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26. 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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27. 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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28. Screen-Free Week is Over (Whew!)


 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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29. 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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30. 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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31. 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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32. 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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33. 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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34. 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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35. 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


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


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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36. 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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37. 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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38. 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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39. 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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40. 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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41. 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:


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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42. Winner of THE MONSTER IN THE MUDBALL... and an intriguing quote

Hope everyone had a nice Thanksgiving weekend and didn't have to go shopping that day. I'm wondering how long it will be before retailers start trying to get you to do your Hanukkah/Christmas/Kwanzaa shopping in August... Will this consumer madness ever stop? Okay, forget I asked that. So buy books, people. If you must buy something, buy books! Preferably from brick-and-mortar stores. Small Business Saturday doesn't have to be limited to the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Thank you. I'll get down from my soapbox now.

Besides, I have a winner to announce. According to random.org, the winner of the hardcover of THE MONSTER IN THE MUDBALL by S.P. Gates is (ta da!):


Congratulations, Rosi! And expect an email from me asking for your mailing address. Readers, don't forget my other giveaway, the signed hardcover of THE WIG IN THE WINDOW by Kristen Kittscher, still going on at this post

I have no MMGM book review this week, due to family celebrations and travel, but if you go to Shannon's blog, you can find links to many other wonderful posts.

However, I do have a middle grade quote for you.

"Books are like truth serum – if you don’t read, you can’t figure out what’s real."

                                                              -- Freak, in Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick  

*   *   *   *   *

What do you think, reader? Do books help you figure out what's real?  

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43. Middle Grade Heaven -- Seven debut authors from the Lucky 13s in one room! Plus a GIVEAWAY

Seven of the Lucky 13s; in front: Kit Grindstaff, A.B. Westrick,
back row (l to r): Elisabeth Dahl, Caroline Carlson, Kristen Kittscher, 
Melanie Crowder, Jennifer Ann Mann

Last week, I had a blast meeting seven middle grade debut authors at once. Yes! I made it to the last stop on the Lucky 13s VENTURES AND MISADVENTURES tour! I got quite a few pictures (most were a little blurry because I didn't want to use flash and, you know, blind them all). Thanks to Haverford Township Free Library and Children's Book World for hosting the event. Scroll down for info on the books.

From left: Kit Grindstaff, Kristen Kittscher, Melanie Crowder, Caroline Carlson,
Elisabeth Dahl, Jennifer Ann Mann, A.B. Westrick

Kit Grindstaff and Kristen Kittscher both said their books were the first they'd ever written, 
although Kristen admitted it took many years and at one point she started over!
Here, Kit talks about THE FLAME IN THE MIST while Kristen looks on.

A.B. (Anne) Westrick with the Magic Jar of Literature (more on that later)

Elisabeth Dahl talks about (and still has!) her favorite book from childhood,

The audience got to play a fun game!
They took turns pulling out a slip of paper from the Magic Jar of Literature and reading the sentence aloud. They then tried to guess which of the seven books it came from, after which the author read the entire passage. Every kid in that audience was eager to participate.  

Melanie Crowder reads a moving passage aloud from PARCHED. 

Young fans talk to Caroline Carlson, Elisabeth Dahl, and Jennifer Ann Mann

A. B. Westrick with a happy fan

*   *   *   *   *

Any of these books would be a great addition to your middle grade shelves. They range from funny to serious and include fantasy, realistic contemporary, and historical. 

The Flame in the Mist by Kit Grindstaff (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, ages 9 to 13)
In this darkly-atmospheric fantasy, Jemma Agromond learns she's not who she thinks she is, and when the secrets and lies behind her life at mist-shrouded Agromond Castle begin to unravel, she finds herself in a chilling race for her life. I've recommended this book before, in this post.

Genie Wishes by Elisabeth Dahl (Amulet/Harry N. Abrams, ages 8 to 12)
Genie has been selected to be the class blogger and write down the wishes and dreams of her classmates. But it's scary to express her opinion in public. What if her class gets upset?

Parched by Melanie Crowder (HMH Books for Young Readers, ages 10 to 14). In this haunting, evocative eco-fable, written in a gorgeous prose that's almost poetic, a boy, a girl, and a dog struggle to survive in a world gone dry. I'm in the middle of reading this one, and I'm taking my time so I can savor the language. I first heard about this book from Akossiwa Ketoglo in this post.

