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Reading and writing Children's lit...and then there's the brain stuff
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1. Positive things to do



I'm taking a blogging break. 

And during this time I'm going to read every diverse MG book I can get my hands on, that I haven't yet read. Because now, more than ever, We Need Diverse Books!*

Reviews when I return.


*I also donated to them today. If you're frustrated or upset about things, please consider doing something positive. Donate to a charity. Volunteer. Hug someone. Read.



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2.


Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard. 

                                                                                                             -- H. L. Mencken





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3. Are you ready????

Happy Halloween! 


by Hugh McMahon as seen on BBC World News
I am registered non-partisan and this photo in no way reflects my opinion on either candidate


Are you ready? No, I'm not talking about Halloween so much as next week (although I think I still have some candy left around here). I don't know about you, but I'm soooo ready for this most bizarre of all US Presidential elections to be over.

Why can't we handle our elections the way Great Britain does and have it all finished within a few months? Better yet, the way Australia does -- in six weeks. Both countries also limit campaign spending. Isn't it high time we did the same?

And speaking of six weeks or a few months, I'm taking a blogging break. Probably for all of November and December. So sorry to miss reading your blogs but I need some time off.  I'm way behind on my writing and reading, and something has to give. I also want to start querying my novel in verse and I need to get cracking on stalking researching agents.

See you on the other side!


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4. THE INQUISITOR'S TALE by Adam Gidwitz





The Inquisitor's Tale (Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog) by Adam Gidwitz, illuminated by Hatem Aly (Sept 27, 2016, Dutton Children's Books, 384 pages, for ages 10 and up).

Synopsis (from the publisher):  1242. On a dark night, travelers from across France cross paths at an inn and begin to tell stories of three children. Their adventures take them on a chase through France: they are taken captive by knights, sit alongside a king, and save the land from a farting dragon. On the run to escape prejudice and persecution and save precious and holy texts from being burned, their quest drives them forward to a final showdown at Mont Saint-Michel, where all will come to question if these children can perform the miracles of saints.
 
Join William, an oblate on a mission from his monastery; Jacob, a Jewish boy who has fled his burning village; and Jeanne, a peasant girl who hides her prophetic visions. They are accompanied by Jeanne’s loyal greyhound, Gwenforte . . . recently brought back from the dead. Told in multiple voices, in a style reminiscent of The Canterbury Tales, our narrator collects their stories and the saga of these three unlikely allies begins to come together.


Why I recommend it: A medieval story that's still quite timely. It speaks volumes about the way we treat each other today. It's also one of the most unusual MG novels I've ever read. You'll find yourself so caught up in the story and so curious about where this is leading that you'll want to put off tasks and cancel appointments just so you can keep reading. (Not that I, coughcough, did those things...)


Favorite lines: There are so many! It's a very quotable book. Randomly picking one:  "William always admired the Italian boys' way of looking up from under their eyebrows that was either totally respectful or utterly disrespectful, and you could never tell which." (from p. 35 of the advanced reading copy)

Bonus: It's illuminating as well as entertaining. You'll learn a lot about thirteenth-century France. Adam Gidwitz spent six years researching this novel and it paid off beautifully.


Author's website

For another take on this book (and a fun interview with the author) visit Middle Grade Mafioso's post from October 3, 2016.


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5. And the winner of TIME TRAVELING WITH A HAMSTER is...



I'm happy to announce that according to randomizer, the winner of the hardcover copy of TIME TRAVELING WITH A HAMSTER is...







PATRICIA TILTON



Congratulations, Patricia! Expect a message from me asking for your mailing address.



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6. Exclusive Interview with Ross Welford, author of TIME TRAVELING WITH A HAMSTER -- and a Giveaway!



Time Traveling With a Hamster by Ross Welford (Schwartz & Wade, 2016)

(See my review in last week's post.)


Ross Welford, author of Time Traveling With a Hamster, kindly agreed to answer three questions for My Brain on Books.



Ross Welford, from his Twitter account


1) Your time travel rules make so much sense I actually believed time travel was possible. How did you come up with these rules? 

Thank you for noticing!  Time travel is - I discover - a nightmare to plot, so it’s nice to hear I got it right.  The main thing I had to invent was “Dad’s Law Of Doppelgängers” - the rule that states you can occupy a bit of space-time only once.  This came from necessity, really.  Let’s say you have a time-machine and, like Al, you go back in time and create a big disaster...  (I’m being careful with spoilers here: if you’ve read it you’ll know what I mean).  So what’s to stop you getting back into your time-machine, and travelling back in time again and putting it right?  I’d end up with a sort of time travelling Groundhog Day.   I did not want Al to be able to do that.  There was another thing in my mind as well, and that was Back To The Future.  I love those films, but I wanted to avoid too many similarities.  I’m especially thinking of the scene where Marty sees himself playing guitar at the school dance.  I did not want Al to meet himself.  (Why not?  Dunno, just didn’t.)  Out of that grew the doppelgänger ‘rule’ and once I’d worked it out, it actually kind of made sense!  Time travel is, obviously, a fantasy - but I think it’s quite a powerful fantasy, and it was fun to try to make it seem real, if only for the duration of the story.


2) This is your debut novel and I'm most impressed. Tell us briefly about your writing journey. Were there other (unpublished) books you wrote along the way? How did you find your agent?

About seven years ago I studied part-time for an MA in Screenwriting.  Until then I had written virtually no fiction ever.  Screenwriting’s a hard gig, though, and I did nothing with the MA I gained.  So in 2013, I started a story about a kid who finds a time portal in a cupboard at school.  Then I stopped at about 20,000 words, stuck on where to go next.  My local adult ed center was running a course based on NaNoWriMo, the writing club that hauls you through a 50,000 word draft in a month.  That was November.  After a couple more drafts, by spring 2014 it was the story we now have, more or less.  Different title, different ending, but still…

So, I knew that I had to start sending it out there, but I knew no one in publishing and sent out about four and then...  A friend at a party said that he happened to know someone who worked at the literary agency Peters, Fraser & Dunlop (I had never heard of them, knowing next to nothing about publishing). So I sent it off and waited, and waited, and waited….  And then things happened very quickly.  In December, I received a call from Silvia Molteni from PFD who took me on as a client straight away, and about three months later I had a two-book deal with Harper Collins, UK.  Shortly after that, it was sold to the US. (Schwartz & Wade, Penguin Random House).  A second book, What Not To Do If You Turn Invisible will be out in the UK early 2017.

Yay! 

(And an aside here to fellow writers:  I do realize that this is far from typical and that I have been very fortunate.  Sorry!)

