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Reading and writing Children's lit...and then there's the brain stuff
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1. BLUE BIRDS by Caroline Starr Rose for National Poetry Month and MMGM

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is the brainchild of Shannon Messenger. Be sure to visit her blog for links to other MMGM posts. Today, for National Poetry Month, I'm recommending Caroline Starr Rose's Blue Birds. 





Blue Birds by Caroline Starr Rose (March 10, 2015, Putnam's, for ages 10 and up)

Synopsis (from the publisher): It’s 1587 and twelve-year-old Alis has made the long journey with her parents from England to help settle the New World, the land christened Virginia in honor of the Queen. And Alis couldn’t be happier. While the streets of London were crowded and dirty, this new land, with its trees and birds and sky, calls to Alis. Here she feels free. But the land, the island Roanoke, is also inhabited by the Roanoke tribe and tensions between them and the English are running high, soon turning deadly.
 
Amid the strife, Alis meets and befriends Kimi, a Roanoke girl about her age. Though the two don’t even speak the same language, these girls form a special bond as close as sisters, willing to risk everything for the other. Finally, Alis must make an impossible choice when her family resolves to leave the island and bloodshed behind.


Why I recommend it: This book is gorgeous. And I'm not just talking about that beautiful cover. With the two voices of Kimi and Alis, young girls from different cultures who nevertheless form a lasting friendship, Caroline Starr Rose has created a novel in verse that is more like two sweet voices singing. They sing of bluebirds, the sun, and the sky, they sing of the fragile tendrils of friendship, and they sing of the many hardships in their lives. Before I was a third of the way through this I'd forgotten I was reading a novel in verse and I was simply pulled in by Kimi and Alis and their story. Despite the thickness of the book, I read this in one day. At the same time, I didn't want to leave their story, and it has stayed with me for weeks now. I had far too many favorite lines to choose from, but in this example, from p.192, you can see how every word counts:

                         In my mind,
                         there are no barriers.
                         My words and hers
                         make perfect sense between us.

Bonus: This would be excellent for classroom discussions. Includes an Author's Note with historical information.


Caroline Starr Rose from her website
Caroline was kind enough to take time from her busy schedule to answer three questions:

1)    The dual point of view works so well here; it's almost like singing in two voices. What made you decide to write the book this way?

Thank you so much!

Having Alis and Kimi share the story was not my original plan. But once I realized Blue Birds hinged on their forbidden friendship, I knew I couldn’t tell just one girl’s side of things. And that sort of terrified me. There are some people within the writing community who feel you must live a culture in order to write about it. I’m a non-Native author. What right did I have to speak for a Roanoke child? I had to trust my ultimate qualifications came from having once been a child and from my understanding of the beauty and security that thrives in friendship. Once I got to this place, each girl’s voice felt distinct and clear and strong.

As far as verse goes, I find it a really in-the-moment way to write historical fiction. It’s immediate, spare, and lets us into a character’s inner life very quickly. For Blue Birds, verse became a wonderful way to tell a story in two voices. Readers move quickly from Kimi to Alis and back again. And when the girls share a poem, I was able through line and stanza placement to “speak”their story visually, adding one more layer of communication. Verse is magical that way!

2) My favorite parts were the shared poems. Was BLUE BIRDS harder or easier to write than MAY B.?

Much harder. Because it was the first novel I wrote after publishing a rather successful first book, I had an invisible audience I had to learn to ignore. The stakes felt higher. I worried about comparisons between May B. and Blue Birds.

The process was also very different. For May B., I was only responsible for being familiar with an era. With Blue Birds, I had to learn about an era, an event with spare records, and two Native American tribes that no longer exist. This is the first time I’ve included real people from history in something I’ve written. While they only had minor roles, it felt like a big responsibility. Then added to this was the realization the story needed to be told in both girls’voices. I felt utterly unqualified to write as a Native American child.

3) I think you did an excellent job. Are you a "pantser" or a "plotter" or something in-between?

I fall somewhere in between —a plotster, as a kid during a school visit once dubbed me.

I start with a historical event or era that interests me and read broadly, trusting some sort of story idea will bubble up to the surface in the midst of my research. I keep a notebook filled with quotes, questions, maps, lists, and the like. I need a firm sense of my setting and a general sense of my key characters before I begin (though these things often change). Writing at this point feels a bit like a science experiment: This setting + this character x this event = this outcome. Before I begin, I have a sense of some key turning points. Often I know the final scene but have no idea how to get there.

Then I draft painfully and slowly. I fret a lot. I’m sure I’m a fraud. I have the awful habit of comparing my fledgling ideas to my finished work and easily convince myself I’ll never be able to do it again. This is when I lean hard on my writing friends who tell me they believe in me. I borrow their belief and keep moving forward. Getting to the end of a first draft is a relief. Even if it’s awful, even if I trash half of it, the “making something from something”stage is infinitely less scary than the “making something from nothing” stage.

Thank you, Caroline! You are definitely not a fraud. And I feel the same way about first drafts. What about you, readers? Do you fret over a first draft and enjoy revision? Or the opposite?

Visit Caroline's website

Follow Caroline on Twitter



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2. "Take these broken wings and learn to fly" -- BLACKBIRD FLY by Erin Entrada Kelly

I had the pleasure of meeting Erin Entrada Kelly at Children's Book World in Haverford, PA, during her book launch party on March 27. She read a passage from Blackbird Fly, and gave a moving and heartwarming speech about growing up as the only Filipino American in her class in a small town in Louisiana. So she always felt different.





Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly (Greenwillow Books/Harpercollins, March 2015, for ages 8 to 12)

Synopsis (from the publisher): Future rock star, or friendless misfit? That's no choice at all. Apple Yengko moved from the Philippines to Louisiana when she was little, and now that she is in middle school, she grapples with being different, with friends and backstabbers, and with following her dreams.
Apple has always felt a little different from her classmates. Her mother still cooks Filipino foods, speaks a mix of English and Cebuano, and chastises Apple for becoming "too American." It becomes unbearable in middle school, when the boys—the stupid, stupid boys—in Apple's class put her name on the Dog Log, the list of the most unpopular girls in school. When Apple's friends turn on her and everything about her life starts to seem weird and embarrassing, Apple turns to music. If she can just save enough to buy a guitar and learn to play, maybe she can change herself. It might be the music that saves her . . . or it might be her two new friends, who show how special she really is.


Why I recommend it: The voice is spot-on. Apple Yengko will strum her way into your heart and into your soul and you won't be able to forget her. Erin Entrada Kelly has perfectly captured the essence of middle school: both the pain and the hope, the cruelty of certain kids, and the solid lasting friendships that can develop with other kids. Reading this is like eavesdropping on real middle-schoolers. I especially loved how Beatles' music helped Apple follow her dream and find her place in the world. Ten-year-old me would have hugged this book and read it all over again. 
Bonus: This book will appeal strongly to anyone who ever felt like an outsider. Perfect for starting discussions in the classroom, or with your kids at home, about bullying, about tolerance, and about diversity.   
My favorite line:  "I imagined a hole cracking open and transporting me into another dimension so I wouldn't have to listen to my mother."  (p. 88)

Erin's website
Follow Erin on Twitter


Apple's favorite Beatles song is "Blackbird Fly" and mine is "Here Comes the Sun."  What's your favorite?


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3. Absolutely Almost



Absolutely Almost by Lisa Graff (for ages 8 to 12, Philomel, June 2014)

Source: my local library

Synopsis (from Indiebound): Albie has never been the smartest kid in his class. He has never been the tallest. Or the best at gym. Or the greatest artist. Or the most musical. In fact, Albie has a long list of the things he's not very good at. But then Albie gets a new babysitter, Calista, who helps him figure out all of the things he is good at and how he can take pride in himself.

Why I recommend it: Kudos to Lisa Graff for being brave enough to create a character who is ordinary. This is a quiet, thought-provoking novel (if you're looking for fast-paced action, you'll need to look elsewhere). But if you like the idea of reading about an "almost" kid, who's not the best at anything (in other words, maybe you or someone you know), this book will warm your heart. Because even though Albie isn't good at anything like math or reading or art, he's kind and compassionate. And that's good enough, right?

I've lived in New York City and the city setting is perfect for this book. I also loved Albie's math club teacher, Mr. Clifton, who starts each class with a really bad math joke. 

Bonus: Short chapters and smooth writing make this a winner for reluctant readers.

My favorite quote: "Then won't you be glad you found something you love?"

(This comes after Calista tells Albie to find something he wants to keep doing, and maybe if he practices enough, one day he'll discover he doesn't stink at it. Albie responds that he might still stink at it.)


Lisa Graff's website

Follow Lisa on Twitter

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4. And the winner is...

I'm happy to announce that according to randomizer the winner of the signed hardcover copy of A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder is...


FAITH HOUGH


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




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5. A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans -- Part 2, Guest Post and Giveaway!


Readers, last week I promised you an exclusive guest post from the authors of A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder (see my review here). Now, I'm thrilled to present their post. Giveaway details below. 




Happy Together

We were happy to agree to Joanne’s request to do a guest blog post about writing A Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans.  Since Larry and I met in journalism school at Marquette University, we decided to answer some traditional reporter-type questions for you.

Who are we?  Larry and I are married and children’s book writers.  We’ve written well over 100 books, but until recently we wrote books separately.  Larry usually writes novels, and I write poetry and picture books.

What has changed?  We fell in love with the idea of a dragon who has a pet human. We both were so charmed by our 3000-year old dragon, Miss Drake, and her 10-year old pet, feisty Winnie, we wanted to work on the book together.  It is our first collaborative work.

When do you write?  Larry is a lark and writes in the morning.  I am an owl and write best in the quiet of night.  We talk about our work at lunch…often away from home with a picnic at the beach or enjoying a meal in town.  It’s nice to take a break from writing, share problems we’re having, and get new ideas. We always end up writing notes on napkins and stuffing bits of scribbled paper tablecloths in our pockets.

Where does the story take place and where do you write?  We set the book in San Francisco because we both love the city.  Larry was born there, we lived there for years, and we both think of it as a unique and rather magical place.

When we moved away and looked for a home in Pacific Grove, we had two conditions.  We needed two studies and lots of wall space for bookcases.  We each have our own writing spots, computers, and our books nearby.

How do two people write one book?   I am sure there are many different ways to write together, but this seems to be ours.  Larry writes the opening, we work on the overall plot, he writes some chapters, and I write others.  We share what we’ve done and rewrite and edit all the parts till we are happy.  Larry, as a novelist, has a much better understanding of plotting and dramatic arcs, etc.  As a poet, I work on images and details and the emotional thrust of the book.  So we each bring the elements we know best to the story.

Larry and I have lived together for 30 years.  That most likely made this project easier to do. Earlier on we might have had some clashing of egos.  But we do respect each other and treat each other kindly most of the time.  I think we both kept our relationship in mind as we tussled a bit over plot points.  In addition, we do laugh and tease a lot. The banter between Miss Drake and Winnie came quite naturally to us.

We both hope readers can see how much fun we had creating these two ever-so-different friends and that they will join us in seeing what Miss Drake and Winnie do in the future.  There’s more magic to come!

