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It was award-winning author Patty McCormick (of Sold, Never Fall Down and several other acclaimed novels) who told me one day that I had to read a manuscript, Little Peach, from a gifted student of hers, Peggy Kern. Who would ever ignore that advice? I started reading the novel that night–and didn’t stop until I was finished.
From the very first page I knew I wanted to publish this novel. The voice of Michelle-—so innocent and yet so wise beyond her years—gave me chills. When Michelle’s mother chooses her boyfriend over her own daughter, Michelle knows she has no choice but to leave and she runs away to New York City, naively thinking she can look up a friend once she gets there. But once she is arrives in Port Authority she understands just how alone she is. Then she sees a face in the crowd — a young man. He is handsome, well-dressed. He is smiling at her warmly. In this intimidating, bustling city, he offers her a hand. And she takes it.
Devon, that handsome young man, isn’t what he seems. He gives Michelle food, clean clothes, and a place to stay. A pimp who is well-practiced in the art of manipulation, he is slowly grooming Michelle to become one of his prostitutes. Even after he has drugged her and betrayed her in the worst way possible, Michelle doesn’t leave. First, because she has nowhere to go. And then because this man, who has taken everything from her, is also the only one who is offering her security.
When Michelle is forced into unspeakable acts, her voice feels almost distant — it’s as if she is living outside of her body. To protect herself, her mind still goes back to that innocence and safety she felt with her grandfather as a girl. Her new reality would be too much to process if she faced it head-on.
My favorite kinds of books are those that make you see something in a whole new light. What this book revealed to me was how far someone will go to feel loved if they have been denied this basic human need. And that is how Peach feels about the other girls in Devon’s home — her “sisters” Kat and Baby. Even though at night they are forced to do unimaginable things, there are those moments when they are laughing and watching TV together, doing each other’s hair and just being regular girls. It’s because of her love for this new family that Michelle is finally able to find the courage to fight back.
Peggy Kern was driven to write this story for the real teen prostitutes in New York City who had stories just like Michelle’s. She interviewed them and the police officers who work in the area. She saw the dingy hotel where they worked. When people ask Peggy why these girls would ever open up to her, she says that they were eager to tell their story. And no one ever cares enough to ask.
As Peggy so eloquently says in her author’s note for Little Peach, as a community we don’t have a place for these girls, who are often runaways with no options. So once they are arrested, they are treated as criminals instead of given the help and education that could reverse the deadly path they are on.
A question we often hear in the industry is why teen books have to be so dark. Why do they have to talk about such serious and dangerous issues? What if they lead teens to those dangerous behavior? What if teens are exposed to content that isn’t appropriate for them?
There will stop being dark books for teens when these issues are no longer relevant to teens. When bad things stop happening. And sadly, that is never going to be the case. Books like Little Peach educate people and open their eyes. They take an anonymous issue and make it personal. They teach teens compassion. I have seen books work their magic. It can feel uncomfortable to face these ugly issues as a society, but it’s only by facing them that we can start to make a change.
Which was your favorite book from childhood, and what are you reading right now?
The first book I remember finding, checking out, and really loving was The Indian in the Cupboard. I was staying with family in a weird town in West Virginia and there wasn’t much to do while my dad was working. So, the library, right? I can still remember finding the book – seeing the cover. I read it like ten times before I had to finally return it. I just finished reading the Isabel Quintero’s Gabi, A Girl in Pieces and, man. What a book. It’s funny and sad and spectacularly written. It really blew me away.
What is your secret talent?
Most people don’t realize it now, but I was quite the athlete in high school and college. I played a lot of basketball and can still make twenty, thirty, forty free throws in a row. I used to work with teenagers and, as a result, found myself playing one-on-one against them. Long story short, I’ve never lost to a teenager one-on-one. Is this a talent? When you’re almost 40, it definitely is. But I’m not sure it’s something I should be proud of…
Fill in the blank: _______ always makes me laugh.
Innapropriate humor at the wrong time. No question. If there is ever a moment when humor is inappropriate, I’m usually trying to keep myself from laughing. It’s a terrible character flaw, and most likely a sort of deflection. But there it is.
My current obsessions are…
The band TV on the Radio, the writer Graham Greene, and this weird children’s cartoon named Clarence.
Any gem of advice for aspiring writers?
Erase the voice of judgment! Be proud of your work and don’t let other people tell you that it doesn’t have value. While it might not be great when you start, if you keep writing you will get better. So, write and write and write.