3) You're right, Ross. That's far from typical! But congratulations! Now, could you briefly describe your writing space? Was it plastered with charts and timetables a la A Beautiful Mind while you were writing TIME TRAVELING WITH A HAMSTER? 


Early on, I did try plotting with yellow post-its arranged on a large glass door, and then I tried color-coding for when the action was in 1984!  It just got in the way though, and I found I didn’t need it. Quite a lot of Al’s adventures were unplanned - inasmuch as I didn’t know when I started writing the book that he would get into the scrapes he does.  Instead of post-it notes, there were lots of scribbled notes with arrows and crossings-out.  When I submitted the final draft, I was certain there were no errors in the timeline.  The editors found two - thankfully easily fixed.  Hurrah for copy editors!

They certainly did a great job. Thanks for stopping by, Ross. 

Giveaway details: The publisher has generously offered one hardcover copy for a giveaway. To enter, you must be a follower of this blog and you must comment on this post. If you mention this giveaway on social media, please let me know and I'll give you extra chances. This giveaway is open to U.S. mailing addresses only. Giveaway ends Sunday October 16th at 10 pm EDT and the winner will be announced on Monday October 17th. Good luck!


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7. TIME TRAVELING WITH A HAMSTER by Ross Welford




Time Traveling With a Hamster by Ross Welford (October 4, 2016, Schwartz & Wade, 432 pages, for ages 8 to 12).

Synopsis (from the publisher)My dad died twice. Once when he was thirty-nine and again four years later, when he was twelve. On his twelfth birthday, Al Chaudhury receives a letter from his dead father. It directs him to the bunker of their old house, where Al finds a time machine (an ancient computer and a tin bucket). The letter also outlines a mission: travel back to 1984 and prevent the go-kart accident that will eventually take his father’s life. But as Al soon discovers, whizzing back thirty years requires not only imagination and courage, but also lying to your mom, stealing a moped, and setting your school on fire—oh, and keeping your pet hamster safe.

Why I recommend it: Color me impressed. An endearing main character and a clever, engaging plot help make this British import absolutely brilliant. Those opening lines drew me in immediately: My dad died twice. Once when he was thirty-nine and again four years later, when he was twelve. After a beginning like that, how could you possibly stop reading?

Time travel that makes sense is extremely hard to pull off but Welford really thought this through. He must have had charts, maps, and timetables plastered all over his writing office. There's an answer for everything, even the famous "Grandfather Paradox" of time travel. You'll be amazed what happens in this humorous and touching tale. Al (along with Grandpa Byron, the coolest grandfather ever) is a character you'll grow to love. And yes, the hamster has an important role to play.

Reading this turned my weekend into a fun escapist mini-vacation.

Ross Welford's blog

Follow Ross on Twitter

Bonus: Stay tuned next week for an exclusive interview with Ross Welford and a giveaway!


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8. And the Winner of FULL OF BEANS is...

I'm happy to announce that, according to randomizer, the winner of the hardcover copy of FULL OF BEANS is...





Congratulations, Suzanne! Expect an email from me asking for your mailing address.

*   *   *

Next week, I'll be featuring a review of TIME TRAVELING WITH A HAMSTER by Ross Welford, and the week after, an exclusive Q&A with Ross, and a giveaway!




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9. FULL OF BEANS by Jennifer L. Holm -- and a GIVEAWAY!



Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm (August 30, 2016, Random House, 208 pages, for ages 8 to 12)

Synopsis (from the publisher): Grown-ups lie. That’s one truth Beans knows for sure. He and his gang know how to spot a whopper a mile away, because they are the savviest bunch of barefoot conchs (that means “locals”) in all of Key West. Not that Beans really minds; it’s 1934, the middle of the Great Depression. With no jobs on the island, and no money anywhere, who can really blame the grown-ups for telling a few tales? Besides, Beans isn’t anyone’s fool. In fact, he has plans. Big plans. And the consequences might surprise even Beans himself.

Why I recommend it:  Well, first of all, I'm a sucker for any MG novel about The Great Depression, but especially when it's a marvelous mix of humorous and heartwarming. But also, to be honest, this is just plain fun. The kind of book that leaves you smiling when you turn the last page.

Beans is a wise-cracking, lovable scamp of a character. If you've read Turtle in Paradise, this is actually a prequel, and leads right up to the beginning of Turtle in Paradise. But where the first book was Turtle's POV, Full of Beans is all about her cousin Beans Curry, and his various get-rich-quick schemes.

Favorite lines: I felt like Daddy Warbucks.
                         Except with hair.   (p.77)

Bonus: Another great read-aloud.

Giveaway details: Through the generosity of the publisher I have one hardcover copy to give away. To enter you must be a follower of this blog and you must comment on this post. This giveaway is open to US and Canadian mailing addresses only and will end at 10:00 pm EDT on Sunday Sept 25. Winner to be announced Monday Sept 26. Good luck!




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10. LUG: BLAST FROM THE NORTH by David Zeltser

Long-time readers of this blog may remember my review of LUG: DAWN OF THE ICE AGE by David Zeltser, that I featured (with a moving guest post by David) in Sept 2014.

Well, hold onto your snow possums because Lug, my favorite caveboy hero, is back! And the sequel is funnier than ever.




Lug: Blast From the North by David Zeltser. illustrations by Jan Gerardi (September 1, 2016, Carolrhoda Books/Lerner Publishing Group, 160 pages, for ages 8 to 12)

Synopsis (from the publisher): After saving his clan from saber-toothed tigers, Lug the caveboy has become a hero. The only problem: between the nightmares and his sudden skittishness around animals, he doesn't feel like much of a hero. But now he and his friends, Stony and Echo, have even bigger problems. A giant glacier is rolling toward their village—faster than any ordinary mass of ice should move—and it's on course to crush the whole settlement! Maybe Blast, the mysterious northern boy who lives on the glacier, can help Lug's clan. Or maybe it will be up to Lug to save the day again, whether he's ready to or not.

Why I recommend it: This is a funny and entertaining read throughout. I didn't think it was possible to outdo the humor and charm in the first book, Lug: Dawn of the Ice Age. But Zeltser manages it with ease. I read this book in one sitting, no doubt with a goofy smile on my face, and cheered on Lug and his loyal friends (Yay for Echo! Girl power!). An environmental message that's timely but never preachy and a thoroughly satisfying ending add to the appeal. Black and white illustrations are sprinkled throughout. Bonus: This would make a wonderful read-aloud.

Favorite line:  The first thing the boy did was throw his vegetable at me. (p. 20)


Do you have any favorite humorous MG books that also include a subtle (or maybe not-so-subtle) environmental message?


