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1. Review of the Day: The Nest by Kenneth Oppel

NestThe Nest
By Kenneth Oppel
Illustrated by Jon Klassen
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
$16.99
ISBN: 978-1-4814-3232-0
On shelves October 6th

Oh, how I love middle grade horror. It’s a very specific breed of book, you know. Most people on the street might think of the Goosebumps books or similar ilk when they think of horror stories for the 10-year-old set, but that’s just a small portion of what turns out to be a much greater, grander set of stories. Children’s book horror takes on so many different forms. You have your post-apocalyptic, claustrophobic horrors, like Z for Zachariah by Robert C. O’Brien. You have your everyday-playthings-turned-evil tales like Doll Bones by Holly Black. You have your close family members turned evil stories ala Coraline by Neil Gaiman and Wait Till Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn. And then there are the horror stories that shoot for the moon. The ones that aren’t afraid (no pun intended) to push the envelope a little. To lure you into a false sense of security before they unleash some true psychological scares. And the best ones are the ones that tie that horror into something larger than themselves. In Kenneth Oppel’s The Nest, the author approaches us with a very simple idea. What if your desire to make everything better, everyone happier, released an unimaginable horror? What do you do?

New babies are often cause for true celebration, but once in a while there are problems. Problems that render parents exhausted and helpless. Problems with the baby that go deep below the surface and touch every part of your life. For Steve, it feels like it’s been a long time since his family was happy. So when the angels appear in his dream offering to help with the baby, he welcomes them. True, they don’t say much specifically about what they can do. Not at the beginning, but why look a gift horse in the mouth? Anyway, there are other problems in Steve’s life as well. He may have to go back into therapy, and then there are these wasps building a nest on his house when he’s severely allergic to them. A fixed baby could be the answer to his prayers. Only, the creatures visiting him don’t appear to be angels anymore. And when it comes to “fixing” the baby . . . well, they may have other ideas entirely . . .

First and foremost, I don’t think I can actually talk about this book without dusting off the old “spoiler alert” sign. For me, the very fact that Oppel’s book is so beautifully succinct and restrained, renders it impossible not to talk about its various (and variegated) twists and turns. So I’m going to give pretty much everything away in this review. It’s a no holds barred approach, when you get right down to it. Starting with the angels of course. They’re wasps. And it only gets better from there.

It comes to this. I’ve no evidence to support this theory of mine as to one of the inspirations for the book. I’ve read no interviews with Oppel about where he gets his ideas. No articles on his thought processes. But part of the reason I like the man so much probably has to do with the fact that at some point in his life he must have been walking down the street, or the path, or the trail, and saw a wasp’s nest. And this man must have looked up at it, in all its paper-thin malice, and found himself with the following inescapable thought: “I bet you could fit a baby in there.” And I say unto you, it takes a mind like that to write a book like this.

Wasps are perhaps nature’s most impressive bullies. They seem to have been given such horrid advantages. Not only do they have terrible tempers and nasty dispositions, not only do they swarm, but unlike the comparatively sweet honeybee they can sting you multiple times and never die. It’s little wonder that they’re magnificent baddies in The Nest. The only question I have is why no one has until now realized how fabulous a foe they can be. Klassen’s queen is particularly perfect. It would have been all too easy for him to imbue her with a kind of White Witch austerity. Queens come built-in with sneers, after all. This queen, however, derives her power by being the ultimate confident. She’s sympathetic. She’s patient. She’s a mother who hears your concerns and allays them. Trouble is, you can’t trust her an inch and underneath that friendliness is a cold cruel agenda. She is, in short, my favorite baddie of the year. I didn’t like wasps to begin with. Now I abhor them with a deep inner dread usually reserved for childhood fears.

