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Viewing Blog: My Brain on Books, Most Recent at Top
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Reading and writing Children's lit...and then there's the brain stuff
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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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27. 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)

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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28. 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...


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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29. 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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30. 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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31. 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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32. 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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33. 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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34. 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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35. 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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36. Where's Lenny Lee????


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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37. 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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38. 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:


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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39. 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.......


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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40. 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!

*  *  *

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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41. 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:

between the raindrops.
Nature's tiniest acrobat.

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

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42. 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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43. 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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44. 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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45. 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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46. Do You Wanna Know a Secret?

I don't like every book I read.


I said it.

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

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

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

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

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

Courtesy of Jim Carrey GIFS for Every Occasion at The FW

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

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

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

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

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


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47. Falcon in the Glass for Marvelous Middle Grade Monday

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

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

Source: library

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

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

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

Author's website

For other MMGM posts, see Shannon's links.

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

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

Source: hardcover review copy from the publisher

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

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

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

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

Bart kindly agreed to answer three questions:

Bart working in his home office

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

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

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

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

Doctor Doom. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bart with a friend, from the official website

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

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

Visit Bart King's website

Follow Bart on Twitter

Here's a great review from This Kid Reviews Books

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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50. CURIOSITY by Gary Blackwood for MMGM

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

Source: library

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

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

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

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