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1. Finding the Fountain of Youth and Stories

Aldo and family read through Abuelo

Aldo and family read through Abuelo

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.

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

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.

 

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2. COMMON CORE SPOTLIGHT: GALAPAGOS GEORGE

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.

Galapagos George

Here are some Common Core objectives that GALAPAGOS GEORGE can help meet:

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:

  1. How does a reader determine the genre of a particular book? What characteristics apply to GALAPAGOS GEORGE? RI.2.5, RL.2.3
  2. What elements of a book help the reader determine the main idea? What details support the main idea? RI.2.2, RL.2.2
  3. How do the illustrations contribute to the text (characters, setting, and plot)? RI.2.7, RL.2.7

GALAPAGOS GEORGE will be available next week!

 

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3. Math Skills are Life Skills: Early Math, the Common Core, Visual Learning and MathStart

 

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!

mathstart1START EARLY

“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

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.

mathstart2

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!

sjmurphy_5941Stuart J. Murphy is a Boston-based visual learning specialist, author and consultant. He is the author of the award-winning MathStart series (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.

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4. COMMON CORE SPOTLIGHT: FOUNDING MOTHERS

The recently-published FOUNDING MOTHERS, by Cokie Roberts, presents the incredible accomplishments of the women who orchestrated the American Revolution behind the scenes.

Founding Mothers

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:

  1. How does the structure of nonfiction text affect how we understand the material? RI.5.5
  2. What composite structure does the author use to shape events, ideas, concepts and information? RI.5.5
  3. 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!

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5. Favorite Teachers: Romily Bernard

FindMe

Romily Bernard’s Debut, Find Me

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).

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6. RESOURCES FOR OUR AWARD WINNERS

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 . . .

billy miller

penny and her

Here’s a downloadable Kevin Henkes Author Study that includes Common Core-aligned teaching guides for THE YEAR OF BILLY MILLER, PENNY AND HER MARBLE, and several more Kevin Henkes titles.

PBbeELEVEN_HC_Ceps

Here’s a downloadable Common Core-aligned discussion guide for Rita Williams-Garcia’s P.S. BE ELEVEN, and one for ONE CRAZY SUMMER, as well.

nelson mandela

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.

Mandela image 1
Mandela image 2
Mandela image 3

Don’t forget to check out our Common Core Resources page for lots more teaching guides, discussion guides, lesson ideas, and more!

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7. HARPERCOLLINS CHILDREN’S BOOKS ALA AWARD WINNERS

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:

ps beCoretta Scott King Author Award to Rita Williams-Garcia, for P.S. BE ELEVEN

billy millerNewbery Honor to Kevin Henkes, for THE YEAR OF BILLY MILLER.

handbookSchneider Family Book Award for Middle Grade to Merrie Haskell, for HANDBOOK FOR DRAGON SLAYERS

penny and herTheodor Seuss Geisel Honor to Kevin Henkes for PENNY AND HER MARBLE

dariusCoretta Scott King Author Honor to Walter Dean Myers, for DARIUS & TWIG

nelson mandelaCoretta Scott King Illustrator Honor to Kadir Nelson, for NELSON MANDELA

tito puentePura Belpre Illustrator Honor to Rafael Lopez for TITO PUENTE, MAMBO KING (written by Monica Brown)

 

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!

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8. WINTER 2014 NEW VOICES SNEAK PEEK!

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

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

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

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

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!

 

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9. He Said, She Said

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.

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10. How I Became a Writer

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 langua9780062121844[1]ge 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.

This was originally posted on Epic Reads.

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11. 13 Reasons to Read Case File 13

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?

case files 13

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!

Andrew Harwell is the editor of Case File 13.

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12. SEE YOU AT NCTE 2013!

ncte 2013

We’re packing up and heading up to Boston tomorrow for the Annual Conference of the National Council of Teachers of English. We’ll be in HarperCollins Children’s Books Booth #1008 every day, handing out materials aligned to the Common Core State Standards (like posters and teaching guides) and galleys galleys galleys!