I mentioned earlier that the horror in this book comes from the idea that Steve’s attempts to make everything better, and his parents happier, instead cause him to consider committing an atrocity. In a moment of stress Steve gives his approval to the unthinkable and when he tries to rescind it he’s told that the matter is out of his hands. Kids screw up all the time and if they’re unlucky they screw up in such a way that their actions have consequences too big for their small lives. The guilt and horror they sometimes swallow can mark them for life. The queen of this story offers something we all can understand. A chance to “fix” everything and make the world perfect. Never mind that perfect doesn’t really exist. Never mind that the price she exacts is too high. If she came calling on you, offering to fix that one truly terrible thing in your life, wouldn’t you say yes? On the surface, child readers will probably react most strongly to the more obvious horror elements to this story. The toy telephone with the scratchy voice that sounds like “a piece of metal being held against a grindstone.” The perfect baby ready to be “born” The attic . . . *shudder* Oh, the attic. But it’s the deeper themes that will make their mark on them. And on anyone reading to them as well.

There are books where the child protagonist’s physical or mental challenges are named and identified and there are books where it’s left up to the reader to determine the degree to which the child is or is not on such a spectrum. A book like Wonder by R.J. Palacio or Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper will name the disability. A book like Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree by Lauren Tarshis or Counting by 7s by Holly Sloan won’t. There’s no right or wrong way to write such books, and in The Nest Klassen finds himself far more in the latter rather than former camp. Steve has had therapy in the past, and exhibits what could be construed to be obsessive compulsive behavior. What’s remarkable is that Klassen then weaves Steve’s actions into the book’s greater narrative. It becomes our hero’s driving force, this fight against impotence. All kids strive to have more control over their own lives, after all. Steve’s O.C.D. (though it is never defined in that way) is part of his helpless attempt to make things better, even if it’s just through the recitation of lists and names. At one point he repeats the word “congenital” and feels better, “As if knowing the names of things meant I had some power over them.”

When I was a young adult (not a teen) I was quite enamored of A.S. Byatt’s book Angels and Insects. It still remains one of my favorites and though I seem to have transferred my love of Byatt’s prose to the works of Laura Amy Schlitz (her juvenile contemporary and, I would argue, equivalent) there are elements of Byatt’s book in what Klassen has done here. His inclusion of religion isn’t a real touchstone of the novel, but it’s just a bit too prevalent to ignore. There is, for example, the opening line: “The first time I saw them, I thought they were angels.” Followed not too long after by a section where Steve reads off every night the list of people he wants to keep safe. “I didn’t really know who I was asking. Maybe it was God, but I didn’t really believe in God, so this wasn’t praying exactly.” He doesn’t question the angels of his dreams or their desire to help (at least initially). And God makes no personal appearance in the novel, directly or otherwise. Really, when all was said and done, my overall impression was that the book reminded me of David Almond’s Skellig with its angel/not angel, sick baby, and boy looking for answers where there are few to find. The difference being, of course, the fact that in Skellig the baby gets better and here the baby is saved but it is clear as crystal to even the most optimistic reader that it will never ever been the perfect baby every parent wishes for.

It’s funny that I can say so much without mentioning the language, but there you go. Oppel’s been wowing folks with his prose for years, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a cunning turn of phrase when you encounter it. Consider some of his lines. The knife guy is described like “He looked like his bones were meant for an even bigger body.” A description of a liquid trap for wasps is said to be akin to a, “soggy mass grave, the few survivors clambering over the dead bodies, trying in vain to climb out. It was like a vision of hell from that old painting I’d seen in the art gallery and never forgotten.” Or what may well be my favorite in the book, “… and they were regurgitating matter from their mouths and sculpting it into baby flesh.” And then there are the little elements the drive the story. We don’t learn the baby’s name until page 112. Or the very title itself. When Vanessa, Steve’s babysitter, is discussing nests she points out that humans make them as well. “Our houses are just big nests, really. A place where you can sleep and be safe – and grow.”