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11. THE GALLERY Winner!




We have a winner! According to randomizer, the winner of the hardcover copy of THE GALLERY by Laura Marx Fitzgerald is



Congratulations, Jess! Expect an email from me soon.

I'll be back next week with a new review and another giveaway!


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12. THE GALLERY by Laura Marx Fitzgerald -- and a Giveaway!



The Gallery by Laura Marx Fitzgerald (June 14, 2016, Dial Books, 336 pages, for ages 9 to 13)

Synopsis (from the publisher): It’s 1929, and twelve-year-old Martha has no choice but to work as a maid in the New York City mansion of the wealthy Sewell family. But, despite the Gatsby-like parties and trimmings of success, she suspects something might be deeply wrong in the household—specifically with Rose Sewell, the formerly vivacious lady of the house who now refuses to leave her room. The other servants say Rose is crazy, but scrappy, strong-willed Martha thinks there’s more to the story—and that the paintings in the Sewell’s gallery contain a hidden message detailing the truth. But in a house filled with secrets, nothing is quite what it seems, and no one is who they say. Can Martha follow the clues, decipher the code, and solve the mystery of what’s really going on with Rose Sewell?

Why I recommend it: Martha, also known as Marty, is one of the spunkiest, most determined, and funniest female main characters I've come across in recent MG fiction. Her first-person narration is always honest and often hilarious, even as she delves more deeply into the dark mystery of Rose Sewell. Like Laura's previous novel, Under the Egg, the mystery centers around art. You'll learn a great deal about art history and mythology, as well as the election of Herbert Hoover and the 1929 stock market crash. The period details are spot-on.

Favorite lines: "Here's the thing. Once I set to wondering something, my mind skips straight ahead. Like my brothers running into traffic." (from p. 13)

Giveaway details: Through the generosity of the publisher, I have one hardcover copy to give away. To enter, you must be a follower of this blog and you must comment on this post. If you mention the giveaway on social media, please let me know and I'll give you extra chances. This giveaway is only for US and Canadian mailing addresses and ends at 10 pm EDT on Sunday August 28. Winner to be announced Monday August 29. 

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13. DR. FELL AND THE PLAYGROUND OF DOOM blog tour with a Guest Post from author David Neilsen!



I'm honored to be part of the blog tour for Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom, the MG debut novel of storyteller David Neilsen (August 9, 2016, Crown Books for Young Readers, 240 pages, for ages 8 to 12).  Dr. Fell moves into town and builds an elaborate playground in his yard that attracts every kid for miles around. But as more and more kids are injured--and then quickly cured by the doctor--Jerry, Gail, and Nancy are the only ones who realize something's not right. Perfect for readers who like creepy tales that are a little scary but not too scary. I enjoyed the way the three main characters had to learn to work together to try to defeat Dr. Fell. Bonus: This would be an amazing read-aloud!


David is taking over my blog for the day to tell us about his writing journey and give us some (possibly tongue-in-cheek) advice. Take it away, David!



David Neilsen from his website



One Writer’s Journey
or How a Comic Actor Got a Book Deal Writing Children’s Horror
By David Neilsen

In the beginning, I was a comic actor. No, seriously. I was a theater major, I got a college degree in it and everything, and after college I moved to LA to become the next Steve Martin. The thing is, LA already had a glut of ‘the next Steve Martins’, and they really weren’t hunting for any more.

Going from acting to writing was only natural. In fact, it’s sort of cliche. If you can’t get cast in a movie, you write your own movie and cast yourself in it. So I began to write funny screenplays that no one read or cared about. But it made me feel good. Then one day I had this idea for a horror film. So I wrote it. And I got noticed. I got a manager, I had meetings with people in shiny buildings. I wrote a dark and twisted TV pilot that got optioned (which means a studio buys it, then lets it sit and collect dust for a year before giving up on it). Suddenly I was a horror writer. Me. The comedy guy, writing horror. Who knew? I wasn’t even aware I had a dark side.

After a bunch more screenplays that didn’t sell, my manager gave up on me and I was done. Washed up. A has-been who never-was. So I decided to write a book.

Actually, first I had to write a short story to make sure I knew how to write something other than people talking to each other, which is basically what a screenplay is. My short stories turned out pretty good, I was emboldened, and so I bit the bullet and started writing a book. Well, to be honest, I started writing two books. I would switch from one to the other every few days when I got bored, hoping that one of them would catch fire in my imagination and take over. Days passed. The two books soldiered on.

Then one caught fire.

You know that feeling you get when you suddenly understand your purpose in the world and everything makes sense and you feel totally fulfilled and universally loved and at peace with the universe? Yeah, it wasn’t quite like that, but it was good. I burned through the story, barely stopping to eat or sleep or… well… I stopped sometimes. I mean it took me a couple of months, after all. But if you want to imagine me typing away 24/7 you go right ahead.


Another awesome photo of David from his website


Eventually I had a book. A children’s book. A dark, creepy, funny children’s book. A dark, creepy, funny, children’s book that was 114,000 words long.

That’s very long. Like very, very long. Like nobody not named Rick Riordan writes Middle Grade books anywhere near that long. But I didn’t care. I had a book. And it was awesome. I proceeded to submit it to agents and publishers and sat back to wait for the offers to roll in. Which they didn’t. I got some very nice rejections, mind you, but the golden ticket of acceptance remained elusive. I couldn’t fathom why.

So I went ahead and did what you are told to never, ever do. I bothered some working writers. I looked them up online and emailed them with some form of “Hey! You’ve sold books! Can you look at my book and tell me why I’m not selling mine?” This is very bad etiquette. Most authors responded in the most appropriate of ways--they ignored me.

But one didn’t. God bless his soul, one author who shall remain nameless so as to preserve the sanctity of his inbox came back with a “Sure. Why not?” I sent him my 114,000-word book. I expected to hear back from him in about a year or so, if not a little longer. But once again, this saint of a man shocked me all to Heck. Two days later I got an email. He’d read my first chapter. He had some comments. He’d included some notes. He thanked me for the chance to read my book. I opened the attachment. SOME comments? His lists of notes and suggestions was almost longer than the chapter itself. They were glorious. I learned more about writing from that one email than from any course I’d ever taken or symposium I’d ever attended or Webcast I’d ever downloaded. I took his comments to heart and whittled my 17-page first chapter down to 9 pages. It was tight and chock full of nature’s goodness.

Then fate struck again. That saint of a writer? He was doing a reading and signing at a bookstore nearby. I went. Afterwards, I introduced myself, thanked him profusely for his help, and very timidly asked if he’d look at my now 9-page first chapter. I assumed he would mock me for daring to disturb him a second time. I was ready to be back-handed and sent flying into the bookshelves.

