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1. LUG, DAWN OF THE ICE AGE Review, Guest Post, and Giveaway



Lug, Dawn of the Ice Age: How One Small Boy Saved Our Big, Dumb Species by David Zeltzer, for ages 8 to 12, Egmont, September 9, 2014

Source: Netgalley, by invitation from the publisher

Synopsis (from the publisher): In Lug’s Stone Age clan, a caveboy becomes a caveman by catching a jungle llama and riding against the rival Boar Rider clan in the Big Game. The thing is, Lug has a forbidden, secret art cave and would rather paint than smash skulls. 

When Lug is banished from the clan for failing to catch a jungle llama, he’s forced to team up with Stony, a silent Neanderthal with a very expressive unibrow, and Echo, a girl from a rival clan who can talk to animals and just may be prehistory’s first vegetarian and animal rights activist. Together they face even bigger challenges—Lug discovers the Ice Age is coming and he has to bring the warring clans together to save them not only from the freeze but also from a particularly unpleasant migrating pride of saber-toothed tigers. It’s no help that the elders are cavemen who can’t seem to get the concept of climate change through their thick skulls.




Why I recommend it: Lug is my new hero. He's endearing, funny, and smart. David Zeltzer has managed the magical feat of channeling the voice of a twelve-year-old cave boy to perfection. Lug is the only one in his clan who seems to realize climate change is coming, although in this case, it's an ice age. But you'll also enjoy Lug's creative tendencies, his attempts to bring rival clans together, and of course his first crush. An easy and fast read. Final art not seen, but it looks as if the lively drawings will enhance the story nicely.



Photo credit: Fiona Dulbecco


David Zeltzer emigrated from the Soviet Union as a child, graduated from Harvard, and has worked with all kinds of wild animals, including rhinos, owls, sharks, and ad executives. David lives with his wife and daughter in Santa Cruz, California. He performs improv comedy and loves meeting readers of all ages. His second book about Lug is scheduled to publish in Fall 2015. Visit David’s website at www.davidzeltser.com. He’s also on Twitter: @davidzeltser

And now, a touching guest post from David, with giveaway details below that.

*  *  *

Dear My Brain on Books readers,

Joanne kindly asked me to share something about my journey as a writer.

Although I was a constant reader, up until I was 21, I was sure I’d be a theoretical physicist. But right before my senior year at Harvard, my best friend was struck and killed by lightning. His name was Qijia Fu and that sudden loss changed everything for me. Instead of continuing on with my plans to go to grad school and do theoretical physics, I suddenly felt I wanted my work to have more of a connection to people, emotion and imagination. I spent my last year of college taking classes in everything except science. There was a regular playwriting contest at Harvard where the winning piece was produced. I co-wrote a play with my brilliant friend, Alexis Gallagher. Encouraged by the win, I began writing screenplays. I wrote with Alexis, with my wonderful actor friend Max Faugno, and on my own. A couple of scripts got optioned, but for some reason it never occurred to me to move to LA. Instead, I wrote whatever I wanted and paid for my tiny NYC apartment by working as a freelance advertising copywriter on the side. My friend Zimran Ahmed always called me Madman, long before the famous show came out.


For more about me, LUG, and other upcoming books, please visit my website. And here’s the page with the LUG book trailer: http://davidzeltser.com/books/lug-dawn-of-the-ice-age

Hope you enjoy it!
David

*  *  *


Thank you, David. I'm so sorry to learn this about your friend, but glad you found a beautiful way to connect with people.  

Readers, the publisher has generously offered a signed, hardcover copy to one lucky winner. Open to addresses in the US or Canada only. You must be at least 12 years old to enter this giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower and comment on this post. I will give extra entries if you mention this on Twitter, Facebook, or your own blog, but please include a link. Thanks! This giveaway ends at 10 pm Eastern Time on Friday, September 19, 2014. Winner to be announced Monday, Sept 22.


Be sure to visit these other stops on the LUG Blog Tour: 



 Monday, September 08, 2014
Review and giveaway

Tuesday, September 09, 2014
Guest post and giveaway
Guest post and giveaway



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2. The Fourteen Fibs of Gregory K. for MMGM





The Fourteen Fibs of Gregory K. by Greg Pincus (ages 8 to 12, Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, Sept 2013)

Source: I won this book from Deb Marshall at Read Write Tell. She reads a lot of MG, so go visit her soon.


Synopsis (from the publisher): Gregory K. is the middle child in a family of mathematical geniuses. But if he claimed to love math? Well, he'd be fibbing. What he really wants most is to go to Author Camp. But to get his parents' permission he's going to have to pass his math class, which has a probability of 0. THAT much he can understand! To make matters worse, he's been playing fast and loose with the truth: "I LOVE math" he tells his parents. "I've entered a citywide math contest!" he tells his teacher. "We're going to author camp!" he tells his best friend, Kelly. And now, somehow, he's going to have to make good on his promises.

Hilariously it's the "Fibonacci Sequence" -- a famous mathematical formula! -- that comes to the rescue, inspiring Gregory to create a whole new form of poem: the Fib! Maybe Fibs will save the day, and help Gregory find his way back to the truth.


Why I recommend it: This is a perfect back-to-school read. If your kids are groaning because summer's almost over, give them this book. They'll get so involved in Gregory's predicament they might even forget school is coming.

Gregory is a likable and realistic character. Whether or not math is your strong suit, you'll enjoy this. I did well in math, right up until Geometry, and then I earned my first-ever D. So I empathized completely with Gregory.

You'll also love the Fibs, the poems Gregory writes. Six lines, based on the beginning of the Fibonacci sequence (0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8). You may even be inspired to write one of your own! Give it a try. I've written eight of them since I read the book. First line is 1 syllable, second line is 1 syllable, third is 2 syllables, fourth is 3 syllables, fifth is 5 syllables, sixth is 8 syllables. No need for rhyme, but rhyme if you want to.



And now for a special treat, here's an exclusive interview with Greg Pincus.

From Greg's blog, GottaBook


1) First of all, welcome to My Brain on Books! The story of how The Fourteen Fibs of Gregory K. became a book is an unusual and fascinating one. I understand Arthur A. Levine spoke to you about it before you actually wrote it. Can you tell us briefly how the novel came to be?
The novel definitely came about in an unusual fashion. I'd met Arthur at my very first SCBWI conference and had been submitting picture book manuscripts to him. My cover letters and follow-up letters, however, seemed to get a much better reaction than many manuscripts - they were funny, somewhat snarky, and, in retrospect, better writing than the picture books. Arthur felt that I should be writing novels. I kept sending him short stuff. Then in April of 2006, my blog and I went viral and into the New York Times, all due to poetry based on the Fibonacci sequence. Arthur saw this as an opportunity to combine various things we both liked - the tone of my letters, Fibonacci poetry, my other poetry, and his desire to have me write novels. We came up with the very broad idea of The 14 Fibs of Gregory K. on a phone call - there was no manuscript when I got the deal back in 2006 - and over time, it morphed and changed and revised itself into the final book. 

2) You're not only a poet and a middle grade novelist, you're also a screenwriter. In what ways did screenwriting help you craft this novel?
I found that screenwriting helped in terms of writing individual scenes - keeping multiple things happening and ending them before they've gone too far, in particular. I actually found my screenwriting to be a bit of a problem in terms of not always filling in the visual details of a scene. I mean, heck, it's all gonna be there on the screen, right? Uh... no. 