Finish this sentence: I hope a person who reads my book…
…was looking for this exact story in their life.
How did you come to write this book?
I wanted to write a story about a girl who loses faith in her parents, something that happens to everyone at some point. I thought it would be interesting to tackle that question alongside the question of religion and spirituality in the lives of teenagers, a topic that isn’t often covered in young adult literature. Losing and gaining faith – in anything – is such a dramatic, powerful experience and I wanted to document it as authentically as possible. At the end of the day, it’s more a story about family and friendship than faith. But like anything, those things are tied together more tightly than we sometimes think.
Today we’re lucky enough to interview Paul Durham, author of the middle grade tween fantasy adventure The Luck Uglies, which received TWO starred reviews. Booklist called it “by turns funny and heart-stopping . . . a bona fide page-turner,” and Kirkus said it was “sparkling. Layers, nuance, wit and a thumping good story make this a must-read.” The Luck Uglies was also a Booklist Top 10 First Novels for Youth in 2014 and on the NYPL 100 Best Titles for Reading and Sharing List of 2014. What a debut!
This tween fantasy adventure trilogy has legends come to life, a charming wit, and a fantastic cast of characters—and is imbued throughout with the magic of storytelling. The Luck Uglies #2: The Fork-Tongue Charmer, goes on sale today, so read on for the full scoop on this truly delightful middle grade series!
The Pageturn: Where did the idea for The Luck Uglies begin? And how did you develop that idea?
Paul Durham: The Luck Uglies originated as a short story for my oldest daughter. For years I had tried unsuccessfully to publish my adult crime fiction, until eventually I quit writing altogether. One year, my then-six-year-old asked me if I could write her a story as Christmas gift. I had never written for children before, but was willing to give it a try. I didn’t intend to seek an agent for the work, nor to have it published. My goal was far more modest but even more important—simply to finish something for my daughter.
What started as a short story turned into so much more. I wanted to write a fantasy about good and evil and everything in between, but I also wanted it to be, at its core, a book about a very real family. Every week my own family would gather around the fireplace and I would read a new chapter out loud. I worked in our family pet, characters inspired by our friends and neighbors, and even dialogue spoken around our dinner table. When it was done, my little audience adored it, and the book would have been a success even if no one else ever read it. I’m very lucky that other readers have come to enjoy it as much as we do.
TP: Were you inspired by any specific region or folklore? For instance, it feels particularly appropriate that #2 publishes on St. Patrick’s Day!
PD: My goal was to write a book that felt timeless in setting, but that was set in a unique and entirely unexplored world. Toward that end, I researched Irish and Scottish myths, early colonial American culture, and secret societies throughout history. Then I threw them in a cauldron and stirred. Village Drowning and its denizens became a stew of faintly familiar ingredients blended in way that, I hope, readers haven’t quite tasted before. The Bog Noblins, for example, do not exist in any established folklore, but were inspired by the highly preserved, Bronze Age “bog bodies” pulled from peat bogs in Northern Europe and Ireland.
TP: Who is your favorite character in the book?
PD: I know many authors like to cop out on this question and profess love for all of their characters, but I’ll go out on a limb and share two. Rye is dear to me, of course. It was important to me to create a strong female protagonist and to infuse her with strengths and flaws that kept her human. That said, I think Rye’s strongest traits are gender-neutral, and I love that many male readers also identify her as their favorite character. My other favorite is Harmless. His relationship with Rye represents the heart of the story. Their dialogue as that relationship unfolds was even more fun to write than the all the swordplay and monsters. I adore Abby and Lottie too…oops, there I go.
TP: Can you suggest any books readers of The Luck Uglies might also like?
PD: For classic fantasy, I always recommend Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain series. It’s a personal favorite and I’ve even hidden several Easter eggs referencing that great work within The Luck Uglies series. Maybe I’ll have a contest to see how many of them my readers can find. I think they’d also enjoy Jonathan Auxier’s work—The Night Gardener or Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes.
TP: And if you could cast the movie, who would star?
PD: I would definitely need the guidance of a casting director to find a young unknown actress with the chops to play Rye. As for Harmless, I think he would be best played by one of those 40-something action heroes who has entered a different phase of his life and career. Maybe a father to young children who could appreciate the nuances in the character. Who would that be? I don’t know. Robert Downey Jr.? Johnny Depp? Ben Affleck when he’s done with Batman?
TP: What were your favorite books as a child? Favorite books now?