Instead, he said sure.

I drove home and sent him the pages that very night, again expecting to hear from him in six or seven months. The next morning he wrote me a simple message. “This is good. Do the rest of the book like you did this chapter and I’ll forward it to my agent.”

It took another two months of editing, but I turned the 114,000-word book into a 102,000-word book without really missing a single thing. I sent it to this saint of an author, who sent it to his agent. A few weeks later, the agent contacts me. He loves it! It’s too long. Can I make it closer to 50,000 words?

I cried.

But then inspiration struck. My book was divided into three Acts (I was an actor at heart, after all). What if I tucked the climax of the book into the end of the second act and saved the third act for a sequel? So that’s what I did. In the end, the book--which had once been a very proud 114,000 words--was now just under 69,000. I hoped it would be short enough.

It was.

My Awesome Agent took me on and proceeded to pitch the book to publishers. I had made it.

Or, well, no. I hadn’t made it. Because try as he might, Awesome Agent was unable to sell the book. It still, to this day, has not sold. And it is awesome. And available if anyone is interested.

But Awesome Agent believed in me. And I got possessed with the idea for a second book, entitled Dr. Fell. I wrote it in a ridiculously-short amount of time, reveled in its ridiculously-small word count of just under 45,000, and sent it to Awesome Agent. He loved it. He pitched it. It sold very, very quickly. They liked it so much, they gave me a two-book deal. The second book is not, however, a sequel. Nor is it my first book. It is my third book. Now I’m currently editing my fourth book, which I hope to sell as my third book, unless my second book, which is my first book, does well and I can interest people in my first book, which would then become my third or fourth book.

Still with me?

This month, my debut novel, Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom (the publisher played with the title and I have to admit, I like what they came up with), will be released. I’m quite proud of it and think it’s awesome and you should go pre-order a copy from Amazon right now. My second book (which is really my third), already has a release date of August 1, 2017. After that, the sky’s the limit.

So how did I get here? How did I land an agent and a book deal? More importantly, how can you do the same?

Perseverance. And luck. And quite a bit of being a pest.

Because as much as I don’t want to admit it; it really, truly is WHO you know. I got my agent because I lucked into finding a working author who agreed to read my stuff and send it to his agent. Years earlier, I’d gotten my manager because a friend of mine sent her my script. So start meeting people. Introduce yourself. You never know who’s going to be an important contact. Be nice and humble while you’re doing it, but get out there. Your fellow writers are your best targets, because, well, we’re writers. We crave attention. Nobody ever notices us or compliments us or says nice things about us. Say nice things about us and you’d be surprised where it gets you. Do yourself a favor and email your favorite writer today. They probably won’t return your email, but you never know. What can it hurt?

But don’t email me, cause I’ll probably just ignore you. I can do that now.


*   *   *


The blog tour for David Neilsen’s Dr. Fell and the Playground of Doom continues tomorrow on The Boy Reader!





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14. And the winner is...





I'm happy to announce that, according to randomizer, the winner of the hardcover copy of A CLATTER OF JARS and the paperback copy of A TANGLE OF KNOTS is....


BOOKS4LEARNING


Congratulations! And expect an email from me asking for your mailing address.



Come back next week for a guest post from debut author David Neilsen!



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15. A CLATTER OF JARS by Lisa Graff -- and a Giveaway!



A Clatter of Jars by Lisa Graff (May 2016, Philomel, 224 pages, for ages 8 to 12)

Synopsis (from Indiebound): In this magical companion to the National Book Award nominee A Tangle of Knots, it's summertime and everyone is heading off to camp. For Talented kids, the place to be is Camp Atropos, where they can sing songs by the campfire, practice for the Talent show, and take some nice long dips in the lake. But what the kids don't know is that they've been gathered for a reason, one that the camp's director wants to keep hidden at all costs.

Meanwhile, a Talent jar that has been dropped to the bottom of the lake has sprung a leak, and strange things have begun to happen. Dozens of seemingly empty jars have been washing up on the shoreline, Talents have been swapped, and memories have been ripped from one camper's head and placed into another. And no one knows why.

With a camp full of kids, a lake full of magic, and a grown-up full of a secrets, "A Clatter of Jars" is a story of summer, family, and the lengths we go to win back the people we love.

Why I recommend it: I've been a fan of author Lisa Graff since Umbrella Summer and it's been awe-inspiring to watch her talent grow over the years. I love the magical realism of this perfect summer tale. And I adore how it all comes together in the end. You don't need to read A Tangle of Knots to appreciate this fun and sophisticated summer camp yarn, since it's about different characters, but it adds to your enjoyment if you're familiar with the first book and the Talented world Lisa Graff has created. And Cady makes a cameo appearance here!

Favorite lines: Memory is a curious thing. Some details stick in our minds like peanut butter on crackers, and refuse to budge, as much as we might wish they would. (from p. 51)

Bonus: Plenty of diversity among the large cast of characters. Plus... recipes! This time for refreshing summer drinks.

Giveaway details: Thanks to the generosity of the publisher, I have one hardcover copy of A Clatter of Jars to give away, along with a paperback of A Tangle of Knots (and if you're the lucky winner and you've already read A Tangle of Knots, I could substitute another Lisa Graff paperback). To enter, all you need to do is follow my blog and comment on this post. If you tweet about it or mention it on social media, please let me know and I'll give you extra chances. This giveaway is open to mailing addresses in the US and Canada ONLY and ends at 10:00 pm EDT on Sunday July 24. Winner to be announced on Monday July 25. Good luck!

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16. On visiting the Highlights Foundation for the first time... and my impressions of the Novel in Verse Workshop from May 2016

Some of you have been waiting patiently for this post. Sorry it took so long! I was a tad distracted (see my previous post).


Some of the cabins at the Highlights Foundation.
Mine was the second from the left.


How to sum up my first visit to the Highlights Foundation?

In one word: magical.

In many more words: The entire experience inspired me, from the first Saturday gathering of 14 strangers (twelve attendees plus two faculty members) over wine and cheese to the last goodbye hugs with all my new friends on Wednesday. I couldn't imagine a more caring, encouraging group with which to share my first Highlights workshop. I'm honored to have spent time with these talented and creative people (many of whom already have books published!). By the last day, we felt like a family. 

Yet I had a somewhat rocky start -- emails going astray for months, a cabin mix-up the day I arrived... There's always a story behind the story, right? Do you know what it's like to wander around a big rural campus in search of your name on a door, hoping to find it and not finding it? Agh!  