Sunny Sweet is SO Not Sorry by Jennifer Ann Mann (Bloomsbury USA, ages 8 to 12). Eleven-year-old Masha has a six-year-old evil genius for a sister. Most of the action takes place in one crazy day, starting when Masha wakes up with plastic flowers glued to her hair. First in a series!

Brotherhood by A.B. Westrick (Viking Juvenile, ages 10 and up). The Civil War has ended, but for fourteen-year-old Shadrach, who lives in Richmond, Virginia, the conflict isn't over. His older brother takes him to a meeting of a secret society whose mission is to protect Confederate widows. But when Shad realizes what the KKK is really doing, he must make a decision.

Magic Marks the Spot (The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates, Book One) by Caroline Carlson (HarperCollins, for ages 8 to 12). Hilary has always wanted to be a pirate. But the Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates won't take girls. So Hilary sets out on her own high-seas adventure, with her best friend, a talking Gargoyle. Plenty of shenanigans abound. Read Natalie Aguirre's interview with Caroline on Literary Rambles at this post.

The Wig in the Window by Kristen Kittscher (HarperCollins, ages 8 to 12, first book in a series!)  Sophie Young and Grace Yang are best friends, and spies. Fans of funny middle-grade mysteries will devour this fast-paced contemporary mystery, set in a California beach town.The girls find more than they bargained for when they spy on their neighbor, Dr. Charlotte Agford (aka: Dr. Awkward), the middle school guidance counselor. What is Dr. Awkward hiding?

Kristen admitted this book is "somewhat autobiographical" because she had a spy club with her own best friend when she was in school. So the story has a highly authentic feel, as Sophie and Grace sneak around, make accusations, and get in deep trouble.

And the best part is, I'm giving away my signed hardcover copy of The Wig in the Window (only because it's the first book I finished reading)! Plus it comes with a pen, so you can write your own spy notes. To enter, all you have to do is become a follower and comment on this post. International entries welcome. This giveaway ends at 10 pm EST on Sunday December 8 and the winner will be announced on Monday December 9. Good luck!

*   *   *   *   *

Don't forget you still have nearly a week to enter my other giveaway, for a hardcover of The Monster in the Mudball. Go to that post to enter.

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44. The Monster in the Mudball -- and a Giveaway!

The Monster in the Mudball by S.P. Gates (September 2013, Tu Books/Lee & Low Books, for ages 8 to 12)

Source: hardcover review copy from the publisher

Synopsis (from the publisher): In this Junior Library Guild selection, eleven-year-old Jin must run around the English town of Newcastle-upon-Tyne trying to track down a monster named Zilombo. Jin teams up with Chief Inspector of Ancient Artifacts A. J. Zauyamakanda, or Mizz Z, for short. 

Zilombo gains new, frightening powers every time she hatches. Now the monster is cleverer than ever before . . . and it appears that Jin’s baby brother has disappeared! Will Jin’s baby brother be next on Zilombo’s menu? As the monster’s powers continue to grow, Jin and Mizz Z must find a way to outsmart Zilombo!

Why I liked it: This is a lively, fast-paced, multicultural fantasy adventure. If you can put up with a bit of head-hopping between characters in this brisk, third person narrative, you'll be rewarded with a great tale. Mizz Z is terrific. Jin's older sister Frankie has an important part to play. But mainly, you'll find yourself cheering for Jin -- the first protagonist I've ever encountered who has dyspraxia, a neurological condition that affects coordination. How he handles that, and helps save the day, makes him a fascinating character. 

Read a guest post on Lee & Low's own blog, in which the author shares photos of the English town where the story takes place. Interestingly, I read the book before I saw these photos, and it's almost exactly as I pictured it! So you know S. P. Gates is great at evoking a setting. Here's a teaser:

This is where Zilombo hides out, in an old sewage pipe

A little about the author (from the publisher's press release): S.P. Gates began her writing career over twenty-five years ago as an English teacher who wrote stories for her classes. One day she decided to send one of her stories in to a publisher and, to her amazement, her story was published. She is now the award-winning author of more than one hundred books for young readers including both middle grade and young adult fiction. Gates drew inspiration for The Monster in the Mudball from her time teaching in Malawi, Africa. Additionally, Jin, who has dyspraxia, is based on the experiences of Gates’ son, Alex, who also grew up dyspraxic. “Other children who have special educational needs might be interested to read how, despite his problems and to his own amazement, Jin becomes a hero,” Gates says.