3) Do you have a writing routine? Outline or pantser? Morning or evening? Coffee or tea (or chocolate)?
I am a combination of outliner/pantser in the sense that I always do have an outline, but in areas where there's not much detail, I'm fine winging it. I write when there's time, and always have, but love bigger chunks of contiguous hours, so if my schedule looks like I'll get that in the evening, I'm an evening writer, but if there's only free time in the morning, I'm a morning writer.  And coffee and chocolate, of course!

4) Do you still write Fibs? Can you share a favorite one with us?
I do write Fibs as a kind of warm up session for myself (which is how I initially used them). The focused form truly helps me focus on word choice and the like. And I still find it VERY hard to come up with good ones. Still, one of my favorites remains A Beach Fib, posted over at my blog - http://gottabook.blogspot.com/2006/07/beach-fib.html. 


5) I LOVE A Beach Fib! Thanks so much for sharing. Greg, you're one of the founders of #kidlitchat. What would you like to tell my readers about it?

Even after five years on Twitter (a social media eon!), #kidlitchat is still going strong every Tuesday night at 9 PMEastern/6 PM Pacific. It's a fun, low-key way to hang out with some fellow children's literature lovers, get inspiration and resources, and make friends. Plus, when it really gets going, it can teach you just how fast you can read!


6) Please satisfy my curiosity: did you name your character after yourself? Is he you as a kid?

I had been writing a lot of individual poems, and many of them came out in the voice of the same kid. I had been writing the poems as "Gregory K." rather than Greg Pincus (or really, rather than Gregory K. Pincus which is what I'd been writing screenplays as). When Arthur and I discussed the book initially, we decided that the "poem voice kid" had a good perspective and the novel was going to be about a kid who wrote poetry. Then Arthur came up with The 14 Fibs of Gregory K. as a title (perhaps the only thing that remained from the first conversation to the final book!), and who could argue with that? He is definitely not me as a kid, nor is the book autobiographical!


Here's a post from Greg's blog, Gotta Book, about Fibs.
Find Greg on Twitter


Be creative, readers! Write a Fib and share it with us. Leave it in the comments (unless you're shy).

Here's one of mine:

Wet
leaf.
Spider
balances
between the raindrops.
Nature's tiniest acrobat.



For other MMGM recommendations, visit Shannon Messenger's blog.


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3. Screaming at the Ump by Audrey Vernick for MMGM, plus An Interview!



Screaming at the Ump by Audrey Vernick (ages 9 to 13, Clarion Books, March 2014)

Source: I won this book from Rosi Hollinbeck, who blogs at The Write Stuff. Go visit! She has a lot of cool stuff on there.

Synopsis (from Indiebound): Twelve-year-old Casey Snowden knows everything about being an umpire. His dad and grandfather run a New Jersey umpire school, Behind the Plate, and Casey lives and breathes baseball. Casey's dream, however, is to be a reporter--objective, impartial, and fair, just like an ump. 

But when he stumbles upon a sensational story involving a former major league player in exile, he finds that the ethics of publishing it are cloudy at best. This emotionally charged coming-of-age novel about baseball, divorce, friendship, love, and compassion challenges its readers to consider all the angles before calling that strike.

Why I recommend it:  Well, yes, I grew up with baseball. Some of my earliest memories include chasing fireflies around my backyard while my parents listened to the Phillies game on the radio. As a teen, I went to a lot of home games and knew all the players and their stats. 

Surprisingly, though, I'm not much of a baseball fan now. Yet I still loved this book. Whether or not you love baseball, you'll enjoy reading Screaming At The Ump, especially for Casey's authentic voice and the wackiness of his best friend, Zeke. 

The title gets my vote for Best Title So Far This Year. There's a lot of humor here, not just boy humor. But then the book goes deeper, which is what I love most about it. Vernick deftly handles not only Casey's feelings about his parents' divorce, but about the former major league player who shows up at Behind the Plate under a different name. Casey's struggle over doing what's right will resonate with the reader. This is one of those books you'll think about long after you've turned the last page.



And now for a special treat: an interview with Audrey Vernick!


Audrey Vernick, from her website



1) I know you're a baseball fan and have also written some nonfiction picture books about baseball (Brothers at Bat; She Loved Baseball: The Effa Manley Story). What made you decide to write a novel about umpire school?

Long before there was instant replay in baseball, probably about seven years ago, there was one postseason in which the umpires got a lot of important calls wrong, calls that changed the outcome of games. Talk radio was buzzing with it. It made me wonder how umpires became major-league umpires. A little quick research revealed that they have to go to umpire school--there are two in Florida and all major league umpires started there. (Who knew?) I found it really intriguing, the mere fact that umpire schools exist.

Combine that fact with this:  I have a tendency to write too "quiet," to like character-driven work, which editors point out makes it hard for a title to stand out on their list. Knowing this about my writing self, I thought using an unusual setting might be enough to allow for a less-than-shocking-at-every-turn kind of plot. I don't enjoy reading plot-driven fiction, and I don't think I could even write it if I wanted to. Writing a book that takes place in an umpire school felt like it would give me a chance to write the kind of book I enjoy writing that might be publishable.


2) Well, you certainly hit it out of the ballpark with this one, Audrey. Could you tell us a little about your journey to becoming a published author? Did you start out writing picture books? If so, how difficult was the transition to middle grade novels?

Before I wrote for kids, I wrote literary short fiction. I published about a dozen stories in literary journals and magazines. I lived through the skin-hardening years of rejection then, for the most part. I switched to writing for children over a decade ago and the first book I wrote, Bark and Tim: A True Story of Friendship, was co-written with my sister Ellen Gidaro. It was an odd book, in that the illustrations kind of had to be the paintings of the artist Tim Brown, whom the book was about, so there we were--submitting a book complete with illustrations, the exact-wrong way to begin. It took a very long time to find a publisher--a small regional press in Tennessee. That book was published in 2003. My next book for children came out in 2010. I point to those seven years as my real learning curve.

There came a point where I wanted an agent to handle the submission side of things. There were so many fewer agents then than there are now, and the common thinking was that one needed to catch an agent's attention with a novel. Also, as the graduate of an mfa writing program, I always knew I'd have to write a novel SOME day. So I wrote my first one, Water Balloon. It was called Dandelion Summer then. It was hard. And I think writing novels is so hard. I remember the very tentative steps I took in the beginning, writing a chapter or two and needing to send it to a reader-friend right away, asking, "Is this how you do it?" The hard part, of course, is to keep doing it. When I had a finished, revised draft I found an agent and she submitted it widely and failed to sell it. It wasn't until many years later, working with my current (second) agent, that I decided to pull it out of the drawer and give it another try. I revised with an eye toward making it less quiet--not a lot less quiet, but enough. And I was lucky that the book found its meant-to-be editor, Jennifer Greene, at Clarion.

I find the process of writing picture books comes naturally to me. I have to work much harder on novels.


3) Oh, I agree. Writing novels IS hard! I'd love to hear about your writing process. Do you outline the entire novel before you write or are you a pantser? Or a little of both? Do you write every day?