Come say hello to the amazing authors who will be signing copies of their books:

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 22nd:
12:00–1:00pm, Jarrett Krosoczka
1:00–2:00pm, Anne Ursu
2:00–3:00pm, Hilary T. Smith
3:00–4:00pm, Rita Williams-Garcia
4:00–5:00pm, Kevin Emerson
*5:00–6:00pm, 50 Years Later C.S. Lewis Legacy Celebration! Come by for hot chocolate, cookies, a free copy of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and a free CCSS-aligned Narnia series Teaching Guide!*

SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 23rd:
10:00–11:00am, Patricia MacLachlan
12:00–1:00pm, Neal Shusterman
1:00–2:00pm, Jerry Spinelli
3:00–4:00pm, Pat Mora

SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 24th:
9:30–10:30am, Katie Cotugno
11:00am–12:00pm, Chris Crutcher

 

Hope to see you there!

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13. 150th Anniversary of the Gettysburg Address

Gettysburg_Illustration_1November 19, 2013 will commemorate the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. A few years ago I wrote and drew my first graphic novel: Gettysburg, The Graphic Novel, a non-fiction account of the famous civil war battle and the speech that followed. Creating that book was an intense and incredible challenge for me as I really wanted to do justice to the epic events I was depicting. This anniversary has me revisiting the memories of the process of creating that book.

When I set out to write Gettysburg, The Graphic Novel I had a couple of key goals I really wanted to achieve. The first and foremost I wanted this book to be a work of sound non-fiction history. This can be a difficult challenge for any book but I found it especially challenging when working in the medium of sequential art. Sequential art or as it’s more popularly known, comics, is an inherently subjective art form. The challenge for me was to bring the events and people of Gettysburg to life on the drawn page as closely to how they actually existed. In order to do this I decided that I would mainly rely on primary sources: letters, newspaper stories, speeches, and journals to construct everything from the images, text, and even the conversations. In the “Author Notes” section of the book I list references.

Gettysburg_Illustration_2

Primary sources were used to construct conversations and images.”]

I was also keenly aware that my drawings would also require as much research and attention to detail as with text. In this case I was very fortunate, because by the time of the American Civil War photography was common and much of the war and its related events were captured on film. This primary resource gave me the ability to more accurately depict people, places, and events as they really existed. I even depict photographer Timothy O’Sullivan as he photographed the aftermath of the battle.

Gettysburg_Illustration_3

Timothy O’Sullivan photographing the aftermath of the battle.

The second goal that I wanted to realize was to depict the incredible gravity of the events of the battle and the speech that would follow. In my research I often found that most books either focused solely on the battle or the address. I wanted to depict both, in a single book and by doing so illustrating to the reader the extraordinary heavy price of that battle and how it directly applies context to the speech.

In my pursuit of realism it was very important to me as wrote and drew this book that I did not glorify this battle. There were some amazingly heroic soldiers in this battle on both sides and incredible moments of valor but civil war combat was absolutely horrific. In 1863 you still had cavalry on horses fighting with swords charging against men with repeating rifles and early machine guns. Military tactics had not adjusted to the rising industrial age, and wouldn’t sadly until after World War I. Generals would use methods as old as the roman legions to attack entrenched cannons; more often than not it was an absolute massacre.

Gettysburg_Illustration_4

Pickett’s Charge: over 6500 confederates were wounded, killed, or captured in a single bungled attack.

In telling the complete story of the battle to the speech also allowed me to touch upon and often overlooked part of the story of Gettysburg: what happened after the battle until the address? What happened to the small Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg after the two armies departed? I was able to illustrate how that small town dealt with the eight thousand dead and nearly thirty thousand wounded left by the two armies and the construction of the Soldiers National Cemetery on the grounds of the battlefield.

Gettysburg_Illustration_5

Lincoln just before the Address.

I ended the graphic novel with Lincoln’s immortal address. This I chose to illustrate subjectively, attempting to bring his words to life through images inspired by the text. After 150 years this address is still relevant: a testament that the American experience is not a stagnant or fixed ideal but one of change and growth.