PD: As a child, Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain series was at the top of the list. I also remember being drawn to A House with a Clock in its Walls, by John Bellairs. These days, my favorite books still tend to fall into the category of middle grade fiction. I’m especially fond of those that can be haunting, smart, and humorous at the same time. The Graveyard Book and Coraline by Neil Gaiman are favorites, as is the The Bartimaeus Trilogy and the new Lockwood & Company books by Jonathan Stroud. I also found the The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate to be wonderful for very different reasons. Applegate proves that compelling children’s books need not always feature a child protagonist, and creates a wonderfully authentic, layered and believable voice for Ivan the silverback gorilla.
TP: Do you have any advice for aspiring kid writers?
PD: I’m fortunate to get to speak with a lot of kids during my school visits and workshops, and I always tell them four things.
1) Practice, as often as possible by writing creatively in your free time.
2) When you’re not writing, read. Good stuff, ideally, but you can learn what not-to-do from the poorly written stuff too.
3) Don’t be afraid to imitate your favorite writers’ styles, especially early on. As a kid, I originally learned how to write action sequences by mimicking the descriptions I found in popular movie novelizations (I can’t believe I just admitted that). The point is, your own voice and style will develop over time as you discover what works best for you.
4) You don’t need to start out by writing an entire book—that’s like running a marathon without ever going out for a jog first. Every novel starts with just one sentence. Try writing just a short paragraph of description, or a few lines of interesting dialogue, or a poem. That’s all practice that will pay off in the long run. See tip #1 above.
Walter Dean Myers’ Monster has the distinction of being the first ever Michael L. Printz award recipient, an ALA notable book, a Coretta Scott King honor selection, and a National Book Award finalist. This is a provocative coming-of-age story about Steve Harmon, a teenager awaiting trial for a murder and robbery. As he acclimates to juvie and experiences his trial, Steve envisions the ordeal as a movie, and the novel is in screenplay format. Now this timeless story is entering a new frontier: a graphic novel adaptation! Monster: A Graphic Novel is adapted by Guy A. Sims, with stunning black and white art from Dawud Anyabwile, Guy’s brother.
We’re so pleased to reveal the incredible cover and an interview with Guy and Dawud!
The Pageturn: What were your first thoughts when you found the project was a go?
Guy A. Sims: I was extremely excited to work on a project such as this. Up to this point, I had written a novel, the Brotherman comic book series, and several issues of the Duke Denim detective novellas. This seemed like a way to bring together my experience in the two genres. After receiving the book Monster, I read it 5-6 times to make sure I understood both the materials and the feeling Walter Dean Myers wanted to express.
Dawud Anyabwile: When I was first contacted to do the book my jaw dropped because I had already illustrated a book for Mr. Walter Dean Myers back in 1995 but this was an opportunity to do it all over again. Like a reunion of the spirits. I knew that it was going to be a tough project but I knew what it meant to a lot of people and I wanted to give it my best.
TP: How did you approach the adaptation? What was your process and how did you get started?
GS: As I said before, after reading the book multiple times, I knew one of the biggest challenges was to translate long passages of text. A lot of the book takes place in the courtroom or with attorneys. The characters have a lot to say but I didn’t want to have a panel where an attorney had a massive bubble of text. I know that when we listen, we picture from our own perspectives what the speaker is trying to convey to us. So, you will see the words of the attorneys come to life in the minds of the other characters.
My process was to take one or two pages at a time and imagine them as a scene. From there, I would break the scene up into movements. Fortunately, my background in writing scripts for plays and writing for the comic book provided for my pacing of the action.
The completion of the first page was enormous. I knew that would set the tone for the direction of the project. After I received positive feedback from both Dawud and staff from Harper-Collins, my confidence was secured and I was able to launch into the project.
DA: I was glad that Harper Collins brought my brother Guy A. Sims to come on board because he and I have a symbiotic relationship when it comes to creating so when he adapted the script from the original novel that helped me to see the images a lot more clearly. The beginning was exciting but also made me a little nervous because I wanted it to be perfect and knew that it was going to be a huge project. Lucky for me I love a good challenge so I began doing research on everything relating to the book as well as explored my own style of illustration that can make it stand out from other graphic novels. This was my first time ever doing a fully illustrated book with no paper. I used a digital tablet to do all of my roughs and once they were approved I did all the inking in photoshop. Even the lettering was hand drawn. I did not use a font. A grueling task but I was determined to give it a more organic and rough edge as opposed to the super clean look that you see in most comic books.