Oh heavens, I have no real process. Over the years, I've learned to trust that when it's time to write, I'll write. (This could be classified, accurately, as deciding that it's okay to be undisciplined and possibly a little lazy). I do not outline, but I do like to have some idea about how my story will end, so I have a direction to write in/toward. I do not write every day. I go through patches when I work a lot--usually on several different projects. And when drafting novels, I usually have several 8,000-10,000 word days--awful words, to be clear, but words, to move me along, otherwise I'd never be able to do it. When I'm somewhere between halfway and two-thirds done, I usually try to come up with a list of scenes that will get me to the finish line. And I don't always write those in order.

My advice is to not conduct one's writing life the way I conduct mine.

4) I think you're doing just fine, Audrey. Everyone's writing process is different. Please tell us: what three MG authors have influenced you the most?
Three. Hm. Maybe I can do this. I can never pick a single favorite anything, but three?

My mom, Judy Glassman, wrote a wonderful middle grade novel, The Morning Glory War, which was accepted for publication a few months before she died (a sudden, unexpected death).
Lynne Rae Perkins wrote the book I wish I wrote in All Alone in the Universe.
Louise Fitzhugh, because I've probably reread Harriet the Spy more than any other book.


5) I’m so sorry to hear that about your mom, but how wonderful that you have her book. And I totally agree about Louise Fitzhugh! Now I'd better read All Alone in the Universe. For my final question: i
f you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?

Because one has to factor in how close one's family and friends would be, I think I'm pretty content to stay right here. A little over an hour outside of NYC (without traffic, as in, in a world that doesn't exist), very short drive to the beach, short drive to family.
Lucky you! Thanks so much for being here, Audrey!


Audrey's website

Find Audrey on Twitter

For other MMGM recommendations, see the links on Shannon's blog.

 


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4. Wake Up Missing by Kate Messner for MMGM



Wake Up Missing by Kate Messner (Sept 2013, Walker Childrens, for ages 10 to 14)

Source: purchased from B&N

Synopsis (from the publisher):

Four kids . . . 

Two weeks in the Florida Everglades . . . 

One top-secret science experiment that could change them and the world as they know it . . . 

Meet Quentin, a middle-school football star from Chicago; Sarah, a hockey player from Upstate New York; Ben, a horse lover from the Pacific Northwest; and Cat, an artistic bird watcher from California.

The four have little in common except the head injuries that landed them in an elite brain-science center in the wild swamps of Florida. It’s known as the best clinic in the world and promises to return their lives to normal, but as days pass, the kids begin to notice strange side effects and unexplained changes


Why I recommend it: Wake Up Missing is a fascinating combination of futuristic science and old-fashioned adventure and mystery in the Florida swamps. The way the author managed to stir in traumatic brain injuries, a one-eyed alligator, a man who collects butterflies, and four kids from diverse backgrounds (and then season it all with a dash of political intrigue) makes for one remarkable dish. As an adult reader, I found the doctor's experiments a little far-fetched, but I could see my ten-year-old self eating this up. 

You might recognize Kate Messner as the author of the Marty McGuire series of younger chapter books (yay! I love Marty McGuire!), and from Capture the Flag and other novels.

Have you read Wake Up Missing? What did you think? And if you haven't read it, what recent mystery/adventure would you recommend?


Kate Messner's website

Follow Kate on Twitter


For other MMGM posts, see Shannon's links.

(Speaking of missing... I'll be missing from the blogging world for the next few weeks. I'll be back on Monday, August 18th. Hoping to finish a much-needed revision on my latest novel.)

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5. CURIOSITY by Gary Blackwood for MMGM





Curiosity by Gary Blackwood (April 2014, Dial, for ages 9 to 13)

Source: library

Synopsis (from the publisher): Philadelphia, PA, 1835. Rufus, a twelve-year-old chess prodigy, is recruited by a shady showman named Maelzel to secretly operate a mechanical chess player called the Turk. The Turk wows ticket-paying audience members and players, who do not realize that Rufus, the true chess master, is hidden inside the contraption. But Rufus’s job working the automaton must be kept secret, and he fears he may never be able to escape his unscrupulous master. And what has happened to the previous operators of the Turk, who seem to disappear as soon as Maelzel no longer needs them? 

Why I recommend it: The Philadelphia connection drew me in (I was born in Philadelphia, as was my father and, in fact, both of his parents), but then I kept reading because, hey, it's Gary Blackwood (The Shakespeare Stealer) and he's a master of historical fiction filled with intrigue and atmosphere. What the synopsis doesn't tell you: first, Rufus is handicapped (but never makes a big deal out of it), and second, this novel is loosely based on true events. Johann Nepomuk Maelzel was a real person, the Turk was an actual invention in the age of steam, and Edgar Allan Poe (who plays a cameo here) really did write an essay about Maelzel's chess-playing automaton.

For links to other MMGM posts, visit Shannon's blog.


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6. And the Winner of The Big Book of Superheroes is...

I'm happy to announce that according to randomizer the winner of The Big Book of Superheroes by Bart King is



GREG PATTRIDGE


Congratulations, Greg!  Look for an email from me asking for your mailing address. The publisher will then mail you the book.

I'll be back next week with a feature on Curiosity, Gary Blackwood's newest novel. Until then, happy reading. 


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7. The Big Book of Superheroes by Bart King - and a Giveaway!





The Big Book of Superheroes by Bart King, illustrated by Greg Paprocki (April 2014, Gibbs Smith, for ages 9 to 12)

Source: hardcover review copy from the publisher

Synopsis (from the publisher): If you're wondering if you have what it takes to be a superhero--of course you do! All you need is a burning desire to fight evildoers. Oh, and also a secret identity, the perfect name, a cool costume, some terrific superpowers, and an archenemy. Actually, you know what? You better get this book. 


From The Big Book of Superheros by Bart King. Illustration by Greg Paprocki. Used by permission.


Why I recommend it: It's super fun! This book is chock-full of info, along with quizzes, crafts, and comics. It's tongue-in-cheek and even downright silly (and liberally sprinkled with exclamation points!) but always entertaining. Kids will lap this up, while you'll enjoy dipping into it. Think of it as Everything You Wanted to Know About Superheroes and How to Become One (But Never Thought To Ask). Did you know the first hero was a girl? Did you know going offline will help you develop a superpower? Did you know the greatest superhero saying wasn't said by a superhero?

When Bart King contacted me in May, I remembered all his previous books from the bookstore where I used to work. The Big Books of Boy Stuff, Girl Stuff, Spy Stuff, and Gross Stuff were always brisk sellers. 

Bart kindly agreed to answer three questions:

Bart working in his home office


1) Bart, if you could have only one superpower, what would it be, and why?

There was a time when I thought being “Dishwasher Safe” might be exciting. But now, I wish I had the power to travel 30 seconds into the future. This would set up delightful scenarios like...
—“How did Bart get in the front seat so fast? I was going to call shotgun!”
—“What the what?! Bart ate the last slice of pizza AGAIN?”
—”Bart, can you get the mower out and—hmm, he was here a second ago...”

Also, I should mention that kids who don’t read are my kryptonite. So I’d love to be able to shoot a beam (or write a book) that could persuade them to change their ways! :P



2) I think you may have done that with this book, Bart. So...who's your favorite villain?

Doctor Doom. 

Maybe Doctor Doom’s my favorite because he uses an entire country as his hideout, and the capital is called Doomstadt. Maybe it’s because the airport there is Doomsport, and the biggest local holiday is Doom’s Day.