C. M. Butzer is editor-in-chief of Rabid Rabbit, a magazine anthology of comic artists. This is his first book. Butzer lives and works in Brooklyn, New York.

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14. HOORAY FOR THE HOLIDAYS!

The high is 82 degrees today in New York City, and yet it’s already time to talk holiday books! I’m soaking up this warm weather, because Winter will make its appearance the way it always does: abruptly and with no mercy… but when it does, books that evoke feelings like these–nostalgia, gratitude, love for family and friends, the magic of the holiday season– are what make it all worthwhile.

Check out new sure-to-be classics from the HarperCollins Children’s Books list:

thanksgiving day thanks

THANKSGIVING DAY THANKS
by Laura Malone Elliot, illustrated by Lynn Munsinger
ISBN: 9780060002367, $17.99
On sale now!

Thanksgiving is almost here and Sam’s class is excited for their Thanksgiving feast! Mary Ann is going to dress up like Squanto. Winston’s building a popsicle-stick Mayflower. Jeffrey’s organizing a pumpkin pie-making contest. Everyone already knows the one special thing they are thankful for—everyone but Sam, that is. When something goes wrong with Sam’s surprise project, will the class be able to save it? Will Sam discover what he’s thankful for?  From the author/illustrator combination of A STRING OF HEARTS.

 

the twelve days of christmas

THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS
written and illustrated by Susan Jeffers
ISBN: 9780062066152, $17.99
On sale now!

Splendidly rendered in Susan Jeffers’s breathtaking panoramic spreads, this jovial interpretation of a holiday classic will have readers of all ages singing their way through the holidays.

 

merry christmas splat

MERRY CHRISTMAS, SPLAT!
by Rob Scotton
ISBN: 9780062124500 $9.99
On sale now!

It’s the night before Christmas and Splat wonders if he’s been a good enough cat this year to deserve a really big present. Just to make sure, Splat offers some last-minute help to his mom—but messes up completely! That night Splat stays awake hoping to see Santa Claus, only to miss him. Splat is sure his Christmas is ruined along with his hopes for a really big present. It turns out that Splat may have been on the nice list after all!
santa claus and the three bears

SANTA CLAUS AND THE THREE BEARS
by Maria Modugno, illustrated by Jane Dyer and Brooke Dyer
ISBN: 9780061700231 $17.99
On sale now!

One snowy night, Papa Bear, Mama Bear, and Baby Bear decide to go for a winter stroll while their Christmas pudding cools. Unbeknownst to them, a white-bearded, black-booted, jolly interloper happens upon their cottage. When the bears return, they are shocked to find their pudding eaten, their chairs broken, and their cozy beds slept in! And it looks like he’s still there! Clad in a bright red jacket and completely covered in soot, there’s something awfully familiar about this guy…. Who could he be?

 

snow queen

THE SNOW QUEEN
by Hans Christian Anderson, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
ISBN: 9780062209504 $17.99
On sale 10/8/13

Bagram Ibatoulline illustrates a storybook version of the classic tale about an evil queen and the ordinary girl who triumphs over her.

 

christmas mouse

CHRISTMAS MOUSE
written and illustrated by Anne Mortimer
ISBN: 9780062089281 $12.99
On sale now!

It’s Christmastime and Mouse has lots to do! The tree needs decorating, lights need hanging, and carols must be sung. There are presents to leave for special friends, treats to nibble on, and stockings to hang by the fire. When everything is ready, Mouse makes a Christmas wish before snuggling down to sleep. A final spread shows a very happy (and very full) Mouse lounging near his Christmas wish come true—a giant piece of cheese all his own. Anne Mortimer’s cozy story celebrates the little things we do that make Christmas a magical time for all.

 

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15. New Voices, a Word from the Editor: Not a Drop to Drink

Yesterday we heard from Mindy McGinnis about her fantastic debut novel, Not a Drop to Drink. Today, we hear from her editor, Sarah Shumway. Sarah, take it away!