_________________________________________

Thank you so much, Joanne and Larry! I loved hearing about your process and especially how a novelist and a poet who are happily married can create magic together. I look forward to more adventures.

Readers, the authors have generously offered one signed hardcover copy for a giveaway. To enter, you must be a follower of this blog and you must leave a comment on this post. If you spread the word via Twitter or Facebook, please let me know and I'll give you extra chances for each mention. This giveaway is open to US and Canadian addresses only and will end at 10 pm EDT on Sunday March 22, 2015. Winner will be announced on Monday March 23. Good luck!


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6. A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans -- Part I


A Dragon's Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans by Laurence Yep & Joanne Ryder, with illustrations by Mary GrandPre (for ages 8 to 12, Crown Books for Young Readers/Random House, March 10, 2015)

Source: hardcover copy from the generous authors

Synopsis (from the publisher): Crusty dragon Miss Drake has a new pet human, precocious Winnie. Oddly enough, Winnie seems to think Miss Drake is her pet--a ridiculous notion!

Unknown to most of its inhabitants, the City by the Bay is home to many mysterious and fantastic creatures, hidden beneath the parks, among the clouds, and even in plain sight. And Winnie wants to draw every new creature she encounters: the good, the bad, and the ugly. But Winnie's sketchbook is not what it seems. Somehow, her sketchlings have been set loose on the city streets! It will take Winnie and Miss Drake's combined efforts to put an end to the mayhem... before it's too late.


Why I recommend it: First, full disclosure. Once upon a time, in the late 1970s, I worked as an assistant to a young editor named Joanne Ryder in a major NYC publishing house. (I was "the other Joanne".) Fast forward a few years. I moved back to Pennsylvania, worked in a library, got married and became a mom. Joanne Ryder moved to California and married Newbery-honor-winning author Laurence Yep. Of course, Jo is also an award-wining author, with more than 70 books to her credit.

We haven't seen each other in ages, but I still correspond with her and we're Facebook friends. I miss seeing her in person (someday, Jo, someday), but reading her books is the next best thing. When I read in PW that Joanne and Larry were writing a book together for the first time, I begged for an arc. They did better than that. They sent me a signed, personalized hardcover. Woo hoo!

Of course, I worried. What if I didn't like it? How would I tell my old friend? Well, you can put your mind at ease, readers, because this book is adorable. It has everything you want in a modern-day fantasy for younger readers: humor, magic, and lots and lots of heart. Plus, not one but TWO spunky heroines. Miss Drake and Winnie made a formidable team. I love a dragon that drinks tea, uses a cell phone, and reads fashion magazines so she'll dress smartly when she changes to human form. And I love that Winnie isn't afraid of Miss Drake or any of the other fantastical creatures they confront.

Bonus: This book is the first in a planned series.

Favorite quote: A day at the fair could leave a dragon feeling two centuries younger.

Readers, be sure to come back next week for Part II -- an exclusive guest post from Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder, plus a giveaway!


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7. A Snicker of Magic


A Snicker of Magic by Natalie Lloyd (for ages 8 to 12, Scholastic, February 2014; paperback coming April 2015)

Source: My local library

Synopsis (adapted from the publisher's website): Midnight Gulch used to be a magical place, a town where people could sing up thunderstorms and dance up sunflowers. But that was long ago, before a curse drove the magic away. Twelve-year-old Felicity knows all about things like that; her nomadic mother is cursed with a wandering heart.

But when she arrives in Midnight Gulch, Felicity thinks her luck's about to change. A "word collector," Felicity sees words everywhere, but Midnight Gulch is the first place she's ever seen the word "home." And then there's Jonah, a mysterious, spiky-haired do-gooder who shimmers with words Felicity's never seen before, words that make Felicity's heart beat a little faster.

Why I recommend it: Natalie Lloyd's spindiddly way with words! If I didn't know better, I'd think I was reading a cross between Roald Dahl and Dr. Seuss, with a generous helping of made-up words along with a heaping portion of real words that are both scrumptious and colorful. The quirky characters and marvelous setting are further reasons to fall in love with this imaginative novel. I wish Blackberry Sunrise ice cream really existed (eating it helps you remember). And I wish I had this much imagination. 

Bonus: I appreciate that Jonah is in a wheelchair but the author doesn't make a big deal out of it. It's simply the way Jonah is. 

My favorite quote:  "Sometimes you don't need words to feel better; you just need the nearness of your dog." (from p. 173)

P.S. I hope the typo on p. 229 will be fixed in the paperback. Seriously: "Oliver slammed on the breaks". I guess even the best copy editor can't catch every error and this book with its invented words must have been a real challenge to edit. The publisher's full synopsis also includes a typo ("church eves" -- um, I think you mean eaves). Sorry. Things like that actually bother me...


Follow Natalie on Twitter

Have you read A Snicker of Magic? What did you think?  


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8.





All Four Stars by Tara Dairman (July 2014, Putnam, for ages 8 to 12)

Source: I won this book from Rosi Hollinbeck at The Write Stuff (her blog always has helpful links for writers and an in-depth book review, so go check it out!)

Synopsis (from Indiebound): Meet Gladys Gatsby: New York’s toughest restaurant critic. (Just don’t tell anyone that she’s in sixth grade.)

Gladys Gatsby has been cooking gourmet dishes since the age of seven, only her fast-food-loving parents have no idea! Now she’s eleven, and after a crème brûlée accident (just a small fire), Gladys is cut off from the kitchen (and her allowance). She’s devastated but soon finds just the right opportunity to pay her parents back when she’s mistakenly contacted to write a restaurant review for one of the largest newspapers in the world.

