer. The seeds of this story came from a dream. I woke one morning with the image of a lovely older woman standing in a clearing in the forest. She was surrounded by a small group of girls and it was clear she was teaching them something, but she had a very knowing look on her face, like there was a secret they had yet to learn. Now most people would have shrugged and thought, hey, weird dream. But when you’re a writer, something like that tugs at the imagination. So I walked around with this story in my head for a while, trying to figure out who was there and why they were there. I wrote this during my lunch breaks when I was working as a news anchor back in 2007. In 2008, I started the query process, looking for an agent. But then I lost my job, and that grief on top of the inevitable rejection that comes with the query process was just too much to take. So I set the book aside and actually stopped writing for a while. It wasn’t long before I was writing again (romance!) and in 2011, took another look at the manuscript. I thought, hey this is pretty good, and a writer friend urged me to send it out again. So I did. To one agent. And then I remembered how much I hated the query process and stopped. But that one lovely agent, Jennifer Unter, loved the book and sold it a few months later.
THE ISLANDS OF CHALDEA, a new, stand-alone novel of magic and adventure, is the last book from the beloved Diana Wynne Jones. Almost finished upon her death in 2011, the manuscript was completed by Diana’s sister Ursula Jones, a popular author and actress.
Read on for some lovely thoughts from Ursula on growing up with such a talented storyteller for a sister and on the challenges of finishing her sister’s work . . .
When I first read this lovely, searching, last novel by my sister, Diana Wynne Jones, it stopped short where she became too ill to continue. It was a shock: it was like being woken from sleepwalking or nearly running off the edge of a cliff. It had elements of a much happier time in our childhood, too.
Diana wrote her first full-length novel when she was fourteen years old. It filled a series of exercise books, and she would read the newest section to us, her two younger sisters, in bed at night. When she suddenly stopped reading, we would wail, “Go on, go on. What happens next?” and she’d say, “Don’t you understand? I haven’t written any more yet.” And we would go to sleep, agog for the next section. It always duly turned up the next night, which is where the present day diverged so unhappily from our childhood past. This time, the next section couldn’t turn up. Her book had ended without an ending.
Diana Wynne Jones was such a masterly storyteller that it was impossible to imagine where she planned to take it. She left no notes: she never ever made any. Her books always came straight out of her extraordinary mind onto the page, and she never discussed her work while it was in progress. There was not so much as a hint of what she was up to, and it seemed The Islands of Chaldea was lost to its readers.
Then the family suggested that I might complete it. I was nervous. Diana was my big sister, and big sisters notoriously don’t like kid sisters messing with their stuff. Particularly when the big sister in question is very good at her stuff. Nevertheless, her family and friends had a meeting to pool their ideas on how the story might continue. We were all steeped in her work. We’d all known her well. Everyone was sure that, by the end of the afternoon, we would come up with something. We didn’t; she had us all stumped. Eventually, Diana’s son closed the session with, “Well, Ursula, you’ll just have to make it up.”
It took months. I scoured the text for those clues that Diana always dropped for her readers as to where the narrative was headed, and which I’d always unfailingly overlooked until I’d read the final page. I hadn’t changed. I found nothing.
Initially, I was working at the National Theatre in London, too (I’m an actress when I’m wearing my other hat), and the play I was in was full of eerie happenings and second sight. I would catch the bus home across the river after the show and dream weird and often frightening dreams as I tried to break into my sister’s thinking. I believe I got even closer to her at this point than I was during her lifetime. But although I hunted and pondered, nothing came to me. Then, just as I was beginning to feel like a sous chef, endlessly producing flat soufflés under the slightly disapproving gaze of the Chef, I found one of her clues. I found it near the beginning of her manuscript. And we were off!
When I started to write, it came easily. It was almost as if Diana were at my elbow, prompting, prodding, turning sentences around, working alongside—and then it was finished, and she was gone again. That was a terrible wrench. But her book was there—complete.
So far, no one who has come to The Islands of Chaldea freshly has spotted exactly where Diana Wynne Jones left off and I begin. Perhaps you will be able to, perhaps you won’t. It doesn’t really matter. It is intrinsically and utterly her book, and I hope you and all its readers love it as much as I do.