There’s nothing like falling into the spell of a new voice, a striking view of reality, and into the life of a character you know you’ll never forget.  Falling in love with a book is sometimes a thing that happens gradually over the course of a story, but sometimes the first words on a page signal that the feelings are going to come tumbling out of a book and straight into your heart. The very first words of Not a Drop to Drink have that spark for me: “Lynn was nine the first time she killed to defend the pond…”

The books I’ve always loved most are those that show me something that I’ve never even imagined and make it real, make me feel. And I love wild books – ones where characters, especially strong girls, have to work to squeeze a good life from a harsh world. I started young with those books, as in Laura Ingalls in the Little House books and Karana in Island of the Blue Dolphins. I love books that challenge me, along with the characters, to rise above difficulty, limitations, and to become more than we knew we could be.  And Lynn, the heroine of Not a Drop, is such a strong character. Not a doubt there. She’s strong in a way that is more than physical or emotional. She’s real. She’s a product of her circumstances, stubborn and rough, but she discovers her heart.   And her story pushes every one of my “appeal” buttons: that strong and distinctive heroine, a gripping survival story, beautiful, sometimes poetic writing, a vivid setting in a fully-realized world, and plot twists like WOAH.  Oh, and it has some good kissing.

One of the most interesting discussions I’ve had with Mindy and with my colleagues here at HarperCollins is about how to categorize this book – is it dystopian? Post-apocalyptic? But I’m kind of proud to say that it really defies genre. While Not a Drop has plenty to offer fans of hugely popular dystopian fiction, what I appreciate is that it’s more than that. It’s different and special because it’s not about challenging a world gone wrong, but it’s about challenging people to be stronger in their own lives and hearts.  And when the trends have come and gone, I think Mindy’s book – Lynn’s story – will persist in grabbing readers’ hearts and imagination, the same way that the frontier or desert island books many of us loved as children and teenagers are still perennial favorites.

I’m so proud to have helped bring Mindy McGinnis and Not a Drop to Drink to an audience. Almost two years after I first read a draft, this book still makes my heart pound, my spine tingle, and my fingers itch to turn pages, and I hope all readers will feel the same when they get their hands on it.

Sarah Shumway is an editor at HarperCollins Children’s Books.

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16. New Voices: Opening the Book with… Mindy McGinnis!

Imagine a world where water is the hottest commodity. Author Mindy McGinnis has done it in a thrilling, terrifying way in her debut novel, Not a Drop to Drink.

Regret was for people with nothing to defend, people who had no water.

Lynn knows every threat to her pond: drought, a snowless winter, coyotes, and, most importantly, people looking for a drink. She makes sure anyone who comes near the pond leaves thirsty, or doesn’t leave at all.

Confident in her own abilities, Lynn has no use for the world beyond the nearby fields and forest. Having a life means dedicating it to survival, and the constant work of gathering wood and water. Having a pond requires the fortitude to protect it, something Mother taught her well during their quiet hours on the rooftop, rifles in hand.

But wisps of smoke on the horizon mean one thing: strangers. The mysterious footprints by the pond, nighttime threats, and gunshots make it all too clear Lynn has exactly what they want, and they won’t stop until they get it….

Of course, after reading this fantastic dystopian novel, we jumped at the chance of having Mindy come by and open the book with us!

Which was your favorite book from childhood, and what are you reading right now?

Choosing is so hard! I’ll say A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. Right now I’m reading Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea by April Tucholke.

What is your secret talent?

Um… I can flip a stack of quarters off my elbow and catch them in my palm. Also I have very fat thumb pads.

Fill in the blank: _______ always make me laugh.

British men.

My current obsessions are…

SHERLOCK, local history and the roots of criminal profiling.

Any gem of advice for aspiring writers?

Do your homework. Half the battle is learning the industry.

Finish this sentence: I hope a person who reads my book…

Didn’t steal it from the library.

How did you come to write this book?

I watched a documentary called Blue Gold, which is about a projected shortage of potable water on our planet due to overpopulation. It was a horrible thought – we all need water to survive, and it’s something we can’t make. I went to bed very grateful for the small pond in my backyard, and that night I dreamt I was teaching a young girl how to operate a rifle so that she could help me protect the pond. I woke up and thought, “Hey… I wrote a book in my head just now.”