But in order to meet her deadline and keep her dream job, Gladys must cook her way into the heart of her sixth-grade archenemy and sneak into New York City—all while keeping her identity a secret! Easy as pie, right?

Why I recommend it: If you looked up "delectable" in the dictionary, this book could be the illustration. Also, "hilarious" and "imaginative" (I love that she lives in East Dumpsford, New York!).  I wish Gladys was a real food critic, awarding four stars to classy restaurants. Her reviews would be so much more fun to read. 

Reading this book will make you so hungry you'll want to whip up a frothy dessert and gobble it all down. And even though I found the parents a little over-the-top (they actually prefer microwaved meals? Ugh!), it's all in good fun and you'll find yourself rooting for Gladys. Give this adorable book to the young foodie in your life. 

Have you read any sweet and funny middle grade novels about food?


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9. Congrats to the winners! And a graphic novel recommendation

Congratulations to the winners of the ALA Youth Media Awards, announced this morning in Chicago! Hope your favorite book wins an award. I'm posting this ahead of time, so I don't know who the winners are yet. I'll be following the live webcast at 9:00 am EST (8:00 am Central time).  I'm expecting Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson to win the Newbery. And I really hope Glory O'Brien's History of the Future by A.S. King wins the Printz award. I can't begin to guess the Caldecott award, though.




El Deafo by Cece Bell (Abrams, Sept 2014, for ages 8 to 12)

Source:
Aaron's Books

Regardless of whether or not it wins an award today (Schneider Family Award, maybe?), I wholeheartedly recommend El Deafo by Cece Bell. My writer friend Ilene Wong (who writes as I.W. Gregorio and whose groundbreaking YA debut novel None of the Above pubs on April 7th!) suggested Cece Bell's graphic novel to me when we were browsing at Aaron's Books in Lititz, PA (such a fun bookstore). I'm so glad she did because I really loved this book.

I have to admit, at first I put off reading it because the artwork didn't really appeal to me (yes, the characters are all rabbits), but when I finally sat down and started reading, I couldn't stop. El Deafo is actually a powerful memoir in graphic novel form. Touching and warm and always very funny, the book shows us Cece's life as a kid with hearing loss who's just trying to get along in a hearing world. She learns to lip-read, aided by her Phonic Ear. It's the Phonic Ear that turns Cece into a superhero, when it proves to be so powerful she can hear what the teachers are saying in the teacher's lounge. A terrific book for any kid who ever worried about being different.

What books about disabilities have you read?



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10. Giveaway winner... and some Newbery love

First, I have a winner to announce...

According to randomizer, the winner of the signed hardcover of The Inquisitor's Mark (The Eighth Day Book 2) by Dianne K. Salerni is...



JESS HAIGHT


Congratulations, Jess! Expect an email from me asking for your mailing address. I'll be attending Dianne's book launch this Saturday, January 31st and will buy your copy then.



_______________________________________________________________

Now for some Newbery talk in honor of the 2015 ALA Youth Media Awards, which will be announced one week from today, at 8 am Central Time on Monday February 2nd. 


Back in October, I mentioned in this post that I had read 60 Newbery medal winners. (Here's a link to the Buzzfeed Newbery test if you haven't taken it).

Well, I'm happy to report that I can update that total once again. Thanks to my local library, I've now read 67. I believe Ms. Yingling has read all 93 of them (Congrats, Karen!), though I don't know how she did it, because some of those older books are, um, a bit slow (I tried to read Hitty, The First 100 Years. I really did. I think the cramped font put me off too).

Here's a brief look at some favorites from the seven Newbery medal winners I read in the last few months, all highly recommended:





Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata (Atheneum, 2004, for ages 10 and up, winner of the 2005 Newbery Medal)

Katie Takeshima's big sister, Lynn, makes everything seem kira-kira, or glittering, shining. It's the 1950s and the family moves from Iowa to rural Georgia, where Katie's parents work long hours in a poultry plant and hatchery. This isn't so much a book about prejudice (although that's a big part of it) as it is a haunting and achingly beautiful look at how the death of a loved one tears apart an entire family. It's up to Katie to remind her family there is still kira-kira in the future.




I, Juan de Pareja by Elizabeth Borton de Trevino (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1965, for ages 10 and up, winner of the 1966 Newbery Medal)

I'd always put off reading this because I was afraid it would be dry and boring. I was wrong. Told in first person, this novel is based on the life of the painter Velasquez and his slave, Juan de Pareja, who became a respected artist in his own right. In seventeenth-century Spain it was forbidden for slaves to practice the arts, so Juan resorts to stealing colors and painting in secret, despite knowing he could be killed for it. A great novel about the injustice of slavery. I also loved the richness of the writing, with a tapestry of colorful details that brought Juan's world vividly to life.




Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (Atheneum, 1991, ages 8 to 12, winner of the 1992 Newbery Medal) 

According to Wikipedia, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor completed the first draft of this novel in a mere eight weeks! Yet it's become a modern classic. Published in 1991 and set in West Virginia, this touching story of Marty and the dog he rescues must be one of the first MG books to talk about animal abuse (unless you can think of another?). And don't worry, it has a happy ending.  


What book do you hope will win this year's Newbery medal?

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson is getting a lot of Newbery buzz, so I won't be at all surprised if it wins. I've only predicted the gold correctly one time (the year When You Reach Me won). Maybe I'd have better luck trying to predict honor books. This year, I'm hoping the Newbery committee gives some love to Hope is a Ferris Wheel by Robin Herrera, The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer, and El Deafo by Cece Bell. 