The lovely Jan Godown Annino (check out her wonderful blog) tried to help me solve my dilemma that first afternoon.  I'm afraid I was (unintentionally) a little short with her. I'm a timid driver and I'd just spent three and a half hours driving on unfamiliar highways. Not my favorite thing to do. So I was a wee bit cranky when I arrived, only to find someone else in what was supposed to be my cabin! Indeed, I almost felt Highlights didn't want me there. 

Silly, I know.

Of course, all was not lost. The indomitable Jo Lloyd took charge and put all things right, finding my name sign and canvas welcome bag (containing the schedule, among other papers), and assigning me to a different cabin, which worked out perfectly. I fell in love with Cabin 9 and it became my home for 4 nights. 



Cabin 9: my writing cabin and my sleeping, reading, and day-dreaming cabin



Inside Cabin 9: rustic but charming, and always quiet.


As we must do when confronted with unexpected situations, I adjusted my attitude and rediscovered my sense of humor (and I'm happy to say I became great friends with Jan Godown Annino!). That evening, I enjoyed meeting and getting to know all my talented fellow attendees, along with our fearless leaders, Kathy Erskine (author of the National Book Award-winning Mockingbird, and of Seeing Red, Badger Knight, and other novels, along with the upcoming verse novel Hidden Power) and Alma Fullerton (author of verse novels Libertad, which I reviewed hereBurn, In the Garage, and others). 

On the third day, we were joined by guest author Padma Venkatraman (I was excited to meet her because I'd already read all three of her novels, Climbing the Stairs, Island's End, and A Time to Dance). 

By that third day, I'd had conversations with every single attendee, even the reticent (and gifted) Ray, the only male in our group. Ray's powerful picture book in verse moved us all to tears when he finally read it out loud at Group Critique. 

Group critique every afternoon at 4 was followed by wine and cheese at 5:30 and then a delicious buffet dinner at the Barn. 

Getting ready for dinner


Wine and cheese time in the Barn!



The food at the Highlights Foundation is worth the price of the workshops. It's true! Always fresh, local, and delicious, and prepared by the most talented chefs you'll find. They even take into account your dietary restrictions and bring you a special plate if needed. I'm sorry I didn't think to take more photos of the generous buffets. This one below is a simple lunch. There were always plenty of salad and veggie choices as well as comfort foods like lasagna. Ingredients were identified (writing with chalk on the black tablecloth: ingenious!) so you could avoid known allergens.





Eating this wonderful food made us all feel healthy-- and quite spoiled! No cooking, no clean-up. It's a writer's dream. Highlights even provided snacks and coffee, tea, or soft drinks in the Barn at any hour of the day or night, though I was usually too full to consider it.

When the rain finally blew away, we could play in the word garden:


An attempt at poetry


or take a brisk evening walk, led by Kathy Erskine, a walk which helped jump-start my brain for more writing that night.







My writing desk and reading chair



Our mornings were filled with informative workshops held in the classroom corner of the Barn. My favorite moments were mostly visual. I will never forget Kathy Erskine crawling around on the Barn's hard stone floor to demonstrate how she got into her character's head in the medieval tale, The Badger Knight, when Adrian hid under a pew at Carlisle Cathedral. And Alma telling us how she got into her character by huddling in a snow drift for hours with no coat or shoes. Wow! Talk about dedication. 

After Padma joined us, she described binding up her leg for a day and trying to walk around. That was how she got inside her character in A Time to Dance, her moving verse novel about a dancer who loses one leg in an accident.

Our afternoons included plenty of free time to write. And write is what I did. Inspired by my one-on-ones with Alma and Kathy, I managed to write four new poems for my verse novel in the time I was there, and many more since I came home. From my one-on-ones and from comments in Group Critique, I learned that I need to flesh out the minor characters more and add some humor to what has turned out to be a serious MG contemporary novel.*

I came away with a renewed sense of purpose for my novel in verse and a sense of lasting camaraderie with an amazing group of people. I'm sorry I don't have people pictures, but check out the Highlights Foundation site (at least, for now) and you may catch a glimpse of our group.

If you've never attended a Highlights Foundation workshop, please keep it in mind for the future. It's a must for any writer. And they do have scholarships. Just ask!

Personally, I can't wait to go back.


*Oh, you thought I was going to tell you what my novel is about? Sorry! That will have to wait.




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17. When something unexpected happens...


I'm back from my blogging break and happy to be here. Revising my verse novel took up more than half my time (I'll be back to talk about my novel and the Highlights Foundation workshop on Monday, July 11th). The rest of my blogging break was spent on a river cruise with my husband in Europe.

Yes, I know, we're very lucky. Actually, you have no idea how lucky we are!

This photo pretty much sums it up (yes, that's our ship in the background, which we had to evacuate):

That's my husband with some very nice ladies from Texas
at about 6:30 am local time on Father's Day, June 19, 2016.
We all managed to keep our sense of humor about the situation.

You may have seen the commercials. ("Unpack once and spend more time being there.") An idyllic river cruise through Germany, Austria, and Hungary to see Europe's greatest treasures. Well, two nights out of a planned seven were actually spent cruising. Then we were awakened at 3:30 am on the second night by a loud bang, the ship shuddered several times and eventually started listing to one side. My husband said, "I think we're in trouble." I said, "Relax, they know what they're doing. We're probably in a lock. Go back to sleep."


Taken from our sliding glass door on the 2nd level at 3:54 am local time.
We are parallel to the bridge and not going anywhere.


But we never did go back to sleep.

And we weren't in a lock.

My husband understood right away that we were actually stuck next to a bridge. The muddy, churning water of the Danube River was rushing under the boat but we weren't moving.

By 4:30 am, we'd been officially informed that the ship had run aground. By 5:30 we'd packed our luggage but left it in our stateroom as ordered, and even had time for a quick buffet breakfast on board the ship (I miss you, Chef Solomon!). By 6:30, we were taken off the vessel in small rescue boats by a local German fire rescue crew and taken to a small dock, then by bus to the fire hall, where the equivalent of the Red Cross handed out coffee, tea, and water.

I can honestly say it's the first time I've ever had to be rescued from a ship that ran aground and the first time I've ever been taken to a fire hall for disaster relief. It was truly an adventure. I think having a sense of humor and a sense of adventure is the key here. More importantly, no one was hurt, everyone on the ship stayed safe, and the volunteers of the Kelheim-Stadt Fire Rescue company were all very calm and thorough and professional. They did a fantastic job of getting 186 passengers and 50 crew members safely off the ship.




Another view from our stateroom, around 6 am, just before we left it for good.