TP: How did you decide on the art style? Is there anything “hidden” in the art that the readers might have fun looking for?
DA: The story is definitely an inner city tale full of pain, stress, hardship, fear and aggression. My art style has always been a reflection of life growing up in the Northeastern part of the US. I pull from my personal style which has a crowded, grungy, loose and somewhat forced feed to it. I like to cram things into spaces and then step away and give characters space. I move around the scenery like a movie director. That is how I see the story in my head and then I just draw it. I did not hide much in this book. The only tidbit that I would share is that my youngest son who was 16 at the time, the same age as Steve Harmon, drew some the pictures that Steve was drawing in the book and then I took those drawings and redrew and refined them so that they look like the work of a young person. My son also helped me out by posing for the front and back cover so that I can have some reference. I modified it but his posturing helped me to get the feeling that I was looking for.
TP: What’s the best part of working together? How does your working relationship differ from a familial one?
GS: We have always worked together in collaboration on many projects or just fun ideas. We have a natural connection (writer/artist) which has worked for decades. Dawud has called upon me to draft text for one thing or another. Likewise, I have called upon him to provide a graphic for activities I was involved in. The best part of our working together has been the continued mutual respect for the skills, talents, and ideas we bring to the table to make things happen. I know his style, his work ethic, and the commitment he brings to his craft. All of this makes it easy to work with him, even when we find ourselves not agreeing on the direction of a project.
DA: Guy and I have always created together since we were children. Making silly stories, action adventures and other projects that we did along with our other brother Jason. As we got older we just continued doing what was second nature to us. Working with Guy is like working with the part of myself that is a professional writer. I come up with ideas here and there but Guy is masterful with the pen. He writes the way I draw and vice versa so once he sends me a script I see it immediately. I don’t have to ask him much in terms of needing an explanation.
TP: What were your favorite books when you were teenagers? Favorite graphic novel? What are you reading right now?
GS: I did a lot of reading, a wide variety of authors: Richard Wright, Shakespeare, James Baldwin, Alice Childress, Stephen Vincent Benet. The list goes on. I kept myself busy with reading novels, poetry, and plays when I was out with my friends, at school, or in church. I did a lot of creative writing in those same spaces. My father gave me the advice that if I wanted to be a strong writer I had to read a lot of different types of writers. I did and it helped me to develop my own style.
I didn’t read any graphic novels. I don’t know if any were out when I was a teen but I did like the Planet of the Apes series (by Marvel Comics).
Today I try to read a cross-section of fiction and “academic” books. I just finished reading the book A Cupboard Full of Coats by Yvvette Edwards and I was inspired again to get moving on my next novel.
DA: The first book that I read that really made me want to read more was NATIVE SON by Richard Wright. When I read that my mind was blown. I was sucked into an urban adventure from the first page and could not put it down. I then read his other book BLACK BOY and those books made a great impact on my young mind. I don’t have a favorite graphic novel at the moment. I like various books for various reasons. Mostly because of the art. I am currently reading Changa’s Safari by author Milton Davis which is a unique African hero’s tale of adventure which I find to be very intriguing.
Which was your favorite book from childhood, and what are you reading right now?
My favorite book as a teen was Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I just finished Citizen by Claudia Rankine, which is absolutely brilliant.
What is your secret talent?
I think my friends would say that I can select the perfect song/playlist for any given occasion. So, awesome DJ. That’s my secret talent.
Fill in the blank The movie Little Miss Sunshine always makes me laugh.
My current obsessions are:
D’Angelo’s new album, Black Messiah. Genius!
Researching my new book idea.
Any gem of advice for aspiring writers?
Don’t waste your time writing about things you don’t care about. It takes a lot of stamina to write a book, so find the story that fires you up. That fire will keep you going, and it will spill onto the page, too – an added bonus.
Finish this sentence: I hope a person who reads my book…
… will be outraged, then inspired to ask the hard questions about why sex trafficking occurs anywhere on the planet, but especially in a country as wealthy as ours.
How did you come to write this book?
I was home alone on a random Saturday night and stumbled upon the documentary “Very Young Girls”, which is about child sex trafficking in the U.S. I was devastated by what I saw. I had no idea this was happening in our country. I wept and wept and then became furious, so I decided to write a book about the issue. It was VERY important to me to be as accurate as possible, to tell the story from the viewpoint of a victim starting from when she was child. because that’s when the tragedy begins for these girls. I wanted to show how poverty, together with failing social safety nets like our public schools, juvenile care facilities, and criminal justice system, contributes to the trafficking of minors. Pimps are certainly villains, but there are deeper issues, too.