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11. Guest Post from Dianne Salerni for The Inquisitor's Mark (coming soon!) - and a giveaway!




The Inquisitor's Mark (The Eighth Day, Book 2) by Dianne K Salerni (Harpercollins, January 27, 2015, for ages 8 to 12)

Source: advanced reading copy from publisher

Synopsis: When a mysterious man claiming to be Jax Aubrey's uncle kidnaps his best friend, Billy, Jax fears a trap. Before his father died, he never mentioned having a brother. Enemy Kin leaders and corrupt Transitioners are after Jax's guardian, Riley, the sought-after descendant of King Arthur, and his liege lady, Evangeline, a powerful magician descended from Merlin. To protect them Jax sneaks off to New York City by himself to rescue Billy. And it's a trap all right. Jax learns his real last name is Ambrose, not Aubrey. And his new-found relatives will stop at nothing to get what they want.


Crests designed by Dianne's daughter


Why I recommend it: As exciting as The Eighth Day was, this second book in the series ratchets up the tension even more. You'll be racing through the pages to find out what happens. Jax has to call on all his resources to handle not only his nasty new relatives, but an enormous and deadly creature he's never seen before.





And now here's Dianne herself to tell us what she enjoyed about writing the sequel:


When I sat down to plan and write The Inquisitor’s Mark, I remember feeling overwhelmed and nervous. It was the first time I’d ever had to write a book that was already sold, sight unseen, before it existed. HarperCollins had bought The Eighth Day and expected me to write at least two more books in the series. They believed I could, and I REALLY hoped their faith in me was well-founded!

As it turned out, this book was my favorite one to write in the series so far. (Writing Book 3 made me pull my hair out, but that’s another story …) What was fun about The Inquisitor’s Mark was that the personalities of the central characters were already established – at least up to the point where I left them in Book 1 – but since people change and grow in real life, I knew these characters would do the same.

For example, at the beginning of the first book, Jax loathed his 18-year-old guardian, Riley, but by the end, his opinion had changed. This is touched upon in several places, but with the whole We-Have-To-Save-The-World thing going on in the climax, there wasn’t a lot of time to fully explore it. Therefore, it was very rewarding to have the time in the early chapters of The Inquisitor’s Mark to play with this developing brotherly relationship, including the normal teasing and rough-housing one might expect between boys.

“I haven’t given up, you know,” Riley told Evangeline. “I have a trick or two up my sleeves.”

“I thought all you had up your sleeves were tattoos,” Jax said. Riley made sure Evangeline wasn’t looking, then smacked Jax in the back of the head.

Of course, you can’t keep up the tension if things are going great, so Jax overhears Riley planning to send him away for his own good and Mrs. Crandall urging Riley to break up the vassal-liege bond between Jax and Evangeline before Jax gets hurt … and suddenly Jax doesn’t know his place in the group anymore.

Enter the new characters – who were another favorite part of writing this sequel.

Jax has a family, as it turns out: an uncle, cousins, and grand-parents. Too bad they belong to the Dulac clan, the powerful and corrupt people who assassinated Riley’s family and would like to see Riley dead too!  The dynamics of meeting these people – blood relatives and also enemies – was massively fun to write as an author, while incredibly difficult for poor Jax. I particularly enjoyed the character of Jax’s uncle, Finn Ambrose. He’s the right-hand man of the evil Ursula Dulac and definitely a “bad guy,” but he loved his brother Rayne, and he sincerely wants to provide a home for his long-lost nephew. How does a 13-year-old boy deal with a man who, on one hand, wants him to betray his friends, but on the other hand, looks so much like his father?

Uncle Finn took Jax by the shoulder and steered him out of the apartment. “That was uncalled for.”

“You wanted to know if I had any talent,” Jax said smugly. “I just proved it.”

“It’s discourteous to use your talent to embarrass your clan members.”

“I don’t want those guys touching my tattoo.”

“It doesn’t seem necessary,” his uncle said. “You’re obviously an Ambrose.” Then he made a noise that caused Jax to glance at him in surprise. Jax couldn’t tell if it was a snort or a laugh or even a sob, but Uncle Finn was looking at him with strangely moist eyes. “Rayne would’ve done the same thing.”

Jax grinned. And his uncle grinned back.

I wrote The Inquisitor’s Mark in just eleven weeks, the fastest I’ve ever written any first draft in my life. And while there are many action scenes in the book that were wonderfully fun to write, what made this book my favorite (so far) was the character interactions. It was too long to make the tagline on the cover, but Jax is “Related to the enemy. Loyal to their targets.”


That provides a wealth of material for an author to work with!

*   *   *   *   *

Thanks, Dianne! I'm truly impressed that you wrote the rough draft in eleven weeks.

Readers, The Inquisitor's Mark pubs on January 27, 2015.  And if you haven't read The Eighth Day yet (and why haven't you???) the paperback is now available!

For this giveaway, I will be purchasing a hardcover copy  of The Inquisitor's Mark for Dianne to sign in a few weeks. To enter simply be a follower and leave a comment on this post. If you tweet about the giveaway or mention on facebook, let me know and I'll give you extra entries. US and Canadian mailing addresses only. This giveaway ends at 10 pm on Sunday January 25, 2015. And the winner will be announced on Monday January 26.

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12. What happened in my world in 2014


Apologies for the long silence (and for not visiting all your blogs) but my father's illness took up a lot of my time toward the end of 2014.

My facebook friends already know this, but my father passed away on December 11, 2014, exactly two weeks before Christmas. Those two weeks are mostly a blur at this point, but we did manage to celebrate Christmas, although of course the tears flowed freely.