Alexandra Duncan’s debut novel Salvage has taken the world by storm. As Stephanie Perkins (author of Anna and the French Kiss) says, this book is “kick-ass, brilliant, feminist science fiction.” And boy is she right.
Her life is a shadow of a life. Her future is not her own to fashion.
Her family is a tangle of secrets. She cannot read. She cannot write.
But she is Parastrata Ava, the Captain’s eldest daughter, the so girl of a long-range crewe—her obligations are grave and many.
And when she makes a mistake, in a fragrant orchard of lemons, the consequences are deadly.
There are some who would say, there but for the Mercies go I.
There are some who would say Parastrata Ava is just a silly earthstruck girl who got what was coming to her.
But they don’t know the half of it.
We were lucky to have debut author Alexandra Duncan swing by The Pageturn and talk to us about writing, reading, and how Salvage came about!
Which was your favorite book from childhood, and what are you reading right now?
It’s so hard to pick one favorite book. I think I had a new one every week when I was growing up. (Come to think of it, that’s probably still true.) One of the ones that really stuck with me and that I still have on my bookshelf at home is The Girl Who Owned a City, by O.T. Nelson. I loved post-apocalyptic survival stories, especially ones where all of the adults were dead or otherwise incapacitated, which is exactly what happens in The Girl Who Owned a City.
Right now I’m reading A Dance With Dragons, by George R.R. Martin, the most recent book in the Song of Ice and Fire series. I have to stay ahead of the HBO show!
What is your secret talent?
I make a mean apple pie, crust and all. I have a 96% success rate. I’ve only ever caught one pie on fire, and that wasn’t entirely my fault.
Fill in the blank: _______ always makes me laugh.
My husband. I might be biased, but I think he’s pretty hilarious.
My current obsessions are…
Podcasts. I can listen to them while I’m doing chores or exercising. (Yay, multitasking!) Right now, my favorites are a podcast about pseudoscience and religion called Oh No, Ross and Carrie! and Welcome to Nightvale, which is kind of hard to explain. Just imagine what would happen if H.P. Lovecraft and David Lynch created a town and that town had a public radio station.
Any gem of advice for aspiring writers?
Support each other. Writing looks like a solitary occupation, but I don’t know a single author who has succeeded without moral support and advice from friends. Celebrate each other’s victories and cheer each other up when you hit one of writing’s inevitable stumbling blocks. You’ll all go farther and be happier for it in the end.
Finish this sentence: I hope a person who reads my book…
Sees the world in a new way. One of my favorite things about science fiction and fantasy is that they can be used to re-frame today’s problems and let people see them from an entirely different angle.
How did you come to write this book?
Salvage started life with a short story I wrote called “Bad Matter,” which was published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in 2009. It took place among the merchant crewes that appear in Salvage. When I finished the short story, I knew I wanted to explore their culture further and tell more stories set in that world.
Salvage was a very personal book for me. A lot of the inspiration for the crewes’ culture came from growing up as the stepdaughter of a minister in a small town church in rural North Carolina. It was a very tight-knit and insular environment where there were very strict expectations about behavior, especially for women and girls. It was very much like growing up inside a large extended family. I also drew inspiration from my travels to Haiti and Nicaragua as a teenager, and my time studying abroad in Spain during college. Those experiences shaped my version of a future Earth.
In some ways, Ava’s journey is similar to my own. I consider myself a feminist, but I wouldn’t have said so as a teenager. It wasn’t until I left home and struck out on my own at 18 that I began to understand my worth as a human being. I hope Salvage helps other girls learn the same thing about themselves. I hope it makes them feel like they aren’t alone.
Where do stories come from? Sometimes we have to travel to find them, journeying within or experiencing what happens in our paths along the way. Recently I was taking a new book, Abuelo, to Argentina, to people who had inspired it.
People arrive, events occur, that later become essential stories in each of our lives. Clearly, what becomes important is not the same for each person. But often, the stories that happen while we are young stay with us, and can help carry us through the rest of our lives. For my friend Aldo, who is Argentinean, riding La Pampa, the wide plains and foothills of Argentina when he was a boy with his “Abuelo Gaucho”—Grandfather Cowboy—has given him stories, a relationship and a strong place to return to that have helped him ride free through the years.