And yes, I'm giving away that hardcover copy that Tu Books sent me for review. It comes with its very own "egg" from which you can grow your own monster! To enter, all you have to do is be a follower and leave a comment on this post. International entries welcome. This giveaway ends Sunday Dec 1, 2013 and the winner will be announced Monday Dec 2.

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45. Annual event at Children's Book World -- and Writing advice from Jerry Spinelli

I was in heaven on November 1st. Or, more precisely, I was at Children's Book World, in Haverford, PA for their annual Author and Illustrator night.

My only regret (besides the fact that I forgot to take photos - kicking myself, here) is that I didn't have enough money to buy a book from each of the more than 30 authors or illustrators present. And of course there wasn't enough time to talk to all of them.

This is actually a photo of Ellen Jensen Abbott from a previous event at CBW in October!

But I did talk to my friend Ellen Jensen Abbott, my friend K.M. Walton, and also Tiffany Schmidt, E.C. Myers, Ame Dyckman, Jen Bryant, Elisa Ludwig, Lisa Papp and Robert PappLee Harper, and Jerry Spinelli and Eileen Spinelli.

These were the books I purchased that night!

Also in attendance was my friend Ilene, whose YA deal (as I.W. Gregorio) was just announced in Publishers Marketplace. Yay, Ilene!

(Note: Yes, most of these authors are either YA or PB authors. But never fear, MG champions, because next week, I'm planning to attend a middle grade event sponsored by Children's Book World - you can read about it here! And this time, I'll try to take pics...)

Best conversation of the evening: I told Jerry Spinelli that I just finished the rough draft of my third novel the day before. And I asked, "What advice can you give me?" He said, "First, treat yourself to a milkshake because you've done something most people never do. You've finished a novel."

Then he told me to wait THREE MONTHS before tackling the revisions. As I thanked him and walked away, he said, "Remember! Three months!"

So I'll take your advice, Jerry. I'm letting it marinate until the end of January. And I'm already writing my fourth novel. But if there's anything I've learned in my years of writing, it's that there is no right or wrong way to revise a novel. Just like there is no right or wrong way to write a rough draft.

How long do you wait before revising a rough draft? Do you put it away and let it simmer? Or do you dive right into draft two?

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46. Al Capone Does My Homework by Gennifer Choldenko

This week's MMGM is the third in a trilogy that started in 2004 with Al Capone Does My Shirts, continued in 2009 with Al Capone Shines My Shoes and now concludes with another exciting tale from Alcatraz in the 1930s. For other MMGM links, see my sidebar or Shannon's blog.

Al Capone Does My Homework by Gennifer Choldenko (August 2013, Dial Books for Young Readers, historical fiction, for ages 9 to 12).

Source: Purchased from bn.com using the gift card I won from Michael Gettel-Gilmartin. Thanks, Michael!

Synopsis (from Indiebound): Alcatraz Island in the 1930s isn't the most normal place to grow up, but it's home for Moose Flanagan, his autistic sister, Natalie, and all the families of the guards. When Moose's dad gets promoted to Associate Warden, it's a big deal. But the cons have a point system for targeting prison employees, and his dad is now in serious danger. After a fire starts in the Flanagan's apartment, Natalie is blamed, and Moose bands with the other kids to track down the possible arsonist. Then Moose gets a cryptic note from the notorious Al Capone himself. If Moose can't figure out what Capone's note means, it may be too late.

Why I liked it: The character of Moose won me over in the first book, and his voice is just as likable in this volume. Thirteen-year-old Moose wants to do what other kids do; play baseball, run around, avoid homework. But he often has to babysit for Natalie (although Choldenko wisely never mentions the term "autism", since it wasn't used yet in 1936). After the fire, Moose discovers suggestions from Al Capone in a notebook that escaped the flames. I loved the way the author managed to work this in, making it seem like Capone is critiquing Moose's homework. But the information turns out to be far more important than that.

It probably would help to read the first two books, but Choldenko has so skillfully introduced the situation and the time period and characters (without any info dumps) that this proves to be a smooth and enjoyable read whether you've read the first two books or not. Which also makes this a great book for writers to study.