The volunteer fire rescue crew wrote numbers on our hands as we prepared to step into the rescue boat.
It was a little disconcerting, but led to a lot of jokes (and took three days to wash off),
Those are German 1's, so I was number 141




There goes our rescue boat, off to retrieve more passengers



More pics of our intrepid rescuers:









It certainly was not what we expected to happen. We expected, instead, plenty of this:




Half-timbered house near Nuremberg Castle, Germany





Our tour guide called this "Medieval color TV" --
clock tower in Nuremberg, Germany
with figures that appeared at noon, danced and played instruments


Worlds Oldest Sausage Kitchen, Regensburg, Germany.
The sausages were delicious and I don't even like sausage!





Thirteenth-century Patrician tower with Italian influence,
Regensburg, Germany




St. Stephen's cathedral in Passau, Germany.
We were treated to a magnificent organ concert.



Near Krems, Austria, looking down at the valley from Gottweig Abbey,
a 900-year-old working Benedictine abbey where they make a delightful apricot wine!

The church at Gottweig Abbey

Maria Theresa, Queen and Empress, who reigned in the 18th century,
also wife of Holy Roman Emperor Francis I,
Vienna, Austria

Hofburg Palace in Vienna, the former imperial palace,
and still the seat of government


This may look like a palace or cathedral but it's actually Parliament in Budapest.
And Viking gave us a one-hour river cruise to see the lights come on Thursday evening.
So we still got our Budapest river cruise. Thank you, Viking!


We were most impressed with how well Viking handled the entire situation. They tried very hard to get us another vessel, but it didn't work out. So our vacation turned into a bus tour. Not the worst thing that could happen! (And other ships were affected by the flooding that same week.) Everyone from the company was calm, professional, and hardworking and did everything in their power to keep us happy. Nikki, Ivan, and especially Daniel, my hat is off to you. (I don't think those three young people ever slept.)

Imagine finding hotel rooms for 190 people at short notice! And having to feed all those people. And bus them all to the next included excursion. How they managed, I'll never know. But we never missed a single city tour. So we still saw everything we were supposed to see, including an optional tour my husband and I had signed up for, to the Bavarian Village museum, also known as the Museumsdorf Bayerischer Wald, near Passau. A delightful journey into Bavaria's past, with over 100 authentic buildings brought in from all over Bavaria and preserved.

Chapel in the Bavarian Village museum

The geese at the Bavarian Village were excited to see us,
as our group of 15 seemed to be the only people there that day!


The accident was certainly not the worst thing that ever happened to us on vacation. Curious about the worst? See my "About Me" page.

When something unexpected happens on vacation, how do you handle it? Do you keep your sense of humor?

I'd like to wish all my American friends a very happy (and safe) Independence Day weekend. And to everyone, whether you're heading off to the beach or the mountains or to somewhere farther away for vacation, may all your travels be safe and uneventful!


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18. Giveaway winner for UNIDENTIFIED SUBURBAN OBJECT


I'm pleased to announce that according to randomizer the winner of the SIGNED hardcover copy of UNIDENTIFIED SUBURBAN OBJECT by Mike Jung is





Congratulations, Rosi! Expect an email from me asking for your mailing address.


* * *

Please note: I'm taking a blogging break for a few weeks so I can focus on revising my verse novel. I received some fantastic feedback on it at the Highlights Foundation workshop on Novels in Verse in late May. Those five days were a magical experience, filled with learning, sharing, and making new friends. Really, we felt more like a family by the end. The food was heavenly, we took walks without seeing a single vehicle (!), and there was plenty of built-in time for writing. I'll be back in July with a more-detailed recap of my adventures.


I'll leave you with some photos from Highlights. My cabin was the second from the left. Rustic and cozy and very conducive to writing.







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19. INSIDE OUT & BACK AGAIN: Celebrating Poetry Month with Novels in Verse



Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai (2013, HarperCollins, 262 pages, for ages 8 to 12)

Synopsis (from the publisher):  For all the ten years of her life, Hà has only ever known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, and the warmth of her friends close by. But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. Hà and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope—toward America.

Why I recommend it: The text is spare, with lots of white space on the page. Yet the imagery is gorgeous and colorful. I could taste the papaya, see the cramped boat on which they escape, feel Hà's anger and frustration at leaving home and starting over. Hà's voice is honest and childlike. Based loosely on the author's own childhood, the story is a deeply moving one. Like Hà, Thanhha Lai fled Vietnam with her family when she was ten, and moved to Alabama. Today she lives in Kansas.

The paperback edition includes suggested activities and an interview with the author.

Thanhha Lai's website

Favorite lines: (from a poem called Twisting Twisting on p. 37)
                       
                          Mother measures
                          rice grains
                          left in the bin.
                          Not enough to last
                          till payday
                          at the end of the month.

                          Her brows
                          twist like laundry
                          being wrung dry.

Bonus: Use this as a starting point for classroom lessons about the Vietnam War, and timely discussions about refugees and prejudice.

Have you read Inside Out & Back Again or any other novels in verse? What did you think of them?


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20. WOLF HOLLOW by Lauren Wolk



Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk (May 3, 2016, Dutton Children's Books, 304 pages, for ages 8 to 12)

Synopsis (from Indiebound): Growing up in the shadows cast by two world wars, Annabelle has lived a mostly quiet, steady life in her small Pennsylvania town. Until the day new student Betty Glengarry walks into her class. Betty quickly reveals herself to be cruel and manipulative, and while her bullying seems isolated at first, things quickly escalate, and reclusive World War I veteran Toby becomes a target of her attacks. While others have always seen Toby's strangeness, Annabelle knows only kindness. She will soon need to find the courage to stand as a lone voice of justice as tensions mount. Brilliantly crafted, "Wolf Hollow" is a haunting tale of America at a crossroads and a time when one girl's resilience and strength help to illuminate the darkest corners of our history.

Why I recommend it: This book blew me away. I'm impressed by the imagery and the voice, and astonished by the depth here. Any adult who dismisses the importance of children's literature should read this novel. A haunting story that will stay with me for a long time.

Wolf Hollow may not appeal to kids looking for an easy read with exciting adventures, but middle school readers who prefer something deeper, quieter, and more literary will find much to love here. I've read reviews comparing this to To Kill a Mockingbird and I admit the comparison is apt, but it's rural Pennsylvania and not the South, and instead of race, this book addresses class differences and bullying. Younger readers may find a few scenes frightening. (I would suggest 9 and up or even 10 and up.)


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21. THE DRAKE EQUATION and a guest post from author Bart King -- PLUS a giveaway!





The Drake Equation by Bart King (May 10, 2016, Disney Hyperion, 320 pages, for ages 8 to 12).