Granddaughter Victoria and her father Ricardo read Abuelo for the first time.
Aldo’s great grandfather Redmond arrived from Ireland in the 1840′s to a land that “had a lot of beef.” Argentines come in all colors and with names from many cultural backgrounds–from English to Italian, Lebanese to northern European, not just the Hispanic surnames that many associate with Latin America. Aldo explained to me that the popular way to address someone in a friendly way, saying “Che”— something akin to “hello friend”— likely comes from a Guarani Indian word.Like the US, South America is a quilt built of many cultures, from Indian to European to African, and more. But back to Aldo and his young days riding the range with Abuelo Gaucho, that first inspired me to write Abuelo.
As a boy, Aldo lived in a small town in La Pampa where raising cattle was a major enterprise. Cowboys— called gauchos— rode through the streets and sometimes brought herds to load onto the nearby trains. Aldo’s father worked for the railroad. Aldo would see the gauchos in town, and one older gaucho who knew his family well would say to Aldo that he should learn to ride a horse and the ways of the gauchos, that he would teach him. With the permission of Aldo’s family, on Sundays, the gaucho’s day off, the old gaucho began to teach Aldo— first to ride, how to guide and talk to the horse, how to find his way securely on the pampas. Over the years they rode out, the old gaucho on his horse, and Aldo on his own. Grandfather, or Abuelo, Redmond had died before Aldo was born, and so the old gaucho became like a grandfather to Aldo.
Arthur gives Aldo a copy of Abuelo
When Aldo grew up, he moved away from the small town of Roberts and “Abuelo Gaucho” to the city of Rosario to find work at a newspaper, and eventually for a bank. Throughout many changes, Aldo could return to La Pampa and Abuelo Gaucho in his mind. At a bank meeting that was droning on for hours, Aldo, who had been very active and successful in his work, was silent for a time. When someone at the meeting looked at him being so quiet and asked “where is Aldo?” a friend who knew him well said, “he is on La Pampa.” Throughout his life, he has found strength there.
Now in his eighties, Aldo says that relationships between people are most important. His daughter and her family, his grandchildren live nearby. They know some of the great stories of their Abuelo Aldo, and his wife, Abuela Delia, who is a wonderful artist. Among the drawings I admired in their home was one of a gaucho, which thanks to Delia I now have with me. More tales there. I watched as Aldo saw and read Abuelo for the first time.He smiled at connections to places and relationships he has known so well. When I visited granddaughter Victoria’s school, the students, who see gauchos still, recognized the story and beautiful pictures drawn by Raúl Colón, cheered, and raced to tell new tales they found in their own lives— a fountain of youth and stories.
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Arthur Dorros views being a writer as like being a traveling detective. He finds ideas all around. He learned Spanish while living in Latin America, and many of his stories, such as Abuelo, grow from those experiences. Arthur is the author of many books for children, including Julio’s Magic, a CLASP Américas Award Commended Title; Papá and Me, a Pura Belpré Honor Book, and the popular Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out Science book Ant Cities. He lives in Seattle, Washington.
GALAPAGOS GEORGE is the story of the famous Lonesome George, a giant tortoise who was the last of his species, lived to be one hundred years old, and became known as the rarest creature in the world. This incredible evolution story by renowned naturalist and Newbery Medal winner Jean Craighead George gives readers a glimpse of the amazing creatures inhabiting the ever-fascinating Galápagos Islands, complete with back matter that features key terms, a timeline, and further resources for research.
Identify the main purpose of a text, including what the author wants to answer, explain, or describe. Use information gained from the illustrations and words in a book to demonstrate understanding of its characters, setting, or plot. Describe the overall structure of a story, including describing how the beginning introduces the story and the ending concludes the action.
And you can use the following questions to help start a specific discussion about this book or a general discussion about informational texts and/or literature:
How does a reader determine the genre of a particular book? What characteristics apply to GALAPAGOS GEORGE? RI.2.5, RL.2.3
What elements of a book help the reader determine the main idea? What details support the main idea? RI.2.2, RL.2.2
How do the illustrationscontribute to the text (characters, setting, and plot)? RI.2.7, RL.2.7
Math is everywhere! That’s a message I always try to get across to kids, teachers and parents in my MathStart books and presentations. Too often, when students leave math class, I hear them say, “I’m done with my math.” Yet they never say “I’m done with my words” after reading and language arts. Well, just like words, you can’t do much without math. Math is an integral part of sports and music. You need math to go shopping, check on the time and count the number of candles on your birthday cake!