I asked myself what this child would grow into, and my main character, Lynn, was the answer. I don’t plot at all, I simply write. With Drink I was very fortunate in that the book really wrote itself. It wanted to be told. Lynn’s transformation from isolationist to human being had to be slow and believable, but not at the expense of pacing. I knew I needed supporting characters that could make this an interesting read without lots of explosions and fight scenes. Stebbs walked in and saved me there!

Thanks, Mindy! You can find Not a Drop to Drink in stores now!

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17. AUTHOR GUEST POST: PATRICIA MACLACHLAN

Did you know that Patricia MacLachlan’s books are now available ebooks? Look at all of these beautiful ebooks!

Sarah, Plain and Tall

To mark the occasion, Patricia stopped by to share some heartwarming thoughts about writing and reading and families. She also filmed a video interview for us, so don’t forget to check that out (below)!

From Patricia MacLachlan:

I have been a reader all my life, long before I became a writer. When I was little I read under a quilt at night, in a tree (!), and all the way home from the library, my mother’s hand on my neck, leading me safely across streets.  My grandchildren are readers too, and they are becoming writers with their own voices.

What does reading mean to me?  Books help me find out who I am and who I want to be.  Books give me courage.  Books make me smile.  And laugh.  And sometimes they make me cry.  But always books make me think about what all the children in the world have in common even though they may live far away from each other.

Writing helps me stay close to my family; Sarah, Plain and Tall is about my step great grandmother who I always thought was brave to travel from Maine to Kansas all on her own to meet her new family.  My own father’s farm is in Sarah, Plain and Tall, and his farm dogs and his horse, Jack.

Cassie Binegar is a lot about me when I was about ten years old and hid under the dining room table with the tablecloth hanging down, listening to stories people at the table told.  Seven Kisses in a Row was written after listening to my young daughter Emily and my husband talk one evening.  In fact all my children are in Seven Kisses in a Row, my oldest son John and his younger brother Jamie, who had a great dirt collection!

I played the cello in elementary school and so The Facts and Fictions of Minna Pratt is about a group of players in a string quartet.

I notice that many of my books are about old people and young people.  I like the aunts in Unclaimed Treasures (“unclaimed treasures” being my mother’s name for unmarried women)  Old Pepper is another character in the book, wise and kind.  My children had a wonderful relationship with my father and mother.  My father, who lived to be 102, had respect for children and thought that old people and young people were connected in many ways..  That has gone into many of my books.  The old and young are close in all of my stories.

My books often begin because of something a child of mine said, or a grandchild’s question.  In some ways writers are watchers and listeners.  Spies maybe!  One day my oldest son said to a school friend, “watch out what you say in this house.  You may appear in a book.”

My books are personal for me.

I truly hope they become personal for you, too.  And I am happy to know that children read my books in whatever form – in hard copy books or in ebooks as well.

Enjoy!

—–

Thanks so much, Patricia!

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18. NEW VOICES: OPENING THE BOOK WITH . . . CAROLINE CARLSON!

One of our absolute favorite new reads this season has to be Caroline Carlson’s THE VERY NEARLY HONORABLE LEAGUE OF PIRATES: MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT. It has girl power, adventure, and of course, a missing treasure.

The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates

There are three qualities a treasure map must possess: It must be suitably ancient, have an atmospheric title, and include a dotted line leading to an X.

When Hilary Westfield escapes from finishing school to pursue her dream of being a pirate, she finds herself in possession of such a map. But the map is missing an X, and everyone is almost certain that the magical treasure she’s hunting doesn’t even exist. Hilary soon becomes caught up in a madcap quest involving a rogue governess who insists on propriety, a talking gargoyle, a crew of misfit scallywags, and the most treacherous villain on the high seas.

If that doesn’t hook you, I don’t know what will.

We had to get to know the person behind such a piratical tale. So, today, Caroline stopped by to answer some of our hard-hitting questions!