My friend Joe happened to be a detective with the NYPD at the time and was kind enough to help me with research. Through him, I was able to see the sex trade in Brooklyn. I was also able to speak with several women who were trafficked at kids, including a woman named Miracle who was “recruited” by a pimp when she was 12 years old right out of the group home where she was living at the time. She taught me so much of what I now know about traffickers, gangs, victims, and perhaps most importantly, our failure as a society to protect these kids. Miracle had absolutely no say in her fate. She was totally abandoned by society. The level of trauma she has endured in her life borders on unimaginable. I was blown away by the stories she shared with me, blown away by her pain, her heartache, her terror, her shame, the unbelievable choices she has had to make just to survive. Just to make it one more day.
Too often, our only exposure to prostitution is what we see on television, or glimpse briefly if we happen to drive through the wrong neighborhood at night. Or, if we do hear a story about sex trafficking, it has a happy ending: the girl is rescued, the pimp is arrested. Problem solved.
Well, most victims aren’t rescued. Most end up caught in cycle of addiction, incarceration, and untreated trauma that leads to all sorts of misery. Little Peach is an attempt to honor the fate of the majority of victims – victims like the women I met in Brooklyn, who are still out there, right now, barely holding on.
My hope – my belief – is that if people come to understand this issue through the eyes of the children it ruins, they will be inspired to act.
Girls like Little Peach are the daughters of America. We should fight for them in every way we can.
One of our favorite debut authors of the season, Victoria Aveyard, swung by The Pageturn to talk to us about her brand new novel, Red Queen. Check out our sneak peek from earlier this year right here.
And now, Victoria!
Which was your favorite book from childhood, and what are you reading right now?
The Lord of the Ringsand the Harry Potter series shaped me as not only a writer, but a person. Those were my constant – I was reading LotR while waiting for Harry every other summer, etc. And right now, I’m reading The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand as well as Winter of the World by Ken Follett.
What is your secret talent?
I’m pretty good at drawing maps? I think I was a cartographer in another life. Fictional maps, of course. Don’t ask me to sketch Europe any time soon.
Fill in the blank:
Movie bloopers always makes me laugh.
My current obsessions are…
I’m obviously obsessed with Twitter. Also Black Sails and Game of Thrones, but I’m so nervous for this season! We’re off book! What’s happening?!
Any gem of advice for aspiring writers?
Keep writing. Finish what you start. Half the battle is getting to The End. I couldn’t do it until I was 22.
Finish this sentence: I hope a person who reads my book…
…is entertained. At the end of the day, that’s my #1 job.
How did you come to write this book?
I first got the idea to try my hand at a novel while I was interning at a movie studio. A producer had me checking the self-published lists for something to adapt, and I got the idea of writing something myself. At that point, I’d only finished screenplays, and thought books were too taunting, but I had to try. A bit later, I was struck with the image of a teenage girl controlling lightning, and Red Queen was born out of that. It just kind of built on itself, she’s this so the world must be this, etc. And then I put myself in a real corner, basically forcing myself to commit and finish this book. I graduated from college in Los Angeles and moved home to Massachusetts to write full time. I finished my book that January, and from there things kind of took off. One year after I got my diploma, I had a book deal and a movie option on the table. It was wild and, in hindsight, ridiculous.
Happy 2015 to you! To start the year off right, we’d like to introduce our New Voices picks for Winter 2015. These debut novels entertained us, enriched us, intrigued us, and made us so excited to witness the beginnings of these authors’ sure-to-be-stellar writing careers.
Click on the links below to read the first chapter of each title, and make sure to keep an eye on these fantastic authors. We can’t wait to see what they do next!
BLACKBIRD FLY, by Erin Entrada Kelly, follows twelve-year-old Apple Yengko as she grapples with being different, with friends and backstabbers, and with following her dreams. Apple has always felt a little different from her classmates. She and her mother moved to America from the Philippines when she was little, and her mother still cooks Filipino foods, makes mistakes with her English, and chastises Apple for becoming “too American.” But it becomes unbearable in eighth grade, when the boys—the stupid, stupid boys—in Apple’s class put her name on the Dog Log, the list of the most unpopular girls in school. When Apple’s friends turn on her and everything about her life starts to seem weird and embarrassing, Apple turns to music. If she can just save enough to buy a guitar and learn to play, maybe she can change herself. It might be the music that saves her . . . or it might be her two new friends, who show how special she really is. Read the first chapter here!