“Who Says Math Has to Be Boring?”—that was the eye-opening question posed in a recent New York Times editorial headline. Several improvements to math education were listed in the article, with early exposure to mathematical concepts singled out as a particularly rich area for improvement. In fact, new research suggests that children as young as three may be math-ready. It turns out we are wired for math!
The interest in early math is part of a larger movement to support universal Pre-K in the US—a rare non-partisan issue with the President and Congress as well as governors and mayors in dozens of states declaring their support. Over just the last year, 30 states have increased funding, while Congress has budgeted $1 billion for programs. The US military is also on board in a big way through Mission Readiness, an effort spearheaded by a who’s who list of retired generals and admirals.
THE COMMON CORE
Another important trend in education is the adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) currently being implemented in 45 states, the District of Columbia, four territories and the Department of Defense schools. Teachers, librarians, parents, and caregivers of children are clamoring for ways to effectively address the broad-reaching goals of the CCSS. These goals require elementary school educators to develop a new mind-set regarding their role in advancing mathematics education, as well as a new skill set for facilitating the teaching and learning of mathematical concepts.
Visual learning describes how we gather and process information from illustrations, diagrams, graphs, symbols, photographs, icons and other models. Since visual learning strategies build on children’s innate talent to interpret visual information, they can play an important role in reaching the goals of the CCSS for Mathematics. Visual models help students understand difficult concepts, make connections to other areas of learning and build mathematical comprehension. They are especially relevant for the youngest learners, who are accomplished visual learners even as pre-readers.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
“Math Skills are Life Skills!” That’s the motto of the kids in the Main Street Kids’ Club a musical based on six MathStart stories.
A good grounding in math from an early age is critical and visual learning strategies can play an important role. Children who are comfortable with mathematical concepts and understand that they use math all the time are more likely to do well in school and in everything else, too. It is a formula for success!
Stuart J. Murphy is a Boston-based visual learning specialist, author and consultant. He is the author of the award-winning MathStartseries (HarperCollins), which includes a total of 63 children’s books that present mathematical concepts in the context of stories for Pre-K through Grade 4. (Over 10 million copies sold.) He is also the author of Stuart J. Murphy’s I SEE I LEARN (Charlesbridge), a 16-book series of storybooks for children in Pre-K, Kindergarten, and Grade 1 that focus on social, emotional, health and safety, and cognitive skills. Most of all, Stuart is an advocate of helping our children develop their visual learning skills so that they become more successful students.
The recently-published FOUNDING MOTHERS, by Cokie Roberts, presents the incredible accomplishments of the women who orchestrated the American Revolution behind the scenes.
In this vibrant nonfiction picture book, Roberts traces the stories of heroic, patriotic women such as Abigail Adams, Martha Washington, Phillis Wheatley, Mercy Otis Warren, Sarah Livingston Jay, and others through their personal correspondence, private journals, ledgers and lists, and even favored recipes. The extraordinary triumphs of these women created a shared bond that urged the founding fathers to “Remember the Ladies.”
Here are some Common Core objectives that FOUNDING MOTHERS can help meet:
Refer to details and examples in a text when explaining what the text says explicitly and when drawing inferences from the text.
Describe the overall structure of events, ideas, concepts, or information in a text or part of a text.
Explain how an author uses reasons and evidence to support particular points in a text.
And here are some questions you can use and build on for a Common Core-ready lesson:
How does the structure of nonfiction text affect how we understand the material? RI.5.5
What composite structure does the author use to shape events, ideas, concepts and information? RI.5.5
What is the author’s purpose for writing this book? Do you think the author is a reliable source? Discuss. RI.5.8, SL.5.1d, SL.5.4
We’ll be highlighting lots more titles and how they can be used to support the Common Core in the coming months, so be sure to check back often for our Common Core Spotlight feature!