Or most likely, Doctor Doom is my favorite villain because I wish that I could get away with wearing body armor and a green cape. :P



3) You started your writing career with a book for adults (An Architectural Guidebook to Portland). What made you switch to writing for children?


As a longtime middle school teacher, I tried to model the behavior I wanted from my students. So when I assigned an ambitious research paper to my 8th graders in 1997, I decided to do one myself. 

At that time, I was a newcomer to Portland (Oregon), and was curious about the civic history of the city. So I started researching specific buildings downtown, looking for common threads in terms of timelines, social events, architects, building styles, etc. 

While this may sound as dry as brick dust, I found myself looking at our “built environment” in a completely new way. And my classroom research paper eventually led to An Architectural Guidebook to Portland (Oregon State University Press). That book became a terrific prop for me to pull out when students said things like “Why do we have to do this?” about their writing assignments.

After the Architectural Guidebook, I pivoted to writing for kids. Like any teacher, I had reluctant readers...and I wanted to try to write books that appealed directly to them. (Also, I have a useful superpower: I’m incredibly immature!) 


Bart with a friend, from the official website

Thanks so much, Bart. Readers, what superpower would YOU choose? I would choose super speed-reading so I could get through my TBR list. 


From The Big Book of Superheros by Bart King. Illustration by Greg Paprocki. Used by permission.

Visit Bart King's website

Follow Bart on Twitter

Here's a great review from This Kid Reviews Books

And now for the giveaway! Gibbs Smith has generously offered a hardcover copy to one lucky winner. Sorry, but the publisher is limiting this one to continental US addresses only (hey, it's a heavy book).

Entering is simple: you must be a follower and you must leave a comment on this post. For extra fun, in your comment tell us what superpower you would choose (but only one!).

This giveaway ends at 10 pm EDT on Sun July 13. I'll let randomizer pick a winner, who will be announced on Monday July 14. Good luck!

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8. Falcon in the Glass for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday


(Please note that I'm scheduling this post ahead of time, but I'll be flying back from a vacation, and probably won't be able to respond to comments or visit your blogs until Tuesday or Wednesday. Bear with me!)




Falcon in the Glass by Susan Fletcher (July 2013, Margaret K. McElderry Books for Young Readers, for ages 10 to 14)

Source: library

Synopsis (from the publisher): In Venice in 1487, the secrets of glassblowing are guarded jealously. Renzo, a twelve-year-old laborer in a glassworks, has just a few months to prepare for a test of his abilities, and no one to teach him. If he passes, he will qualify as a skilled glassblower. If he fails, he will be expelled from the glassworks. Becoming a glassblower is his murdered father’s dying wish for him, and the means of supporting his mother and sister. But Renzo desperately needs another pair of hands to help him turn the glass as he practices at night.

One night he is disturbed by a bird—a small falcon—that seems to belong to a girl hiding in the glassworks. Soon Renzo learns about her and others like her—the bird people, who can communicate with birds and are condemned as witches. He tries to get her to help him and discovers that she comes with baggage: ten hungry bird-kenning children who desperately need his aid. Caught between devotion to his family and his art and protecting a group of outcast children, Renzo struggles for a solution that will keep everyone safe in this atmospheric adventure. 


Why I recommend it: It's historical fiction that reads like a thrilling adventure story. If you like Karen Cushman, Gary Blackwood, or Linda Sue Park's A Single Shard, you'll love this book. The writing is gorgeous, and rich in sensory images. I've been a fan of Susan Fletcher since I read Shadow Spinner many years ago and her writing is masterful. Read this one to study how she handles third person.

Author's website

For other MMGM posts, see Shannon's links.


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9. Do You Wanna Know a Secret?



I don't like every book I read.

There.

I said it.

It occurred to me that since I gush about (mostly) MG novels here on the blog, you might think I'm one of those readers who just love every single book they read. Without discrimination. It's-the-best-book-ever kind of adoration.

It's true; I do read a ton of books. And yes, I show enthusiasm for the ones I really love or even just like. I'll read historical fiction, fantasy, contemporary, mysteries, sci-fi, humor, thrillers. I'll read MG and YA and occasional adult books. I truly enjoy most of them.

But you rarely hear about the books I don't like.

Chances are if it's a zombie book, I won't like it (gives me nightmares, honestly!). If the narrator talks directly and incessantly to the reader in a condescending tone ("Dear Reader" this, and "Dear Reader" that), I probably won't like it. If the characters are all privileged pretentious snobs, I won't like it.

And if I feel I'm being manipulated, I definitely won't like it.



Courtesy of Jim Carrey GIFS for Every Occasion at The FW


I just finished reading a new and much-hyped novel and while I was definitely drawn in, I read it with a critical eye. The big reveal didn't shock me, because I knew from the hype that there was going to be a shocking twist, and my brain kept looking for it. When I finished the book I went back to page one. And started over. And I found several instances where the writer cleverly but unfairly (I thought) inserted some sentences that were clearly added to make you think one way. When the opposite was true.

Yes, I'd been manipulated. Which only the best writers can do well. But I HATE when it happens.

I mean, look at me. I ended up reading the book twice, even though I didn't like it very much. Crazy, no? You could argue that the author certainly succeeded.

(If you're curious and would like to know the title of said book, check off the little box that lets me email you directly and I'll let you know privately.)

Are they any types of books (without naming titles) that you don't like to read?

 




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10. Catching up on middle grade -- Part 2

Back in March, I wrote about catching up on some worthy middle grade gems from 2012 and 2013.

Well, there are plenty more books on my TBR list clamoring for my attention. Like toddlers. And this is what they're shouting:

       "Pick me up."

       "No, no, me! Pick me up instead."

       "Don't listen to them. Over here. Me me me!"

Which one do you listen to? How do you decide to read Book A before Book B or Book C? Sometimes, of course, it's a question of finding them in the library. Or if you're lucky, you win a copy. :)

Sometimes, you just have to buy the book that's pestering you. But unless you've won the lottery, you can't afford to buy them all. Times like this I miss working in a bookstore, where I had thousands of ARCs vying for my attention. I still couldn't read them all, though I certainly tried. Back then, I read quickly, and I read as a bookseller.

Now, I go to the library and I try to read as a writer.

Here are three more worthy novels from 2013 you should add to your TBR list (yes, I'm evil that way!). Bonus: they're all historical fiction, about different time periods in American history.

Synopses: from the publishers (edited slightly for brevity).


Seeing Red by Kathryn Erskine (for ages 9 to 12, Scholastic, Sept 2013)

It's 1972 and life will never be the same for Red Porter. He's growing up around black car grease, white fence paint, and the backward attitudes of the folks who live in his hometown, Stony Gap, Virginia. 

Red's daddy, his idol, has just died, leaving Red and Mama with some hard decisions and a whole lot of doubt. Should they sell the Porter family business, a gas station, repair shop, and convenience store rolled into one? 

When Red discovers the injustices that have been happening in Stony Gap since before he was born, he's faced with unsettling questions about his family's legacy.

Why I recommend it: I loved Red; he's a realistic, flawed and yet likable character. Writers, read this one to learn about character growth.




Ghost Hawk by Susan Cooper (ages 10 and up, Margaret K. McElderry Books, August 2013)

On the winter day Little Hawk is sent into the woods alone, he can only take a bow and arrows, his tomahawk and the metal knife his father traded for with the new white settlers. If Little Hawk survives three moons by himself, he will be a man.