Looking through my myriad photo albums, I realized I have many wonderful pictures of my father to help me remember him. This one is from my wedding, nearly 30 years ago.



June 22, 1985




One of my favorite memories of Dad is when he read to me or told me stories. He was terrific at all the voices. Years later, he continued the tradition by reading to my sons. So you can see that books have always been an important part of our family.


This is Dad reading to his grandson in 1988


For a book blogger, of course, the end of the year means looking back to see how many books I read. What about you? Did you reach your reading goals? Do you have any favorite books from 2014?

In 2014, I read 108 books, eleven fewer than the year before, but five more than in 2012. And although I do read adult books from time to time (I read Joan Didion's memoir, The Year of Magical Thinking, and cried through the entire book), mostly what I read is MG. Here are a few MG titles that gave me comfort these last few weeks (and which I highly recommend). Source for all was my local library and all synopses are from Indiebound.




What the Moon Said by Gayle Rosengren (Putnam, February 2014)

Synopsis: Thanks to her superstitious mother, Esther knows some tricks for avoiding bad luck: toss salt over your left shoulder, never button your shirt crooked, and avoid black cats. But even luck can't keep her family safe from the Great Depression. When Pa loses his job, Esther's family leaves their comfy Chicago life behind for a farm in Wisconsin.

Living on a farm comes with lots of hard work, but Esther makes a fast friend in lively Bethany. But then Ma sees a sign that Esther just knows is wrong. If believing a superstition makes you miserable, how can that be good luck?


My take: You may remember that I adore books about the Great Depression and this is no exception. A lovely story. Simply lovely.





The Secret Hum of a Daisy by Tracy Holczer (Putnam, May 2014)

Synopsis: After her mother's sudden death, Grace is forced to live with a grandmother she's never met. She can't imagine her mother would want her to stay with this stranger. Then Grace finds clues in a mysterious treasure hunt, just like the ones her mother used to send her on. Maybe it is her mother, showing her the way to her true home.

My take: Since I read this the week after my father died, I found it extremely comforting. But I also loved Grace. She seemed so flawed and vulnerable and real and she really grew as a character.







Greenglass House by Kate Milford (Clarion Books, August 2014)

Synopsis: A rambling old smuggler's inn, a strange map, an attic packed with treasures, squabbling guests, theft, friendship, and an unusual haunting mark this smart mystery in the tradition of the Mysterious Benedict Society books.  

My take: The synopsis doesn't begin to do justice to this entertaining, many-layered, deftly-woven tale that takes place just before Christmas (I read it just before and after Christmas so it was perfect!). Milo is an orphan, raised by loving adoptive parents who just happen to run a smuggler's inn. I totally guessed the "secret" of this book less than halfway through, but highly doubt an 11-year-old would. I also think it would make a terrific graphic novel.



Next week: A giveaway and guest post from author Dianne K. Salerni, whose book, The Inquisitor's Mark (a sequel to The Eighth Day) comes out on January 27, 2015.   



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13. Excited about holidays?



This is me as a four-year-old in Los Angeles, California*

Thanksgiving is only a few days away here in the U.S. plus, as I'm writing this, my Dad is in the hospital. So I won't be visiting blogs today. My apologies.

And I may take a few weeks off from blogging after that to get ready for Christmas. Yeah, I know, I should have done that in August when the stores began stocking holiday wrapping and lights and candy. Grrr. Doesn't it seem that all of the holidays, whatever you celebrate, get rolled into one giant commercial? They skip right over Thanksgiving because it's not commercial enough. But it's one of my favorite holidays.

And despite my Dad being very ill, I have a lot to be thankful for right now. Here are just three reasons:

1) My older son has been cancer-free for five years. This is a huge relief for all of us.

2) I finally finished the rough draft of my fourth novel. Yay! Only took me a year.

3) Excited to announce that two of my short fiction pieces will appear in the print version of Best of Vine Leaves Literary Journal 2014, available for purchase starting December 1.

Hope your holidays are sweet and I wish you the best for 2015.



*I live in Pennsylvania, but we visited my grandparents for Christmas that year and I was thrilled to receive this Disney Sleeping Beauty doll. It must have been my favorite movie that year.

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14. Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald







Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald (Dial Books for Young Readers, March 2014, for ages 9 to 13)

Source: Children's Book World, Haverford, PA, my favorite almost-local indie bookstore

Synopsis (from the publisher)When Theodora Tenpenny spills a bottle of rubbing alcohol on her late grandfather’s painting, she discovers what seems to be an old Renaissance masterpiece underneath. That’s great news for Theo, who’s struggling to hang onto her family’s two-hundred-year-old townhouse and support her unstable mother on her grandfather’s legacy of $463. There’s just one problem: Theo’s grandfather was a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and she worries the painting may be stolen.

With the help of some unusual new friends, Theo’s search for answers takes her all around Manhattan, and introduces her to a side of the city—and her grandfather—that she never knew. To solve the mystery, she’ll have to abandon her hard-won self-reliance and build a community, one serendipitous friendship at a time.

Why I recommend it: This is a smart, sophisticated mystery for older middle grade readers. I was utterly entranced by Theodora, by the marvelous New York City setting and characters, and by the mystery itself, which will keep you guessing. Give this to kids who enjoyed From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Chasing Vermeer and even When You Reach Me (although there's no time travel involved here, just a lesson from the past). 

Writers, study this fascinating debut novel to see how intricate a middle grade plot can be, while still entertaining the reader. I'm keeping this book because I know I'll read it over again.