We’re so proud of our award-winning authors, and we’d love for you to be able to use these great books in your classroom right away (if you aren’t already, of course)! Read on for some teaching resources to help jump-start discussions and lessons centered around these stellar titles . . .
Here are a handful of images from NELSON MANDELA that you can use as visual inspiration for lessons or projects on history, politics, biography, or even just to print and hang in your classroom or library.
Don’t forget to check out our Common Core Resources page for lots more teaching guides, discussion guides, lesson ideas, and more!
Working in children’s books, there are few days that can compare to the Monday morning of the ALA Midwinter conference, when the ALA Youth Media Awards are announced. Cheers and gasps follow the announcement of every award named, and hugs and happiness end the conference on the highest of notes. What a great day for authors, illustrators, librarians, teachers, publishing professionals, and book lovers all over the world! We are so honored that awards committees named the following HarperCollins Children’s Books titles amongst the best and the brightest this year:
Coretta Scott King Author Award to Rita Williams-Garcia, for P.S. BE ELEVEN
We’re grateful to publish these books, written and illustrated by the most creative, dedicated folks we know, and put them into your hands, the teachers and librarians who give them to children and promote a life-long love of learning. What a fine day to do what we do!
We’re thrilled to introduce our New Voices picks for Winter 2014! We absolutely loved these four debut novels, and we think you will, too. Be sure to click on the links below to read the first chapter of each title, and if you’re hungry for more, comment and we’ll send you a galley (while supplies last).
And now, without further ado . . .
SALVAGE, by Alexandra Duncan, is a sweeping, epic, literary science fiction story with a feminist twist. Teenaged Ava has lived aboard the male-dominated, conservative deep space merchant ship Parastrata her whole life. When a passionate mistake causes Ava’s people to turn against her, she faces banishment and death. Taking her fate into her own hands, she flees to the Gyre, a floating continent of garbage and scrap in the Pacific Ocean. Her struggle to survive outside the insular world of her childhood is harrowing, full of surprises, and constantly thrilling. You’ll be rooting for Ava all the way! Read the first chapter here!
FAKING NORMAL, by Courtney C. Stevens, is a powerful, moving story about a teen girl struggling to forget a traumatic experience from her recent past. Alexi Littrell hasn’t told anyone what happened to her over the summer by her backyard pool. Instead, she hides in her closet, counts the slats in the air vent, and compulsively scratches the back of her neck, trying to make the outside hurt more than the inside does. When Bodee Lennox—”the Kool-Aid Kid”—moves in with the Littrells after a family tragedy, Alexi discovers an unlikely friend in this quiet, awkward boy who has secrets of his own. As their friendship grows, Alexi gives him the strength to deal with his past, and Bodee helps her summon the courage to find her voice and speak up. Read the first chapter here!
CRUEL BEAUTY, by Rosamund Hodge, is a dazzling twist on the story of Beauty and the Beast. Betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom, Nyx has always known her fate was to marry him, kill him, and free her people from his tyranny. But on her seventeenth birthday, when she moves into his castle high on the kingdom’s mountaintop, nothing is as she expected—particularly her charming and beguiling new husband. Nyx knows she must save her homeland at all costs, yet she can’t resist the pull of her sworn enemy—who’s gotten in her way by stealing her heart. Read the first chapter here!
SCHOOL OF CHARM, by Lisa Ann Scott, is an enchanting story full of spirit and hope, with a hint of magic. Eleven-year-old Chip has always been her daddy’s girl, so when he dies she pins her hopes on winning a beauty pageant to show her family of southern belles that she still belongs. The problem is, she’d rather be covered in mud than makeup! Can a rough-and-tumble girl ever become a beauty queen? SCHOOL OF CHARM tells the tale of one girl’s struggle with a universal question: How do you stay true to yourself and find a way to belong at the same time? Read the first chapter here!
Stay tuned for “Opening the Book” Q&A’s with the authors and insightful words from the editors of these fantastic New Voices!
In He Said, She Said, I set out to tell a simple love story about Omar, a popular, but shallow boy, who literally tries to change the world to get the attentions of Harvard-bound Claudia, a talented girl who’s uninterested in him. (Okay, maybe that’s not so simple). During this writing journey, an assortment of books and quotes and poems I’ve loved began to creep up on me, begging to be included in the story. And they wouldn’t stop. So I let them in.