John Wakely is ten when his father dies, but he knows the friendship of the nearby tribes. Yet his fellow colonists aren't as accepting. John's friendship with Little Hawk will put both boys in grave danger.

Why I recommend it: Ghost Hawk is a unique look at our nation's early history. Writers, read this one for her mastery of description! (Note: Because this is the real history you don't often hear about, there is some shocking violence.)





Every Day After by Laura Golden (for ages 9 to 12, Delacorte Books for Young Readers, June 2013)

It's been two months since Lizzie's daddy disappeared due to the awful Depression. Lizzie's praying he'll return to Bittersweet, Alabama for her birthday. It won't feel special without him, what with Lizzie's Mama being so sad she won't even talk and the bank nipping at their heels for the mortgage payment.

As time passes, Lizzie can only picture her daddy's face by opening her locket. If others can get by, why did her daddy leave? If he doesn't return, how can she overcome the same obstacles that drove him away?

Why I recommend it: For some reason, I can't get enough of books about the Depression (Moon Over Manifest being a favorite). Writers, read this touching and inspiring novel for the voice.


How do you handle your TBR list?


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11. WANDERVILLE by Wendy McClure for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

I've been a fan of Wendy McClure since I realized she was the genius behind @HalfPintIngalls on Twitter (example of her wit: "When you live in a sod house EVERY DAY is 'Earth Day'."). So I was excited to learn she'd written a book for middle grade readers:




Wanderville by Wendy McClure (January 2014, Penguin Razorbill, for ages 8 to 12)

Synopsis (from the publisher): Jack, Frances, and Frances’s younger brother Harold have been ripped from the world they knew in New York and sent to Kansas on an orphan train at the turn of the century. As the train chugs closer and closer to its destination, the children begin to hear terrible rumors about the lives that await them. And so they decide to change their fate the only way they know how. . . .

They jump off the train.

There, in the middle of the woods, they meet a boy who will transform their lives forever. His name is Alexander, and he tells them they’ve come to a place nobody knows about—especially not adults—and “where all children in need of freedom are accepted.” It’s a place called Wanderville, Alexander says, and now Jack, Frances, and Harold are its very first citizens.


Why I recommend it: It's a quick read and an exciting adventure story. I always loved The Boxcar Children and Little House on the Prairie, and more recently May B. by Caroline Starr Rose, so it's no wonder I enjoyed this too. Jack, Frances, and even young Harold are strong and resourceful children. This will be also a series. (Be forewarned: scary situations abound. Life was hard back then!)

(This is minor but I have to admit I was a little upset that on my copy the blurb on the back flap from Caroline Starr Rose got her name wrong. @HalfPintIngalls would probably say: "Mistakes will happen". Anyway, they seem to have fixed it since then and moved it to the front cover. Thank goodness!) 

Find Wendy at her website

Follow her on Twitter

Other reviews of the book: 
Erik at This Kid Reviews Books

Find other MMGM links at Shannon's blog.


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12. Screen-Free Week is Over (Whew!)

So...

 last week was Screen-Free Week. 




Did I make it?

Well... let's just say, it was even harder than last year. Checking email three or four (or ten) times a day has become so ingrained that I found it super difficult not to. We research and we communicate electronically now, so it was downright weird to pull back.

(Yes, I'm guilty of multiple infractions; I allowed myself to check my email twice a day because, hey, I still need to communicate, right? And I did have to Google hotels in Boston for an upcoming long weekend. Mea culpa.)

But I also put off starting to query my third middle grade novel until now. It needed more revision anyway.

Plus I walked more.

I read more.

I wrote more.

Yes, of course I used the laptop, darn it all. It's my job to write, so I justified using a screen for that. And my fingers will no longer work on that old manual typewriter in my closet...

Surprisingly (or not, depending on your opinion of television), it wasn't that hard to stay away from TV, except for, you know, Jeopardy! Hey it was Battle of the Decades. I couldn't resist.

But in general, I avoided it. And like last year, I managed to resist Twitter, Facebook, Blogger and Tumblr by simply not logging in. (But I apologize to everyone whose posts I missed and to anyone who had a birthday recently. Happy Belated Birthday!)

What about you? Did you participate, even for part of the week? How did it go? Would you consider participating next year?

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13. It's that time of year again: Screen-Free Week starts today!

It's Screen-Free Week! (Remember when I participated last year? Also known as "Mistakes were made"?) Well, I must be a glutton for punishment because I'm doing it again. Yes, it's hard.






Read the official stuff here. Turn off the TV. Log out of Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.

Read a book instead. Or go outside and play!



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14. Hope is a Ferris Wheel for MMGM

(Originally I'd scheduled this for next week, but May 5 through 11 is Screen-Free Week, so my post next Monday will be about that. Come back on May 12 to see how I fared!)




Hope is a Ferris Wheel by Robin Herrera (Amulet Books, March 2014, for ages 8 to 12)

Find Robin on her website

Follow Robin on Twitter

Synopsis (from the publisher): Ten-year-old Star Mackie lives in a trailer park with her flaky mom and her melancholy older sister, Winter, whom Star idolizes. Moving to a new town has made it difficult for Star to make friends, when her classmates tease her because of where she lives and because of her layered blue hair. But when Star starts a poetry club, she develops a love of Emily Dickinson and, through Dickinson's poetry, learns some important lessons about herself and comes to terms with her hopes for the future.

Why MG readers would love it:  Star is a terrific character, brave and honest and funny. Her vocab sentences for her teacher are both hilarious and heartbreaking. This book is perfect for fans of Also Known as Harper by Ann Haywood Leal because the main character in that book has a similar home situation and also finds solace in poetry. 

Why writers would love it: The voice! I struggle with voice all the time and I know a lot of writers do. Study this one to see how Robin brought Star to life with such authenticity. I read this more than a month ago and I'm still thinking about her, as if Star is a real kid.

What MG characters continue to live in your mind long after you've read the book?

For other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts, see Shannon's blog.


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15. By the Grace of Todd by Louise Galveston for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday!

For other MMGM posts, see the links at Shannon's blog.




By the Grace of Todd by Louise Galveston (for ages 8 to 12, Penguin, February 2014)

Synopsis (from the publisher):

Twelve-year-old Todd has created life through sheer grossness.
How did he become an accidental god? 


Ingredient A: A worn athletic sock
Ingredient B: Dirt from the Great and Powerful Todd himself

Instructions: Leave under bed for months. Do not clean room.

Yields: 50 ant-sized Toddlians

BUT WATCH OUT! When school bully Max Loving puts the future of the tiny Toddlians in jeopardy, Todd will have to do everything in his power to save the race his very negligence created.



Why I recommend it:

Take a cup of The Indian in the Cupboard, a tablespoon or two of Toy Story, a few teaspoons of The Borrowers, add a generous dash of Dan Gutman and a pinch of Andrew Clements, stir in some highly original humorous situations, and shake well.

Even if this book wasn't about the timely topic of learning to deal with bullies, it would still be worth reading for the Toddlians alone. This is hilarious! I'm always happy when a book lives up to its premise. Best moment for me: the Toddlians learn how to speak English by watching TV all night and then they spout advertising slogans that will have you laughing out loud.