Which was your favorite book from childhood, and what are you reading right now?

I have so many favorite books that it’s hard to choose just one, but one of my all-time favorites is HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE by Diana Wynne Jones. Right now, I’m reading THE STOCKHOLM OCTAVO by Karen Engelmann.

What is your secret talent?

Like Hilary, the heroine of MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT, I can tread water for a really long time.

Fill in the blank: _______ always makes me laugh.

The movie CLUE. I’ve memorized all the jokes by now, but they never get any less funny.

My current obsessions are…

Cooking and baking—after spending all day writing at my computer, I love doing something concrete and hands-on in the kitchen. While I cook, I like to listen to two of my other obsessions: news podcasts and music by Girlyman and Antje Duvekot.

Any gem of advice for aspiring writers?

Try to learn a lot about all the things that interest you—not just writing. Read newspapers and nonfiction books. Do some exploring, check out your local museums and libraries, or take a class in a subject that fascinates you. If you stay curious about the world around you, you’re sure to stumble across lots of good ideas for stories.

Finish this sentence: I hope a person who reads my book…

…laughs out loud at least once!

How did you come to write this book?

MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT actually started its life as a submission for a workshop at Vermont College of Fine Arts, where I was working toward a degree in writing for children. I had to write 20 pages of an entirely new story, the deadline was tight, and I was running short on story ideas. I’d always loved pirates, though, and I’d dreamed of writing a book about a grand pirate treasure hunt. I was also rereading some of my favorite books by Jaclyn Moriarty at the time, and I wanted to experiment with Moriarty’s technique of telling a story through letters, postcards, newspaper clippings and other documents. When I tossed both of these ideas together, I ended up with 20 pages about a girl who receives a letter informing her that since only boys are allowed to be pirates, her application to the pirate league has been rejected.

I wasn’t expecting much to come of my experiment, but I ended up loving the results, and when my workshop-mates told me that they wanted to know what happened next to my pirate heroine and her gargoyle sidekick, I knew I’d hit on a story idea with potential. Those pages that I wrote for my workshop 3 years ago are still more or less the first 20 pages of MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT. And the story took on a life of its own from there—I wrote the first draft in 4 months flat, which was a whole lot faster than I’d ever written anything before! Plenty has changed since that first draft; in revisions with my editor, I strengthened the magic system of my fictional world, I turned a minor character into a major one, and I rewrote nearly the entire ending from scratch. But MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT is still the kind of book I loved to read when I was growing up: an adventure full of twists, humor, and magic. I had a wonderful time writing it, and I hope readers will enjoy it, too.

—–

Thanks, Caroline! You can find THE VERY NEARLY HONORABLE LEAGUE OF PIRATES: MAGIC MARKS THE SPOT in stores tomorrow!

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19. JOIN THE CREECH-A-THON

Celebrate the release of Sharon Creech’s new novel THE BOY ON THE PORCH by joining the Creech-a-Thon! Pledge to read a novel by Sharon Creech (or any novel of your choice) this month and you could win a set of all 16 Sharon Creech novels, including a signed hardcover copy of THE BOY ON THE PORCH, as well as a Sharon Creech bookmark.

The Boy on the Porch

The contest will run until September 30, and you can submit your pledge here. Happy reading!

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20. VIDEO: STEFAN BACHMANN ON THE WHATNOT

You may remember the charming (and young and talented and funny and, and, and . . .) Stefan Bachmann from his debut novel THE PECULIAR, which came out last year. His new book, THE WHATNOT (a companion to THE PECULIAR) will be out on September 24th, and we had Stefan in our video studio talking about the new book and some of his experiences meeting kids during school visits. Here he is!

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21. SAVE THE DATE: LIVE WEBCAST WITH KEVIN HENKES!

You’re invited to a live webcast with the one and only KEVIN HENKES!

Join us on Tuesday, September 17 at 2PM EST to hear Kevin talk about his work, his inspirations, and his upcoming novel THE YEAR OF BILLY MILLER—an acclaimed and irresistible story about friendship, siblings, and the perils of elementary school. There will also be an opportunity to ask him your questions!