He Said She Said is most definitely a tale of teenage love. But it is also an ode to the power of Pablo Neruda, Pat Conroy, Marjory Wentworth—the poet laureate of South Carolina—Alice Walker, and all of the writers who shaped me. The writers who helped this callow-schoolboy-now-writer find his voice. It’s a testament to the transformative power of love and words, in helping us become better people.
You see, I grew up in a home where my father was a writer, professor, and book publisher, and my mother was a storyteller who taught English at the local college. We didn’t watch television. Correction: We couldn’t watch television. If we were lucky, we’d catch reruns of Lucy or westerns on Saturday, but only when my father was travelling. Our house was a Wal-Mart of books. And reading was our hobby. Our play date. And when we misbehaved, our punishment. While my friends entertained themselves with board and video games, my shelves were lined with Eric Carle, Nikki Giovanni, Eloise Greenfield, and Lucille Clifton’s Everett Anderson’s books. I knew those books, word for word. This is what I know: In my home the words came alive. There were read-alouds before breakfast and reader’s theater after dinner. We were shown that there were whole new worlds present in each page. I have an appreciation for books, much like athletes who’ve played football since pee wee league, or musicians who’ve played piano since they could walk. Sure, I write because I can, because I love the way words can get together and dance. But, the most important reason I write is because I want others to fall in love with the power of words just like I did (even when I didn’t know it).
And find their own voice, just like Omar does in He Said, She Said.
Kwame Alexander has written fifteen books, owned several publishing companies, written for television (TLC’s Hip Hop Harry), recorded a CD, performed around the world, produced jazz and book festivals, hosted a weekly radio show, worked for the US government, and taught in a high school. Recently, Kwame was a visiting writer in Brazil and Africa. He resides in the Washington, DC, area, where he is the founding director of Book-in-a-Day (BID), a program that teaches and empowers teenagers to write and publish their own books.
I’m supposed to blog about my writing journey and I’ve been struggling with the best way to tackle the task. There are a lot of years between when I first put pen to paper and now, and there are ways to frame the interim events so that the story is epic, or action-packed (if by action you’re referring to my swift typing), or sad, maybe even tragic. Conversely, it could be pure comedy if I cherry pick moments and set up the jokes properly. Decisions, decisions. Thus is the burden of writers. We control worlds.
Being the benevolent ruler that I am, I won’t wring tears from you today (go ahead, kiss the ring). Instead, I’ll give you a timeline of highlights and speed bumps along my path…
Age 4: I’m not fully grasping the English language yet, but have no problem interpreting Spider-Man punching Doc Ock in the face. More comic books please.
Age 6: Mom often says no when I ask for a new G.I. Joe or Transformer. She always says yes when I ask for books. There’s something important here. Must explore further.
Age 7: Reading is fun. I can’t believe people actually make up these stories. Hmmm, what if I tried making up some of my own?
Age 8: First place in my grade’s Young Author contest. I don’t know if I’ve ever won anything before. They must really like my story about a giant dinosaur emerging from a box of breakfast cereal. This is encouraging. Maybe I’ll keep going.
Age 11: I read IT by Stephen King (not something I recommend if you’re 11 and care to sleep without concerns of demonic clowns floating over you in the dark, however…) and my life changes. I want to do what this guy does.
Age 14: I start my first novel (yeah, took me 3 years, sue me), but reading is less fun. I’m in high school, and most of the “important” books are by and about people who look nothing like me. How should I take that? Not well.
Age 17: I finish that first novel. It’s a monstrous 600 pages, and it’s terrible. I’m discouraged. Not because I wrote a bad first novel (all the research I’ve done on working writers suggests first novels are often bad), but because I’m still not able to find the kinds of books I like by or about people like me. There are no black or brown Stephen Kings that I’m aware of. I search harder, but I’m losing hope. Maybe I’m wasting my time.
Age 18: I’m in college, and the call to decide ‘what I’m going to do with my life’ is louder than ever. At one time I would have shouted, “write books!” I have less conviction now. Less voice. I hear there are great careers in computer technology.