Synopsis (from Indiebound): Noah Grow is a bird-watcher. If you're picturing some kid in a big floppy hat, peering up into trees through giant binoculars . . . well, good job. That's exactly what he does. Right now, Noah is on a quest to find a wood duck. According to his calculations, aka the Drake Equation, the odds are good--really good--for spotting one.

That's why he gets off the bus at the wrong stop. And that's how he ends up running down a hill, crashing into a fence, and landing right next to a strange, glittery object.

Noah and his best friends, Jason and Jenny, soon discover that the mysterious disc is, well, mysterious. It gives Noah peculiar powers. As things go from odd to outrageous, Noah is swept up in a storm of intergalactic intrigue and middle-school mayhem. There's much more at stake than Noah realizes.

Why I recommend it:  I recently spent a fun weekend with this book and was a little sorry to see the story end. Rich in humor (I haven't read such a memorable bathroom scene since The Fourth Stall) and filled with organic imagery ("My stomach dropped like a diving osprey"), this is an entertaining and imaginative tale that's perfect for the 8 to 12 age range. With its timely and subtle environmental theme, this book reminded me of Carl Hiaasen's MG novels. Kid readers will love the wild and crazy adventures that ensue after Noah figures out how to access the power of the disc, and of course they'll hoot over the bathroom humor. Teachers will appreciate the curriculum tie-ins to English vocabulary and science, used in such an ingenious way, kids won't realize they're learning!


I'm honored that author Bart King agreed to write a guest post. Take it away, Bart!






Hi! Bart King here. In the unlikely event you’ve heard of me, it’s probably because of my funny non-fiction books for younger readers, like The Big Book of Superheroes.

I began writing nonfiction books in 1999, with the gripping title, An Architectural Guidebook to Portland. (Yes, really!) Since then, I’ve stuck with that style. I mean, fiction? Puh-leeze. Novels are the province of the literati, the artists who can build imaginary worlds with graceful flourishes of their pens or keyboards. Hmm, maybe not the latter. (It’s hard to look elegant while flourishing one’s keyboard.)

Two years ago, I undertook a new writing project. It was one that tested my resolve, cursed me with sleepless nights, and basically made me want my mommy. Because what I was trying to do was write a novel.

Yes, fiction!

[cue horrified shrieks]

Today, I find myself the proud father of The Drake Equation (Disney Hyperion, grades 3-7). My goal was to write a story that was entertaining and funny, but that also had a redeeming message that didn’t seem “preachy.”

And guess what? Writing that novel really WAS incredibly hard. But after 13 drafts, I *think* it came out the way I intended. And now it’s on to the next project. So if you’ll excuse me, I need to practice my keyboard flourishes!




Bart, I'd say you more than accomplished your goal. I'm so impressed that The Drake Equation is your first novel. Writing all those humorous non-fiction books really prepared you for this.





Visit Bart's website

Follow Bart on Twitter, Find Bart on Facebook

Here's Bart on Instagram

Bart's previous appearance on my blog




Giveaway details: The publisher has generously offered a hardcover copy for giveaway. To enter, you must be a follower of this blog and you must comment on this post. This giveaway is open to US mailing addresses only and will end at 10:00 pm EDT on Sun May 29.  Winner will be announced on Monday May 30. So you have three weeks to enter!






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22. COUNTING THYME and Q&A with Melanie Conklin




Counting Thyme by Melanie Conklin (April 12, 2016, G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers, 320 pages, for ages 10 and up) 

Synopsis (from the publisher): When eleven-year-old Thyme Owens’ little brother, Val, is accepted into a new cancer drug trial, it’s just the second chance that he needs. But it also means the Owens family has to move to New York, thousands of miles away from Thyme’s best friend and everything she knows and loves.

Thyme loves her brother, and knows the trial could save his life—she’d give anything for him to be well—but she still wants to go home, although the guilt of not wanting to stay is agonizing. She finds herself even more mixed up when her heart feels the tug of new friends, a first crush, and even a crotchety neighbor and his sweet whistling bird. All Thyme can do is count the minutes, the hours, and days, and hope time can bring both a miracle for Val and a way back home.

Why I recommend it:  This is one of the clearest, strongest middle-grade voices I've read in years. You'll find yourself believing Thyme is a real 11-year-old girl telling you her story. Also, I've lived in Manhattan (in a third-floor walk-up) and the details about the city are spot-on. A sad but sweet and even humorous novel with a lot of heart and a lot of hope.

Melanie's website

I'm thrilled that author Melanie Conklin agreed to answer a few questions. Here's our Q&A:


Melanie Conklin, from the author's website


1) Tell us a little about neuroblastoma and especially why you decided to have a character with this form of cancer.

Neuroblastoma is a cancer that is primarily found in developing nervous tissue. It can manifest in many different areas, and children ages five and younger are most commonly affected. I first became acquainted with neuroblastoma in 2007, when a child in my Brooklyn neighborhood was diagnosed with the disease. I followed his family’s story closely through their blog, and ended up joining another local mom’s effort to raise funds for pediatric cancer research through baking and selling cookies—which became Cookies for Kids’ Cancer. Several years later, when I started writing, the stories of these families fighting cancer in such young children still resonated with me, in part because the treatments for the disease are very difficult to endure. When I decided to write a character who had a younger sibling facing an illness, neuroblastoma was the illness I wanted to portray.

2) My kids were on the Lighting and Sound crew in their school theater department, so I loved your scenes about figuring out how to make the sounds for The Wizard of Oz. Were you involved in theater yourself? If not, what kind of research did you so?

I’m glad you enjoyed those scenes! I was involved in theater on the periphery in both high school and college. While I never had the urge to perform, I really enjoyed working on the sets and painting backdrops, and once you’re back stage you end up exposed to the whole world of theater! Also, a friend of mine is a sound producer and foley artist, and I’d been acquainted with his work over the years, so between those two influences I had a feel for the scenes I wanted to create for Thyme’s school play. I researched children’s theater productions and watched quite a few performances on YouTube to fill in the gaps, and had a lot of fun inventing sounds, which in many ways related to my work as a product designer. Having worked with all kinds of materials to produce household goods, I have a feel for their various properties, which helped me mock up my ideas for different sounds to test out in our kitchen.

3) What are some of your favorite MG titles? And what's your favorite snack while reading them?

Ooh, snacks! I am a snacker. I prefer salty over sweet…so most often you’ll find me with a bag of bagel chips or some slices of cheese with olives. I don’t eat much while I read, though, because I love books in print and I’m still horrified at the idea of leaving a fingerprint on the page! Childhood habits die hard. I love the variety of titles in middle grade, and I love so many of them. One for the Murphysand When You Reach Me are two of my favorites. I also love verse novels, like Brown Girl Dreaming and Blue Birds. I’m reading Mayday right now, and the voice in it is amazing!