Note that the POV changes from Todd to an occasional chapter by one of the Toddlians (Lewis), and even a couple of chapters from each of two other Toddlians (Persephone and Herman). So the switching POVs might confuse some readers. But for sheer fun, this is definitely worth a read.

*   *   *

I'm taking a blogging break for the next few weeks. Between my birthday, my younger son's birthday and the Easter holiday, I'll be busy with family get-togethers, plus I'm trying to finish revising my third MG novel so I can start querying this summer. I'll be back in May. Happy reading!


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16. Catching up on middle grade books for MMGM

There are so many cool middle grade novels pubbing in 2014, that I'm tempted to read only what's new. After all, I have to keep up, right?

But then there's my TBR list... So this last month, I've been playing catch-up at my local library. I thoroughly enjoyed these gems from 2012 and 2013, some of which I first heard about on other MMGM posts. Added bonus: they're all multicultural!



Flying the Dragon by Natalie Dias Lorenzi (Charlesbridge, 2012, for ages 9 to 12)

Synopsis (from the publisher): American-born Skye and her Japanese cousin, Hiroshi, are thrown together when Hiroshi's family, with his grandfather (who is also his best friend), suddenly moves to the U.S. Now Skye doesn't know who she is anymore: at school she's suddenly too Japanese, but at home she's not Japanese enough. Hiroshi has a hard time adjusting to life in a new culture, and resents Skye's intrusions on his time with Grandfather. Through all of this is woven Hiroshi's expertise, and Skye's growing interest in, kite making and competitive rokkaku kite flying.


Why I recommend it: This is one of those quiet books I adore so much (and I don't think there are enough of them). Skye and Hiroshi seemed like real kids to me, with real concerns. Loved the kite flying, the alternating points of view, and the little bit of Japanese I picked up from reading this.






P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia (Amistad/Harper, 2013, for ages 8 to 12)

Synopsis (from the publisher): Eleven-year-old Brooklyn girl Delphine feels overwhelmed with worries and responsibilities. She's just started sixth grade and is self-conscious about being the tallest girl in the class, and nervous about her first school dance. She's supposed to be watching her sisters, but Fern and Vonetta are hard to control. Her uncle Darnell is home from Vietnam and seems different. And her pa has a girlfriend. At least Delphine can write to her mother in Oakland, California, for advice. But why does her mother tell her to "be eleven"?

Why I recommend it: A glorious sequel to the award-winning One Crazy Summer, this made me feel I was right there in 1960s Brooklyn. What I love most, though, are the relationships: especially among the three sisters, plus the sometimes-prickly relationship between Delphine and her distant mother. (Have to admit, I have a soft spot for the name Delphine, because I had a great-grandmother with that name.)





Written in Stone by Rosanne Parry (Random House, 2013, for ages 9 to 12)

Synopsis (from the publisher): Pearl has always dreamed of hunting whales, just like her father. Of taking to the sea in their eight-man canoe, standing at the prow with a harpoon, and waiting for a whale to lift its barnacle-speckled head as it offers its life to the tribe. But now that can never be. Pearl's father was lost on the last hunt, and now the whales hide from the great steam-powered ships, which harvest not one but dozens of whales from the ocean. With the whales gone, Pearl's people, the Makah, struggle to survive as Pearl searches for ways to preserve their stories and skills.


Why I recommend it: In a word: Pearl. The thirteen-year-old is headstrong, loving, and realistic. But the setting also deserves special mention. I could feel myself transported to the Pacific Northwest in the 1920s, with the ocean, beaches, rocks, and mist. Parry includes a glossary, historical notes, cultural notes, and other back matter, so this is perfect for schools.


For other Marvelous Middle Grade posts, see Shannon Messenger's blog.

What books are you catching up on?


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17. If at first you don't like to read, try, try again!

Four years ago, I tried to read The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place... and I couldn't get into it. I read a chapter or two, said "meh" and put aside the ARC.

The other day I picked it up again. Yes, that's a long time to hold onto an ARC, but I'm a bit of a pack rat. Hey, don't judge. (But believe me, you don't want to see my basement.)

And this time? I was utterly captivated and laughing out loud. Why couldn't I read it the first time? Who knows. Maybe I was tired of Lemony Snicket. Maybe the times have changed. Maybe I've changed.




The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, Book 1: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood (February 23, 2010 Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins, for ages 8 to 12)

Source: advanced reading copy from publisher (um, a long time ago)

Synopsis (From the publisher): Found running wild in the forest of Ashton Place, the Incorrigibles are no ordinary children: Alexander keeps his siblings in line with gentle nips; Cassiopeia has a bark that is (usually) worse than her bite; and Beowulf is alarmingly adept at chasing squirrels.

Luckily, Miss Penelope Lumley is no ordinary governess. Only fifteen years old and a recent graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, Penelope embraces the challenge of her new position. But mysteries abound at Ashton Place: Who are these three wild creatures, and how did they come to live in the vast forests of the estate? Why does Old Timothy, the coachman, lurk around every corner? Will Penelope be able to teach the Incorrigibles table manners and socially useful phrases in time for Lady Constance's holiday ball?  


Why I recommend it: It's downright hilarious. Yes, I realize much of the humor will go right over kids' heads (for instance, the narrator calls a couple  of royals Hoover and Maytag), and there's definitely a sarcastic, Lemony Snicket tone to all of this. But it's fun. I had to keep reading to find out what happens. Which of course means I now have to read all the other volumes, because most of the questions are still unanswered (one thing that bugs me about series). 

Do you like reading series books that leave questions unanswered? And have you ever gone back and finished a book after putting it aside the first time?



I hunted down some other MMGM reviews of this very same book:

Middle Grade Mafioso
Gina Carey
Kim Aippersbach

And if I missed anyone, please let me know! For other middle grade reviews, check out Shannon's blog.

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18. The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates: Magic Marks the Spot







The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates: Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson (Sept 2013, Harper, for ages 8 to 12)


Source: I purchased the hardcover from Children's Book World when I met the Lucky 13s at Haverford Township Library in November 2013. Here's Caroline reading from her book.




Synopsis (from the publisher): Hilary Westfield has always dreamed of being a pirate. She can tread water for thirty-seven minutes. She can tie a knot faster than a fleet of sailors, and she already owns a rather pointy sword.


There's only one problem: The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates refuses to let any girl join their ranks of scourges and scallywags. But Hilary is not the kind of girl to take no for an answer. To escape a life of petticoats and politeness at her stuffy finishing school, Hilary sets out in search of her own seaworthy adventure, where she gets swept up in a madcap quest involving a map without an X, a magical treasure that likely doesn't exist, a talking gargoyle, a crew of misfit scallywags, and the most treacherous -- and unexpected -- villain on the High Seas.



Why I recommend it: This is a rollicking romp of a novel. All of the characters are delightful, but especially Hilary (yay for a girl pirate!) and the adorable Gargoyle. This is precisely the kind of book I would have LOVED as a ten-year-old (and the kind I wish I could write). As a kid, I would have read this over and over until it fell apart. And I would have swooned to learn it's the first in a new series. Pirate's honor!

My only quibble (and it's minor) is how hard it is to read the hilarious letters interspersed throughout the story. Wish they hadn't used a dark background and a cramped font.


Have you read Magic Marks the Spot? If not, what funny pirate tales can you think of?




Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is the brainchild of Shannon Messenger.








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19. Part Two of my interview with Dianne Salerni, author of THE EIGHTH DAY -- and a Giveaway!




We're back with Part Two of my interview with Dianne Salerni, author of The Eighth Day, coming from HarperCollins in April.




You teach full time, have family obligations, keep up with your blog twice a week, AND you're very generous with advice and beta reading for less experienced writers, like me (thank you!). When do you find time to WRITE?

I write whenever I’m not teaching. Ask my family. They’ll tell you I’m attached to my laptop, that I can be obsessive, and it’s sometimes hard to get my full attention!

I do most of my blog reading and commenting in the mornings over coffee. I will write in the late afternoons, evenings, and weekends. What I’m writing impacts when I do it. I can revise already-written words at any time of day, but new words come most easily late in the evening.

So, if I’m facing the first draft of a new chapter, I will probably work on blog-related stuff or beta-reading in the afternoons and early evening (and promotional things like this interview!) and wait for the Muse to show up around 9 pm!


You are repped by Sara Crowe of the Harvey Klinger Agency. Can you briefly fill us in on how you got your agent?

I signed my first contract un-agented and quickly realized I didn’t know what I was doing. I started looking for an agent shortly before We Hear the Dead was published, but it took months to land with Sara. I had plenty of outright rejections and two full Revise & Resubmits that ended in “passes” during that time. As disheartening as those R & R rejections were, I credit them for helping me produce a manuscript that was worth reading before I queried Sara.


Your first two novels, We Hear the Dead and The Caged Graves, were YA. How different did it feel to write MG?

The manuscript I called “Grunsday” started out as YA too! It was my agent Sara who recommended that I revise it for MG, and as soon as she did, I saw the potential in that change. Writing the MG voice was a lot of fun for me. Maybe that’s because I’m around kids all day.

The one thing I miss from YA is romance. But Jax has a couple of YA friends with an understated romance going on, so I get to play around with it a little. Jax knows the romance is brewing, and he’s rooting for them, but he doesn’t want to know the details!  Eww.


Ha! That's great. The Eighth Day will be a series. Can you give us any hints about Book 2?

Well, Jax Aubrey is an orphan, living with 18 year old Riley Pendare, who was named as his guardian by Jax’s dad before he died. But there are a lot of things Rayne Aubrey lied about – and a very specific reason he chose Riley as Jax’s protector.

Turns out, Jax has relatives, and they want him back. And when Jax finds out who they are, his world is turned upside-down and backwards.


Oh, cool! What a great hint. Now I can’t wait for book two! Thanks so much, Dianne.


*   *   *   *   *

And now, readers, I have a two-part giveaway. 

First, I'm giving away my ARC of The Eighth Day to one lucky winner I will choose at random.

Second, I will give away a pre-ordered, SIGNED hardcover copy of THE EIGHTH DAY to another lucky winner, also chosen at random. I will get it signed at Dianne's book launch in April.

All you need to do to enter this giveaway is be a follower and comment on this post. If you tweet about it or mention on facebook, let me know and I'll give you extra chances. I would give you an extra day, but that only happens in this book! International entries welcome. This giveaway ends at 10pm EST on Sunday March 9 and the winners will be announced on Monday March 10. 


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20. Part One of my interview with Dianne Salerni, author of THE EIGHTH DAY





Coming soon! 

The Eighth Day by Dianne K. Salerni (April 22, 2014, HarperCollins, for ages 9 to 13)

Source: ARC courtesy of the author 

Synopsis (from Dianne's website): In this riveting fantasy adventure, thirteen-year-old Jax Aubrey discovers a secret eighth day with roots tracing back to Arthurian legend. Fans of Percy Jackson will devour this first book in a new series that combines exciting magic and pulse-pounding suspense.

When Jax wakes up to a world without any people in it, he assumes it's the zombie apocalypse. But when he runs into his eighteen-year-old guardian, Riley Pendare, he learns that he's really in the eighth day—an extra day sandwiched between Wednesday and Thursday. Some people—like Jax and Riley—are Transitioners, able to live in all eight days, while others, including Evangeline, the elusive teenage girl who's been hiding in the house next door, exist only on this special day.
Why I loved it: Are you kidding? It's got everything! The most exciting premise ever. Action, adventure, fantasy, Arthurian legends, and both boy-appeal and girl-appeal. Plus it's fast-paced and grabs you right from the start. Bonus: it will be a series. 

And now for Part One of my interview with Dianne Salerni, Pennsylvania resident and the author of The Eighth Day:


Welcome to the blog, Dianne!  Even before I read The Eighth Day, I loved the premise. Can you tell us how you came up with the idea of an extra day between Wednesday and Thursday?

Thanks for having me here, Joanne! The idea came out of a family joke. My daughters would ask whenthey would get to do something, and my husband would respond, “Grunsday. We’ll do that on Grunsday.” One day, I said, “What if there really was a Grunsday in the middle of the week, but not everybody knew about it?”

The premise of a secret day hung around for a long time without a plot to go with it, although my family never let me forget the idea. It took maybe 18 months from the original inspiration to get a sense of what the story would be about. Even then, I pantstered the whole first draft. It ended up as a 98,000 word monstrosity that needed major taming and focusing and word slashing in the second draft.

Wow! That’s a lot of words. Good for you for taming that monster. Jax is a great character, so real and so likable. And I love his name, which is short for Jaxon. Do you choose names for their meanings or because they seem to fit the character?

I don’t choose the names, really. The characters choose them. They tell me what they want to be called. Jax, for instance, told me his name even before I had the plot nailed down.

I told him he couldn't have the name Jax. What kind of name was that for a boy? I wanted to set this story in contemporary America, and who names their kid Jax? I threw different names at him; he rejected them all. In the end, I did a little internet searching and discovered Jaxonas an alternative spelling for Jackson. So I let him have his name.

Since then, I’ve come across the name Jax, for a boy, twice on the internet. (So I guess people really do name their kid that! I grew to like it more and more as I used it.)

I love the way you incorporated Arthurian legends. Tell us a little about your research and how extensive it was. Did you do most of it on the internet or in the library?

First of all, I never intended to incorporate Arthurian legends into this story. That developed in the rambly first draft when I stumbled across stories about Merlin being imprisoned by his apprentice Niviane in “an eternal forest.” The description of where Merlin was trapped had some eerie similarities to the way I was describing Grunsday, or “the eighth day” in my draft.  Once the idea took hold, it wouldn’t let go.

I did most of my research over the internet. However when my family started planning a vacation in the U.K. this past summer, my husband hired a private tour guide to spend one day taking us to Arthur-related sites around Cardiff, Wales. (Our original reason for visiting Cardiff was to see the Doctor Who Museum. An Arthur-related tour was a happy bonus!)


Tune in next Monday for Part Two and the Giveaway!



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21. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

I don't make New Year's Resolutions (because I can't keep them!) but one of my goals for this year is to read more historical fiction and more Newbery winners. So for the first time (I know; it's hard to believe), I read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.





Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor (first published by Dial in 1976; winner of the 1977 Newbery Medal, for ages 10 and up)

Source: paperback purchased at my local second-hand bookshop

Synopsis (from the publisher's website)Winner of the 1977 Newbery Medal, this is a remarkably moving novel--one that has impressed the hearts and minds of millions of readers. Set in Mississippi at the height of the Depression, it is the story of one family's struggle to maintain their integrity, pride, and independence in the face of racism and social injustice. And, too, it is Cassie's story--Cassie Logan, an independent girl who discovers over the course of an important year why having land of their own is so crucial to the Logan family, even as she learns to draw strength from her own sense of dignity and self-respect.

Why I recommend it: This should be a modern classic. The writing alone is worth the read. You can tell you're in the hands of a master. Some books don't stand up well more than 35 years later, but this seems as fresh as if it was written this year. I felt completely inside nine-year-old Cassie's head as she tells us about the events of 1933 in their small Southern town. She's brave and headstrong and I was cheering her on and crying with her all the way. Kids who know very little about that time period -- and the terrible injustices that happened all too often -- should find this an eye-opener. And not just on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The American Library Association posted a wonderful interview with Mildred Taylor in 2006.

This book is one in a sequence of Logan family books based on tales that the author (born 1943) heard from her own family:

Song of the Trees (1975)
Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry (1976)
Let the Circle Be Unbroken (1981)
The Road to Memphis (1990)
The Land (2001)

For more middle grade reviews, see Shannon's blog.

Have you read any of the Logan family sequence? What did you think?

And don't forget to listen to the ALA Youth Media Awards live webcast (starting at 8 am ET on Monday, January 27) to find out the next Newbery Medal winner, and more.
______________________________________________________


NOTE: After this review, I'm taking a blogging break to revise my third MG novel. Remember when Jerry Spinelli advised me to wait three months? Well, those three months are up next week.

I'll be back on February 17 with Part One of an exclusive interview with Pennsylvania resident and author Dianne Salerni, whose MG fantasy The Eighth Day launches in April. Part Two follows on February 24, along with a GIVEAWAY!

See you on February 17!

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22. The opposite of inept -- and other words

"Words," he said, "is oh such a twitch-tickling problem to me all my life."

 The Big Friendly Giant in Roald Dahl's book, The BFG




I've been feeling a bit inept recently, for various reasons. ("Why, no, it has nothing to do with my Twitter account being hacked!" *coughcough*)

At the same time, I've been working on a poem, and I needed a word that was the opposite of the word echo. I started daydreaming about words like inept. One thing led to another, and I made all kinds of lovely discoveries by Googling "words with no opposite".

Who knew there were so many?

Well, P.G. Wodehouse, for one, who wrote in one of his Jeeves novels, The Code of the Woosters“If not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.”

But does anyone actually use words like ruly, kempt, or ane? Is funct the opposite of defunct? Is ept a real word, as opposed to inept? 

Aren't words fun?

And although the poem I'm writing has absolutely nothing to do with this, here's an amusing rhyme attributed to J.H. Parker in 1953 (I found it several places, including here and here):

A Very Descript Man
 by J.H. Parker

I am such a dolent man, 
I eptly work each day;
My acts are all becilic, 
I've just ane things to say.

My nerves are strung, my hair is kempt, 
I'm gusting and I'm span:
I look with dain on everyone 
And am a pudent man.

I travel cognito and make 
A delible impression:
I overcome a slight chalance, 
With gruntled self-possession.

My dignation would be great 
If I should digent be:
I trust my vagance will bring 
An astrous life for me.


What do you think? Would you ever use the word ept? And can anyone help me come up with the opposite of an echo? I'd be eternally grateful.


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23. A cool read for figure skating fans

With the Winter Olympics coming up in February, the middle-grade girl in your life might happen to be looking for a light, fun, romantic novel about ice skating. Scholastic has just the thing.



Gold Medal Winter by Donna Freitas (January 7, 2014, Arthur A. Levine Books/Scholastic, for ages 10 to 14).

Source: ARC courtesy of the publisher

Synopsis (from the publisher): Go gold or go home! After years of early morning training and more jumps than she can count, Esperanza's dream of figure skating for the United States is coming true at last! But with the excitement of an Olympic slot comes new attention and big distractions.

Suddenly Espi can't go out with her friends, or even out her back door, without reporters and autograph-seekers following her every move. Her new teammates have a lot more international experience, and they let Espi know that they don't think she's ready. Hunter Wills, the men's figure skating champion, seems to be flirting with her, even as the press matches her up with Danny Morrison, the youngest — and maybe cutest — member of the U.S. hockey team.
In the midst of all this, Espi is trying to master an impossible secret jump that just might be her key to a medal. Can she focus enough to shut out the drama, find her edge over the competition, and make the Olympics as golden as her dreams?
Why I recommend it: A big plus here is the multicultural main character (Esperanza's mother is Dominican, and the name Esperanza means "hope" so there's plenty of talk about Espi being America's hope for Gold), plus her coach is Lucy Chen, and one of Espi's best friends is African-American, so multiculturalism abounds.  
This is a breezy and enjoyable read, with plenty of tension and a lot of interesting inside information about the Olympics. I appreciated the quotes from famous skaters like Michelle Kwan and Katarina Witt. Tween girls will devour this not just for the skating and Espi's clash with the "mean girls" of Team USA, but also for the romance, which is squeaky clean. I found it a little hard to believe that a girl training hard for the Olympics would have time to even think about boys, but the author is a former teen athlete herself, having participated in competitive gymnastics for seven years. 
She also, wisely perhaps, never mentions Sochi, Russia, only a seaside town nestled at the foot of snowy mountains. Politics aside, this means the book would still be appropriate for the next Winter Olympics in 2018 or anytime, really, for anyone interested in figure skating.

You might also enjoy: Gold Medal Summer by Donna Freitas (2012, Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, for ages 10 to 14)

Readers, will you be watching the Winter Olympics in February? What's your favorite Olympic sport?

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24. And the winner of THE WIG IN THE WINDOW is...



According to randomizer.org, the winner of the SIGNED hardcover copy of THE WIG IN THE WINDOW by Kristen Kittscher is:


MICHAEL G-G

Congrats, Michael! Expect an email from me, asking for your mailing address.

*   *   *   *   *

I'm taking a blogging break for a few weeks, to get ready for Christmas and still have time to work on my fourth novel and some picture books. Those of you who know me on Facebook may already have heard this, but I just signed my first contract with Highlights for Children, for a rebus story. I know they don't publish right away (or ever), but it's a sale, and I'll take it! I normally wouldn't mention things like this on the blog, but I'm tickled pink because the first time I submitted anything to Highlights was in 1995. So there's a lesson for all you aspiring writers. 

Persistence pays off. 

(Sometimes it just takes longer than you expected!)


Herr's Christmas display, Nottingham, Pennsylvania



Merry Christmas! Happy New Year! May all your publishing dreams come true in the coming year. And if you're not a writer, but you are a reader, may you discover
new treasures in Children's literature in 2014 and share them with all of us!




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25. Winners of THE EIGHTH DAY giveaways




Yes! I have two winners to announce today, both chosen by randomizer.org.

The winner of the ARC of The Eighth Day by Dianne Salerni is



AKOSS




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


And now (drum roll, please...), the winner of the hardcover, which will be purchased and signed at Dianne's book launch in April, is


JESS HAIGHT (DMS) 



Congratulations! Sorry you have to wait a few weeks for your prize, but as soon as I can I'll mail it to you. And this way, you have time to let me know how you want Dianne to personalize it.


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