Age 19: I discover My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due. THIS BOOK. IS. AMAZING! It’s speculative fiction (or dark fantasy/horror, if you prefer…really the only label it needs is “excellent”), kind of like what Stephen King does, but a thing all its own. Ms. Due is black. Her characters are like me. Fully fleshed, not meant to give some other character comic relief, or wisdom, or time to escape while death looms. I read MSTK in one sitting. Then immediately track down her first book, The Between (much harder to do in the days before Amazon left things on your doorstep). There is hope.
Age 20: Blood Brothers by Steven Barnes. Another amazing book that hits all the marks for me. With an added bonus, Mr. Barnes is a dude (an awesome, sci-fi, martial arts dude). My hope from before amplifies into this badass Jedi-style new hope. I start semi-stalking researching him and discover (wait for it) HE’S FREAKIN’ MARRIED TO TANANARIVE DUE!!! Oh my God! I don’t know what to make of this new information (other than I’m easily excited). I feel the universe is telling me something, though. Like, keep going.
Age 21 – 30: Yep, nearly a decade. Each year could constitute its own post, but I’m not going to do it to you. Here’s what you need to know. I write a lot. Get rejected a lot. Start having small successes with short fiction, and I independently publish some longer work. I feel like quitting sometimes, but never can let the words go. I still don’t see people like me represented in many books (or TV, or movies…that’s another conversation), but I hang on to a quote I discovered shortly after reading Ms. Due and Mr. Barnes. It’s from Toni Morrison, one of the important writers who do look like me. She says, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Well, okay then.
Age 31: A single editor takes a chance on WHISPERTOWN, my high school murder mystery about a black teen boy with a unique past and exciting—if not pleasant—future. It’s not exactly Stephen King. Or Due. Or Barnes. But there are monsters in it. The human kind. I’m standing on the shoulders of giants and the view is just fine.
Now: As I write this, a copy of my novel sits on my desk in all its pre-pub glory. Soon it will have to make its own way in the world. Regardless of what happens next, a lifelong dream is realized. My journey has led me here, to FAKE ID (formerly WHISPERTOWN). It’s a book I want to read.
I hope you feel the same.
Lamar “L. R.” Giles writes stories for teens and adults. He’s never met a genre he didn’t like, having penned science fiction, fantasy, horror, and noir thrillers, among others. He is a Virginia native, Hopewell High Blue Devil, and Old Dominion University Monarch. He resides in Chesapeake, Virginia with his wife. Learn more about him at www.lrgiles.com.
Well, fellow readers, today is Friday the 13th. And while I know that the real twelve days of Christmas actually begin on Christmas day, I’m going to go out on a yule log here and say that with twelve days until December 25th, this Friday the 13th must be some kind of fluke celestial alignment. What better way to celebrate a fluke celestial alignment than reading an awesome middle grade series?
Well, just in case that (admittedly tenuous) segue isn’t clear, here are 13 more reasons to read Case File 13 by J. Scott Savage, a series I love first and just happen to edit second:
13. Our heroes, Nick, Carter, and Angelo, are obsessed with all things monster. At nearly thirteen(!) years of age, they’re probably a little too old to be dressing up for Halloween, but don’t tell them that—they fly their geek banner proudly, even going so far as to call themselves the Monsterteers.
12. In a starred review of book one, Kirkus said, “It’s hard to imagine that readers won’t enjoy every minute of hair-raising fun.” In their review of book two, Kirkus said, “The addition of the girls not only broadens the book’s appeal, but adds a humorous layer of boy-girl interaction that preteen readers will get a kick out of. Another thoroughly satisfying thrill ride.”
11. About those girl rivals: If anyone knows more about monsters than Nick, Carter, and Angelo, it’s Angie, Tiffany, and Dana. Seriously—when’s the last time you read a book where a trio of girls willingly raced through cemeteries, morgues, and haunted castles-slash-private schools?
10. If you think Doug Holgate’s art on the covers is something, wait until you see what he’s done with the interiors. The frontispiece in book two (pictured above) is frame-worthy, although please note I don’t advocate tearing out pages to put in a frame unless you buy another copy to keep intact.
9. The books are scary and funny, yes, but they also pack some remarkably satisfying mysteries and adventures. Don’t let the under-300-page-count fool you—these books are epic.