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47. Spring Forward, Fall Back: Reading with the Seasons

As we prepare to turn our clocks back here in the US next Sunday (and gain an hour of sleep - bliss!), I thought I'd do something different today.

Do you ever try to read seasonally? I don't mean reading Christmas or Hanukkah stories near those holidays. I mean, by the season itself. For instance, every few years I re-read The Secret Garden in the spring. It has to be in spring, when the grass is growing greener and the forsythia and magnolias are blooming. Reading along with the season seems to give the book more meaning, makes it more of a celebration.

So this autumn, I decided to re-read The Fledgling, by Jane Langton. Part of the Hall Family Chronicles and still available in paperback; the first image (on the left) is a photo of my well-loved Harper & Row hardcover from 1980. I bought the book before it was awarded a Newbery honor in 1981. The second image shows the Harper paperback from March 1981. Personally, I prefer the hardcover image.

This gorgeous story about Georgie, a young girl who gets flying lessons from a goose, is a beautiful evocation of childhood and the universal dream of flying, but it's also a song of praise to autumn. This book is rich in sensory images of New England in the fall: leaves turning scarlet, the air growing crisp and cool, geese flying south for the winter -- and oh, their honking, which Langton brings to life in a most creative way.

This quiet little story may seem old fashioned today, when stories have to be faster-paced, with less description, but if you let that stop you from picking it up, you'll be missing a great read. Yes, it's descriptive. But there's plenty of conflict, since both the nosy neighbor Miss Prawn, and the bank president Mr. Preek, are trying to stop Georgie from going on her nightly flights with the Goose Prince.

What books have you read that bring a season to mind?

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48. A thought-provoking quote

"All reality, I decide, is a blender where hopes and dreams are mixed with fear and despair."

-- Willow Chance, narrator of Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

See last week's post for my review of this amazing book.

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49. Counting by 7's - Newbery guesses, anyone?

It's never too soon to start wondering what middle grade novel will win the Newbery Medal in January, and which ones will be honor books. I rarely guess them right (except for the year When You Reach Me won the medal), but I always enjoy trying.

My pick for the medal this year goes to:

Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan (August 29, 2013, for ages 10 and up, Dial Books for Young Readers)

Source: I won the arc from Gina Carey. If you haven't yet visited her very cool blog, be sure to check it out. 

Synopsis (from Indiebound): Willow Chance is a twelve-year-old genius, obsessed with nature and diagnosing medical conditions, who finds it comforting to count by 7s. It has never been easy for her to connect with anyone other than her adoptive parents, but that hasn’t kept her from leading a quietly happy life . . . until now.

Suddenly Willow’s world is tragically changed when her parents both die in a car crash, leaving her alone in a baffling world. The triumph of this book is that it is not a tragedy. This extraordinarily odd, but extraordinarily endearing, girl manages to push through her grief. Her journey to find a fascinatingly diverse and fully believable surrogate family is a joy and a revelation to read.

Why I loved it:  Like Auggie in Wonder, Willow is one of those unconventional characters -- intelligent, observant, fragile, and yet strong -- who stay with you long after you turn the last page. The voice is perfect. There's a surprising amount of humor in what could have been a tearjerker. Chapters narrated by Willow in first person alternate with chapters in third person that give us insight into not only Willow's character but into the refreshingly real cast of secondary characters, a multicultural group of people who come to love Willow as much as you will.

Here's Gina's review.

What book do you hope will win the Newbery in January?

For other MMGM participants, see my sidebar or Shannon's links.

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50. Gasp! An extra post -- for an extra day: THE EIGHTH DAY by Dianne K. Salerni Cover Reveal

I'm thrilled for my friend Dianne K. Salerni (Pennsylvania resident and author of two YA novels, We Hear the Dead and The Caged Graves)

 because she will be making her MG debut in 2014 with...

The Eighth Day (coming from HarperCollins, Summer 2014)

Isn't that the coolest cover EVER?  Doesn't it make you desperate to read the book?

Here's a teaser from the flap copy:

When newly orphaned Jax Aubrey awakes to a world without people the day after his thirteenth birthday, he thinks it’s the apocalypse. But then the next day is a regular old Thursday. Has Jax gone crazy? What’s going on?

Go visit Dianne's blog to find out more and to congratulate her!  

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