The event will be broadcast live from Bank Street College of Education in New York City, and we encourage you to set up an assembly and invite kids, parents, and teachers to watch and participate.

Register HERE!

And don’t forget to keep an eye out for THE YEAR OF BILLY MILLER, which will be available September 17 and has been garnering rave reviews!

The Year of Billy Miller

“Funny and often poignant . . . Eager young readers will find this a great first chapter book to share or read solo.”—School Library Journal (starred)

 “Billy Miller’s second-grade year is quietly spectacular in a wonderfully ordinary way.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred)

 “A vivid yet secure portrait of a boy coming into his confidence . . . Nuanced and human.”—The Horn Book (starred)

“[Henkes has] created a character for the ages. . . . Absolutely remarkable.”—Elizabeth Bird, A Fuse #8 Production

“A story with a lot of heart.”—Booklist

“Smartly attuned to emerging readers.”—Publishers Weekly

 

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22. AMELIA BEDELIA CHAPTER BOOK #3: ROAD TRIP!

If you’re familiar with the fabulous Amelia Bedelia chapter book series, then we have some exciting news for you: Chapter Book #3 is now available!

Amelia Bedelia Road Trip!

(If you’re not familiar with the series, which launched at the beginning of the year, be sure to check out the first two books, AMELIA BEDELIA MEANS BUSINESS and AMELIA BEDELIA UNLEASHED!)

And here’s the even-better news: You can download a teaching guide for the whole series, complete with fun reproducible activities and aligned with the Common Core, right here.

Happy school year to those of you who’ve started already, and good luck to those still preparing!

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23. TAP THE MAGIC TREE VIDEO AND TEACHING GUIDE

Looking for a fun, interactive picture book to use for story time (or any time)? Christie Matheson’s debut picture book, TAP THE MAGIC TREE, fits the bill perfectly. TAP THE MAGIC TREE combines the magic of the changing seasons with the magic of turning a page as the reader taps, pats, claps, and wiggles to make leaves grow, blossoms bloom, apples appear, and leaves swirl away with the autumn breeze.

Tap the Magic Tree
Here’s a little demo of how much fun can be had with one page turn!

You can have a sneak peek up-close at the first several pages here, and you can download a Common Core-aligned Teaching Guide here. Tap away and make magic happen!

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24. ASYLUM: A story of College Prep, Finding Yourself, and, oh yeah, a Retired Insane Asylum

AsylumIn the summer after my junior year of high school, I attended the Georgia Governor’s Honors program, a kind of voluntary summer school for nerds that boasted classes in everything from the history of meta-fiction to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Students had majors and minors, just like in college, and we participated in imaginative extra-curriculars because we wanted to, not because they were required for our college resumes.

With six-hundred bright students on a college campus, away from their parents and their hometown identities, friendships were made fast and set in stone. People tried on new selves as if they were trying on clothes, with some kids reinventing themselves multiple times over the summer. You could feel the energy created by people breaking away from their old lives, like nuclear fission. In retrospect, I suppose we were lucky all that energy was channeled in a positive direction.

Dan, Abby, and Jordan, the three teen stars of Madeleine Roux’s Asylum, find themselves at a similar summer program: New Hampshire College Prep, or NHCP as the cool kids call it. Dan is eager to reinvent himself this summer. We get the sense that he may not have many friends back at school, and that the reasons for this run deeper than your typical shyness. When Dan first meets Abby and Jordan, the three click instantly, even if the puzzle pieces have a few jagged edges.

But the more time they spend together, the more these three teens realize they don’t really know one another at all. They’re all holding secrets from their former identities, and the new selves they’re trying on don’t always fit quite right.

That universal teen drama – of who we have been rubbing up against who we want to be – is what really drew me to Asylum. Of course, I’m a genre guy at heart, so I love that this conflict is amped up to eleven and run through the kaleidoscope of a terrifying horror story.

Did I mention that Dan, Abby, and Jordan’s dorm for the summer is a retired insane asylum?