8. This is one of those rare middle grade adventures where even though the kids star the show and save the day, the adult characters are fully formed and believable, too. For example, Nick’s dad has that sense of humor all hip dads and embarrassed sons will recognize, and Carter’s oversized family is the clear origin of Carter’s oversized personality.
7. Each book features a new monster villain and pays homage to a different kind of classic horror movie. Book one was all about zombies—the real kind steeped in Louisiana voodoo magic—while book two is the mad scientist caper a la Frankenstein. In book three, which comes out next summer, the kids go on a camping trip to rival Blair Witch and come back with a creature far scarier than Gizmo. I’d tell you what happens in book four, but I’m afraid it might unlock some kind of ancient curse on you…
6. The boys film a monster movie to enter into their class assignment on “Building a Brighter Tomorrow.” How on earth is that an appropriate entry? Um, they’ll have to get back to you on that.
5. This Amazon customer review of book one: “My 10-year-old son is a good reader who prefers graphic novels and “Diary of a Wimpy Kid”-type books to chapter books. I ordered this book for him specifically because it looked like his type of story— but without pictures. The day I gave it to him, I told him he could read 30 mins before “lights out.” Well, he begged to stay up and keep reading. Then last night, he asked me if I would wake him up early so he could read the last 20 pages before getting ready for school. I’d say asking to be roused early on a school morning to read indicates a darn good book.”
4. A mysterious narrator who may or may not be a librarian makes occasional appearances throughout the series. In ominous warnings and funny asides, “B.B.” introduces each book and each chapter with notes like, “What do Abraham Lincoln, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Queen Elizabeth I have in common? And no, I’m pretty sure the first two didn’t wear crowns.”
3. Book one, Zombie Kid, was an Amazon Best Book of the Month and a Whitney Award Finalist.
2. Did I mention the hardcovers are only $14.99? That’s like, stocking stuffer prices right there.
1. And the number one reason to read Case File 13 on Friday the 13th is…Nick, Carter, and Angelo. These guys are awesome. They’re like if the Buffy gang and the Goonies passed their combined torch onto some kids today. They have one another’s backs and they feel like your new best friends. They don’t always get things right but they always mean well, and they keep stumbling into danger, which is why we love them. Author James Dashner put it best: “Nick and his friends are my new favorite people.”
So, what are you waiting for? Shamble, don’t walk, to the nearest bookstore, or just start reading online right now. You’ll be glad you have a book when this celestial alignment goes south and fast!
I hated school. This probably isn’t something I should admit, but it’s true. For me, school was hours and hours of stuff I had no interest in learning, shoulder to shoulder with people I didn’t like. In my classmates’ defense, they didn’t like me either. I was smaller, younger, and had zero filter on my mouth.
For those of you playing along at home, that’s math even I can do. Smart mouth and bigger classmates equal Romily being stuffed into lockers twice and tossed into a Dumpster once. Eventually I learned how to outrun them, but not before I had to spend an entire afternoon smelling like dead pizza so, yeah, school wasn’t great.
But Mrs. King was. I had her for World History and our relationship started favorably (at least in my mind) because she put me at the back of the room. This was a great development because most teachers liked to put me in between problem students. Basically, I was supposed to play Switzerland and, let’s be honest, I don’t have the temperament for that.
Anyway, just like our other history teachers, Mrs. King started the semester in ancient Mesopotamia and ended us in modern Europe, but it was the way she taught us the events that really sticks with me. We didn’t just learn there was a girl called Joan of Arc, we learned why and how she might have happened. It wasn’t just that there was an ancient Chinese general called Yuan Chonghuan, it was more about how his life would have possibly shaped him.
For a writer, this was invaluable. She was essentially teaching character motivation, but, honestly, she was also teaching empathy. People are products of their environments and experiences and it’s not always pretty. I’ve thought about that a lot over the years. I may not remember specific battles from World War II, but I do remember to think about what someone else might be going through, which is probably one of the best lessons of all.
Romily Bernard is a debut author who graduated in Literature and Spanish from Georgia State University. She lives with her partner in Atlanta, riding horses and working in corporate law. FIND ME was a finalist in the 2012 Golden Heart Awards and placed first in the 2011 YA Unpublished Maggie Awards (given by Georgia Romace Writers).