4) I love verse novels too. What's next for you? Will there be another novel about Thyme and her family? Or are you working on something new? Can you give us a hint?


Next up for me is another middle grade novel! I’m drafting the story right now, so it’s a very exciting time of discovery and surprises. It stars a whole new cast of characters, and I can tell you that it’s about family and friendship, and though it’s a very different world from the one in Counting Thyme, it’s also about finding your place in the world after life throws you a curveball. In many ways, this story is even more personal for me, and I can’t wait to share it one day soon!

And I can't wait to read it! Thank you for visiting, Melanie. Readers, have you read COUNTING THYME? What about any other MG novels about a sibling with cancer?


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23. LIBERTAD by Alma Fullerton: Celebrating Poetry Month with Novels in Verse


Libertad by Alma Fullerton (2008, Fitzhenry and Whiteside, 215 pages, for ages 8 to 12)

Synopsis (from Indiebound): With their father gone to America to make money for his family, Libertad, his little brother Julio and their mother scrape a living out of a dump in Guatemala City. Although it is too late for him, Libertad is determined that his little brother should go to school. Taught to play the marimba by his father, Libertad uses his talent as a street musician to raise enough money for his brother's school supplies. But his dreams for their future are destroyed when their mother is killed in a freak accident. Libertad must face the inevitable truth; they cannot survive on the streets of Guatemala City alone. There is only one thing to do. They must set out on the long and lonely journey to the Rio Grande River, where they plan to cross the water and enter the United States to find their father.

Why I recommend it:  Libertad means "freedom" and that's exactly what Libertad and his brother seek. A moving and inspiring story of brotherly love, strength, despair, and hope. Like any good verse novel, each poem stands alone, yet together the poems form a whole greater than its parts. Libertad, the boy, is a sympathetic character with a strong voice, and you'll find yourself cheering on both boys as they head north to find their father. Although I've read books by Pam Munoz Ryan and Christina Diaz Gonzalez and others, I still feel there aren't enough MG Latino novels being published, despite the fact that people of Hispanic origin are the largest ethnic minority in the US. So I was happy to find this one in my quest for verse novels. 


Favorite lines: (from a poem called Games on page 4-5)

         We collect our marbles, rushing
         for the safety of our homes.
         Tonight, even the moon is
         afraid
         to show its face
         on our dump.


Bonus: Use as a springboard for timely discussions about the current political race and the immigrant experience.  


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24. THE CROSSOVER by Kwame Alexander: Celebrating Poetry Month with Novels in Verse




The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (2014, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 237 pages, for ages 9 to 13)

Synopsis (from Indiebound): "With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . .The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. Cuz tonight I m delivering, " announces dread-locked, 12-year old Josh Bell. He and his twin brother Jordan are awesome on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood, he's got mad beats, too, that tell his family's story in verse, in this fast and furious middle grade novel of family and brotherhood.


Why I recommend it:  This is so much more than poetry. The words practically explode off the page. The poems vary from rap to free verse to Basketball Rules to definitions of Josh's vocabulary words. So much imagination and artistry went into the writing, it's easy to see why this won the Newbery in January 2015 and was also named a Coretta Scott King Honor book. I'm not even a basketball fan, but I loved this book.

Favorite lines (from a poem called The Second Half on page 181):
                             
                         My brother is
                         Superman tonight.
                         Sliding
                         and Gliding
                         into rare air,
                         lighting up the sky


Bonus: This isn't just a novel about basketball and sibling rivalry. It's about a close-knit, loving family having to accept the father's illness.

What poetry are you reading for Poetry Month?



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25. Giveaway winner! Plus, a NEW Giveaway for UNIDENTIFIED SUBURBAN OBJECT by Mike Jung

I'm pleased to announce a Giveaway winner for the signed hardcover copy of THE DRAKE EQUATION by Bart King. According to randomizer the winner is:


SUE HEAVENRICH


Congratulations, Sue! Look for an email from me asking for your mailing address.

*  *  *

And I'm so excited because I have a new giveaway this week and it's also SIGNED BY THE AUTHOR!




Unidentified Suburban Object by Mike Jung (April 26, 2016, Scholastic Press, 272 pages, for ages 8 to 12)


Synopsis (from Indiebound):  The next person who compares Chloe Cho with famous violinist Abigail Yang is going to HEAR it. Chloe has just about had it with people not knowing the difference between someone who's Chinese, Japanese, or Korean. She's had it with people thinking that everything she does well -- getting good grades, winning first chair in the orchestra, et CETera -- are because she's ASIAN.

Of course, her own parents don't want to have anything to DO with their Korean background. Any time Chloe asks them a question they change the subject. They seem perfectly happy to be the only Asian family in town. It's only when Chloe's with her best friend, Shelly, that she doesn't feel like a total alien. 

Then a new teacher comes to town: Ms. Lee. She's Korean American, and for the first time Chloe has a person to talk to who seems to understand completely. For Ms. Lee's class, Chloe finally gets to explore her family history. But what she unearths is light-years away from what she expected.

Why I recommend it: I've been one of Mike's loyal followers since, well, practically forever (in social media terms). I've always found his blog posts and tweets thoughtful and thought-provoking. He's a founding member of We Need Diverse Books (and yes, people, we STILL need diverse books!). But all of that is really besides the point because I LOVE THIS BOOK and I would love it even if I didn't know anything about the author and even if I hadn't read GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES, Mike's first MG novel, published in 2012.

Chloe's voice is pitch-perfect. You will feel you are listening to an actual twelve-year-old girl gripe about her parents and school. Her family history is wild and crazy, but makes for a fun, fast-paced read. Chloe's friendship with Shelly reminds me of actual friendships I had in junior high. And it's always refreshing to read a story in which the main character has two loving parents. Plus, this is a lighthearted, humorous novel that nevertheless delves into deeper issues of prejudice and racism. Today's kids need this book more than ever.

Favorite lines (from page 66): "The notes spilled out of the violin strings like beams of sunlight, and I got that tingly feeling I always get when I'm playing something as well as I can play, except I was just playing a scale!"




Giveaway details: I have a SIGNED hardcover copy to give away. To enter, you must be a follower of this blog and you must comment on this post. US mailing addresses only, please (so sorry!). If you mention this giveaway on social media, please let me know and I'll give you extra chances. This giveaway ends at 10:00 pm EDT on Sun June 5 and the lucky winner will be announced on Monday June 6, 2016. Good luck!


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