THE KEEPERS: THE BOX AND THE DRAGONFLY, by Ted Sanders, is the first in a four-book middle-grade fantasy series about Horace F. Andrews, a quiet boy who discovers he possesses a power that can change worlds. When a sign leads Horace underground to the House of Answers, a hidden warehouse full of mysterious objects, he unfortunately finds only questions. What is this curious place? Who are the strange, secretive people who entrust him with a rare and immensely powerful gift? And what is he to do with it? From the enormous, sinister man shadowing him to the gradual mastery of his new-found abilities to his encounters with Chloe—a girl who has an astonishing talent of her own—Horace follows a path that puts the pair in the middle of a centuries-old conflict between two warring factions in which every decision they make could have disastrous consequences. Read the first chapter here!
NO PARKING AT THE END TIMES, by Bryan Bliss, is a thoughtful and moving story about losing everything—and about what you will do for the people you love. Abigail’s parents never should have made that first donation to that end-of-times preacher. Or the next, or the next. They shouldn’t have sold their house. Or packed Abigail and her twin brother, Aaron, into their old van to drive across the country to San Francisco, to be there for the “end of the world.” Because now they’re living in their van. And Aaron is full of anger, disappearing to who-knows-where every night. Their family is falling apart. All Abigail wants is to hold them together, to get them back to the place where things were right. But is that too big a task for one teenage girl? Read the first chapter here!
RED QUEEN, by Victoria Aveyard, is a sweeping fantasy about seventeen-year-old Mare, a common girl whose latent magical powers draw her into the dangerous world of the elite ruling class. Mare Barrow’s world is divided by blood—those with Red blood serve the Silver elite, whose silver blood gifts them with superhuman abilities. Mare is a Red, scraping by as a thief in a poor, rural village until a twist of fate throws her in front of the Silver court. Before the King, princes, and all the nobles, she discovers she has an ability of her own. To cover up this impossibility, the King forces her to play the role of a lost Silver princess and betroths her to one of his own sons. As Mare is drawn further into the Silver world, she risks everything to use her new position to help the Scarlet Guard—a growing Red rebellion—even as her heart tugs her in an impossible direction. One wrong move can lead to her death, but in the dangerous game she plays, the only certainty is betrayal. Read the first chapter here!
LITTLE PEACH, by Peggy Kern, is the gritty and riveting story of a runaway who comes to New York City and is lured into prostitution by a manipulative pimp. When Michelle runs away from her drug-addicted mother, she has just enough money to make it to New York, where she hopes to move in with a friend. But once she arrives at the bustling Port Authority, she is confronted with the terrifying truth: She is alone and out of options. Then she meets Devon, a good-looking, well-dressed guy who emerges from the crowd armed with a kind smile, a place for her to stay, and eyes that seem to understand exactly how she feels. But Devon is not what he seems to be, and soon Michelle finds herself engulfed in the world of child prostitution. It is a world of impossible choices, where the line between love and abuse, captor and savior, is blurred beyond recognition. This hauntingly vivid story illustrates the human spirit’s indomitable search for home, and one girl’s struggle to survive. Read the first chapter here.
SIMON VS. THE HOMO SAPIENS AGENDA, by Becky Albertalli, is an incredibly funny and poignant twenty-first-century coming-of-age, coming-out story—wrapped in a geek romance. Sixteen-year-old and not-so-openly gay Simon Spier prefers to save his drama for the school musical. But when an email falls into the wrong hands, his secret is at risk of being thrust into the spotlight. Now Simon is actually being blackmailed: If he doesn’t play wingman for class clown Martin, his sexual identity will become everyone’s business. Worse, the privacy of Blue, the pen name of the boy he’s been emailing with, will be jeopardized. With some messy dynamics emerging in his once tight-knit group of friends, and his email correspondence with Blue growing more flirtatious every day, Simon’s junior year has suddenly gotten all kinds of complicated. Now, change-averse Simon has to find a way to step out of his comfort zone before he’s pushed out—without alienating his friends, compromising himself, or fumbling a shot at happiness with the most confusing, adorable guy he’s never met. Read the first chapter here!
Check back here for “Opening the Book” Q&A’s with the authors and insightful words from the editors of these fantastic New Voices!
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 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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.