Like all the best genre stories, Asylum uses that setting – and all the creepy trappings that come with it – to really drive home its central metaphor. Dan, Abby, and Jordan aren’t just running from their high school selves, they’re running from secrets that go much further back in their families, and they’re running from the knowledge that in a bygone era, these three teens might not been students in the asylum, but patients.

My own summer at the Governor’s Honors Program changed my life for the better. Whether Dan, Abby, and Jordan will be able to say the same about their time at NHCP is a different question. One you’ll just have to read Asylum to answer…

Happy reading.

Andrew Harwell is the editor of Asylum.

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25. AUTHOR GUEST POST: JANE KURTZ

The lovely Jane Kurtz was kind enough to write some thoughts on her new book, ANNA WAS HERE, for us. ANNA WAS HERE is a beautifully-written middle-grade novel about a young girl whose family moves from Colorado to Kansas, in the middle of Tornado Alley, because of her father’s job as a preacher. As Anna tries to find a way to make this strange new place her home, she must unravel a family mystery in the process.

Anna Was Here

Jane has some things in common with Anna, including the fact that they’re both preachers’ kids. Here, she tells us a bit about her upbringing and her own life and how they’ve informed her writing.

From Jane:

I—like Anna—am a preacher’s kid. My dad, like Anna’s dad, was mostly a lot of fun—he loved to belt out songs and ham it up. When we were camping on the Ethiopian savannah, he would tell stories that could put me back to sleep even with lions rumbling in the distance, and he was always willing to be the donkey when my sisters and I acted out Old Testament scenes. But sometimes when Papa Duck had world change on his mind, he could seem to forget the ducklings running along behind. And sometimes I was really, really, really sure he was preaching about me.

Preachers’ kids often have to move, to face agonies of new neighborhoods and schools and kids. I’ve lived in Oregon, California, Idaho, Illinois, Colorado, North Dakota, Kansas…and I grew up in Ethiopia, where my mom and dad worked for the Presbyterian Church for 23 years. In Ethiopia, I, like Anna, learned to wonder: if God watched over sparrows and us, why did bad things sometimes happen to good kids? Why were there even such things as plane crashes and crocodiles? Why didn’t my Ethiopian friends (who were girls) get to go to school or have books to read?

I was discussing Anna Was Here with a friend one day and she said, “When we read about the Ice Age in fourth grade, I was instantly making survival plans for my family in case another one came along.” It made me laugh…and understand Anna a little better.

My husband, Leonard Goering, grew up on a wheat farm in Kansas, in a small Mennonite community. For him, the family stories were about how his ancestors—clinging to their German language and their peacemaker beliefs—moved from France and Switzerland and Germany to Russia and how, a hundred years later, these Germans from Russia packed up their red winter wheat and their poppy seeds and settled up and down the Great Plains. When Leonard left Kansas for Northwestern University in Chicago, he sang in the choir of a Presbyterian church and eventually became a Presbyterian minister. So our three children, too, are preacher’s kids.

One day we left Colorado, where two of our kids were born, and headed toward Kansas (with our cat huddled under the seat). For us, the farm community of Kansas was only a week’s stop on our way to North Dakota, where Leonard was a campus minister and university professor for twelve years. When the Red River flooded in North Dakota and we had to evacuate from our house for six weeks, our daughter was about Anna’s age, suddenly separated from her best friends, her books, and her cat. After a summer of grimy cleaning up, we ended up in a FEMA trailer while her house and elementary school were torn down, and she was confused and sad.

At some time or another, most humans ask life’s big questions. Some people come to answers of great certainty. I envy them.

Me?

What I know about for sure is what one friend calls the “messy glory” of families and the comfort of a good cat or dog. Emus and chickens and lavender. Communities cleaning up together, after disasters whirl everything around and dump things upside down. What I finally know for certain is that we can’t stop change or natural disasters, but that telling our stories almost always helps, and that forgiveness and kindness sometimes can heal the disasters of the human heart.

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Thank you so much for these timely and uplifting words, Jane!

ANNA WAS HERE will be available 8/27/13.

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