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

Laura Marx Fitzgerald's website

Follow Laura on Twitter


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15. Manhunt by Kate Messner




Manhunt by Kate Messner (hardcover, Scholastic, July 1, 2014, for ages 8 to 12)

Source: ARC from the publisher

Synopsis (from the publisher): Henry, Anna, and José head from Boston to Paris for their most dangerous mission yet: to solve the mystery of an international art heist! Shortly after they arrive, they learn that a member of the Silver Jaguar Society is working as a double agent, passing information to the criminal gang the Serpentine Princes — but who could it be? When the senior members of the Society go missing, it’s up to Henry, Anna, José, and their smug new comrade, Hem, to mount a rescue while staying hot on the trail of a missing masterpiece. Running around — and below — a foreign city filled with doppelgangers, decoys, and deceit, the three sleuths discover they’re the only hope for the Society’s survival!

Why I recommend it:  This well-researched and intriguing mystery is a fun and fast-paced read. While Messner's Capture the Flag focused on Anna, and Hide and Seek (which I haven't read yet) focused on José, Manhunt is Henry's story. And Henry is worried about his father and his new baby half-sister back home. Messner does an excellent job of filling in just enough detail from the first two books to bring you up to speed.

Reading this made me long to visit the City of Light again and especially to go to Shakespeare and Company, the famous bookstore. If you've never been to Paris, fear not! Reading this book is almost as exciting as being there. 

Have you read any books, set in real cities or towns, that made you want to visit those places?


Visit Kate Messner's website

Follow Kate on Twitter


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16. The Luck Uglies by Paul Durham



The Luck Uglies by Paul Durham (HarperCollins, April 2014, for ages 8 to 12)

Source: purchased from B&N

Synopsis (from the publisher): Strange things are happening in Village Drowning, and a terrifying encounter has eleven-year-old Rye O'Chanter convinced that the monstrous, supposedly extinct Bog Noblins have returned. Now Rye's only hope is an exiled secret society so notorious its name can't be spoken aloud: the Luck Uglies. As Rye dives into Village Drowning's maze of secrets, rules, and lies, she'll discover the truth behind the village's legends of outlaws and beasts . . . and that it may take a villain to save them from the monsters.

Why I recommend it:  If you love fantasy adventures, this book has everything you're looking for: a spunky, engaging heroine, scary monsters, intriguing secrets. There are also plenty of late-night shenanigans with Rye and her two best friends. Add to that a mysterious new resident named Harmless and the odd way Rye's mother has been behaving, and you won't be able to stop reading. A sweeping, highly imaginative tale that will be the first book in a trilogy. Yay!

Paul Durham's website (Love that he writes in an abandoned chicken coop at the edge of a swamp!)

Follow Paul on Twitter


For other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday reviews, see the links on Shannon Messenger's blog.


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17. Three Newbery winners

Recently, I've been trying to catch up on my Newbery reading. Having taken this test for fun, I was surprised to learn I'd only read 57 out of 93 of the medal winners (I've read far more of the honor books).

So I hustled down to my local second-hand book shop and bought what they had. Now my total's up to 60. Not bad, but nowhere near a perfect score. Naturally, I've read more of the recent winners, plus the ones from my childhood, but not as many from the decades before 1960. Still working on that.





Sounder by William H. Armstrong (originally published by HarperCollins in 1969; this paperback released 1972)

Newbery Medal Winner 1970

Synopsis (from HarperCollins)During the difficult years of the late nineteenth century South, an African-American boy and his poor family rarely have enough to eat. Each night, the boy's father takes their dog, Sounder, out to look for food and the man grows more desperate by the day. When food suddenly appears on the table one morning, it seems like a blessing. But the sheriff and his deputies are not far behind. The ever-loyal Sounder remains determined to help the family he loves as hard times bear down on them.

Why I recommend it: The writing has a lyrical and timeless quality, helped I'm sure by the simplicity of calling the characters "the  boy" and "his father" and "his mother". The only character with a name in the entire story is the dog, Sounder. 







Shadow of a Bull by Maia Wojciechowska (hardcover published in 1964 by Atheneum; this paperback edition from Aladdin, 2007)


Newbery Medal Winner 1965


Synopsis (from Indiebound)Manolo was only three when his father, the great bullfighter Juan Olivar, died. But Juan is never far from Manolo's consciousness -- how could he be, with the entire town of Arcangel waiting for the day Manolo will fulfill his father's legacy?


But Manolo has a secret he dares to share with no one -- he is a coward, without afición, the love of the sport that enables a bullfighter to rise above his fear and face a raging bull. As the day when he must enter the ring approaches, Manolo finds himself questioning which requires more courage: to follow in his father's legendary footsteps or to pursue his own destiny?

Why I recommend it: Despite the dated subject matter, this is a quiet and inspiring little book about courage and facing one's fear. I totally fell in love with Manolo as a character. 






The Slave Dancer by Paula Fox (hardcover published in 1973 by Bradbury Press; this paperback edition published 2008 by Aladdin)

Newbery Medal Winner 1974

Synopsis (from Indiebound)One day, thirteen-year-old Jessie Bollier is earning pennies playing his fife on the docks of New Orleans; the next, he is kidnapped and thrown aboard a slave ship, where his job is to provide music while shackled slaves "dance" to keep their muscles strong and their bodies profitable. As the endless voyage continues, Jessie grows increasingly sickened by the greed, brutality, and inhumanity of the slave trade, but nothing prepares him for the ultimate horror he will witness before his nightmare ends -- a horror that will change his life forever.

Why I recommend it: I thought I knew a lot about slavery in the U.S., but then I read The Slave Dancer and learned a lot more. This book would be excellent for starting classroom discussions.

How many Newbery medal winners have you read?




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18. Where's Lenny Lee????




 LENNY LEE IS 15!





Happy 15th Birthday, Lenny Lee! I really miss you and all your helpful and sunshiny posts! Here's a sunny picture just for you. It's from Lake Geneva, Switzerland. I always think of you when I see sunshine. And I always smile when I think of you. I hope you will get back to blogging soon.


Wishing you plenty of sunshine and smiles and lots of cards and presents on your 15th birthday.








Readers, if you're not familiar with Lenny's blog, Lenny's World, zip on over there and check it out. He writes about holidays and sunshine and animals and all kinds of good things.

He has lots of helpful stuff on there for writers, too, like how to write a good ending for your novel, and how to get ideas, and what to do about rejections. He writes with great insight and enthusiasm.

Lenny Lee's avatar!


For other Lenny Lee posts today, see Sharon K. Mayhew's blog.



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19. 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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20. 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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21. 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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22. 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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23. The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher by Jessica Lawson - and a Giveaway

First, I have a winner to announce from the LUG giveaway. Drum roll please............ 

The winner is.......


SUZANNE WARR



Congratulations, Suzanne! Look for a message from me asking for your mailing address. 


*   *   *   *   *


Today's MMGM features another debut novel. And it's the debut of our own Jessica Lawson! 

For other MMGM posts, look for the links on Shannon Messenger's blog.






Jessica Lawson from her website







The Actual &Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher by Jessica Lawson, illustrated by Iacopo Bruno  (for ages  8 to 12, Simon & Schuster, July 2014)

Source: purchased from B&N

Synopsis (from the book jacket): Becky Thatcher is sick and tired of that tattletale Tom Sawyer following her around! Becky is determined to have her own adventures, just like she promised her brother, Jon, before he died. When she joins the boys at school in a bet to steal from the Widow Douglas, the rumored town witch, Becky recruits her best friend Amy Lawrence to join her in a night of mischief. And that's when the real adventure begins.

Why I recommend it: What a fun read! This is one of those delightful stories you could easily read over and over again, especially if you're eleven or twelve. You don't have to be familiar with Tom Sawyer or Sam Clemens, but it helps. This is a smart, funny book, and best of all, it features one of the strongest female protagonists I've encountered this year. Or in a lot of years. The sassy and tomboyish Becky is a joy to get to know. You'll have a great time tagging along as she searches for adventure, escaped convicts, and maybe even treasure.



What MG novel could you read over and over again? Tell me in the comments.



Now for the GIVEAWAY details:


My very own hardcover copy (*hugs book*) is staying right here in my house, but the author herself has generously offered a FREE hardcover copy for one lucky winner, who will be chosen by randomizer. This giveaway is open to US/Canadian addresses only. To enter, you must be a follower and you must leave a comment on this post. If you tweet about the giveaway or mention on facebook or your own blog, I'll give you extra entries, but please include the links. Thanks! This giveaway ends at 10 pm EDT on Friday Oct 3, 2014 and the winner will be announced on Monday Oct 6.


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24. Atlantis Rising by T.A. Barron


First, I have a winner to announce in the ACTUAL & TRUTHFUL ADVENTURES OF BECKY THATCHER hardcover copy giveaway. According to randomizer, the winner is:


ROSI


Congratulations! And expect an email from me asking for your address. And thanks again to author Jessica Lawson for generously offering the giveaway copy.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *


Now on to day's MMGM:









Atlantis Rising by T. A. Barron (Puffin paperback, Sept 25, 2014, for ages 10 and up)

Source: review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review


Synopsis (from the publisher): In a magical land called Ellegandia, a young boy named Promi scrapes by, stealing pies, cakes and sweets to survive. But little does he know that his country is a pawn in an ages-old war between good and evil, battled both in the spirit realm and in the human world. Harboring secrets of his own, Promi teams up with a courageous girl named Atlanta and the two vow to save their land—and each other—no matter the cost. But their vow has greater repercussions than they ever could imagine—in fact, it may just bring about the creation of Atlantis, an island cut off from the rest of the world, where magic reigns supreme.


Why I recommend it: I love T.A. Barron's The Lost Years of Merlin and I've had the privilege of meeting Tom Barron (twice!), so I may be a wee bit prejudiced here, but I'm awestruck by the sheer scope of his imagination. Plenty of authors have written about the destruction of Atlantis, but only a storyteller like T.A. Barron would think of writing about its origins.

Not only is Barron a magician with words but he also shows a deep respect for our planet. His love for nature shines through in his descriptions of the forest, the flowers, and the animals. His characterization is also noteworthy. Promi's a thief who steals food, including, one day, a lemon pie. But then he sees a girl in the city who's weak from hunger and he gives her the entire pie. That girl turns out to be Atlanta, who wants to save the forest from an unknown blight, and Promi has to change his ways to help her. Writers, study this one to learn how to make characters likable.

I did find the first half of the book a little slower than the second half, but if you like your fantasy long and colorful and with plenty of both action and description, this book's for you. Fans of The False Prince will enjoy this.

T.A. Barron's website

Follow T.A. Barron on twitter


For more Marvelous Middle Grade Monday reviews, see the links on Shannon Messenger's blog



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25. Not that many books in the world




The boy had heard once that some people had so many books they only read each book once. But the boy was sure there were not that many books in the world.  

                                                                     ---from Sounder by William H. Armstrong



(Sounder was published in 1969 and won the 1970 Newbery medal, but the story takes place decades earlier. There still aren't enough books in the world today, especially for underprivileged children. That's where organizations like First Book come in.  In two weeks, I'll be discussing several Newbery medal-winning books I've read recently. But next week, I'm participating in something extra-special, so be sure to stop by then.)


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