The choice of Jon Klassen as illustrator is fascinating to me. When I think of horror illustrations for kids the usual suspects are your Stephen Gammells or Gris Grimleys or Dave McKeans. Klassen’s different. When you hire him, you’re not asking him to ratchet up the fear factor, but rather to echo it and then take it down a notch to a place where a child reader can be safe. Take, for example, his work on Lemony Snicket’s The Dark A book where the very shadows speak, it wasn’t that Klassen was denying the creepier elements of the tale. But he tamed them somehow. And now that same taming sense is at work here. His pictures are rife with shadows and faceless adults, turned away or hidden from the viewer (and the viewer is clearly Steve/you). And his pictures do convey the tone of the book well. A curved knife on a porch is still a curved knife on a porch. Spend a little time flipping between the front and back endpapers, while you’re at it. Klassen so subtle with these. The moon moves. A single light is out in a house. But there’s a feeling of peace to the last picture, and a feeling of foreboding in the first. They’re practically identical so I don’t know how he managed that, but there it is. Honestly, you couldn’t have picked a better illustrator.

Suffice to say, this book would probably be the greatest class readaloud for fourth, fifth, or sixth graders the world has ever seen. When I was in fourth grade my teacher read us The Wicked Wicked Pigeon Ladies in the Garden by Mary Chase and I was never quite the same again. Thus do I bless some poor beleaguered child with the magnificent nightmares that will come with this book. Added Bonus for Teachers: You’ll never have to worry about school attendance ever again. There’s not a chapter here a kid would want to miss.

If I have a bone to pick with the author it is this: He’s Canadian. Normally, this is a good thing. Canadians are awesome. They give us a big old chunk of great literature every year. But Oppel as a Canadian is terribly awkward because if he were not and lived in, say, Savannah or something, then he could win some major American children’s literary awards with this book. And now he can’t. There are remarkably few awards the U.S. can grant this tale of flying creepy crawlies. Certainly he should (if there is any justice in the universe) be a shoo-in for Canada’s Governor General’s Award in the youth category and I’m pulling for him in the E.B. White Readaloud Award category as well, but otherwise I’m out to sea. Would that he had a home in Pasadena. Alas.

Children’s books come with lessons pre-installed for their young readers. Since we’re dealing with people who are coming up in the world and need some guidance, the messages tend towards the innocuous. Be yourself. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Friendship is important. Etc. The message behind The Nest could be debated ad nauseam for quite some time, but I think the thing to truly remember here is something Steve says near the end. “And there’s no such thing as normal anyways.” The belief in normality and perfection may be the truest villain in The Nest when you come right down to it. And Klassen has Steve try to figure out why it’s good to try to be normal if there is no true normal in the end. It’s a lesson adults have yet to master ourselves. Little wonder that The Nest ends up being what may be the most fascinating horror story written for kids you’ve yet to encounter. Smart as a whip with an edge to the terror you’re bound to appreciate, this is a truly great, truly scary, truly wonderful novel.

On shelves October 6th.

Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.

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Professional Reviews: A star from Kirkus,

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6 Comments on Review of the Day: The Nest by Kenneth Oppel, last added: 8/28/2015
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2. Diversity Part 2

I originally posted this article on WritersRumpus.com. As one of my heroes, the Dalai Lama, once said…“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”  Let’s each one of us be the mosquito!   —Lin Oliver This week Lin Oliver, co-founder and Executive Director of the international Society of […]

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3. Monster to the Max



Exciting news!

Jolly Fish Press has acquired my middle-grade fantasy series Monster or Die and will be publishing the first book, From the Grave, in Fall 2016. Editor TJ da Roza fell in love with my wacky and wonderful monsters with his first read—and who wouldn’t.  

Frightful and fun.
Delightful and deadly.
These creatures bring a whole new meaning to monster.

Be sure to follow along the journey to publication. With monsters in charge, most anything might happen.



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4. You Know I Love "Jane Bear?" I Mean, "Jane Eyre."

I was intrigued when I read a review of The Cottage in the Woods by Katherine Coville and snatched the book off the shelf when I saw it at my local library. I mention this to make the point that sometimes reviews actually do get readers. Or, in this case, a reader.

The Cottage in the Woods has been described as Jane Eyre meets Goldilocks and the Three Bears. It certainly is. Jane Eyre fans can have a fantastic time picking out the connections. A young, powerless, single female enters a large house as the employee of a wealthy man. This is a wealthy, married man with a family, which is one of the ways this book is different from Jane Eyre. But he's also a bear, as is the young female, Ursula. (Relating to ursine, I'm guessing.) Ursula is there to act as a governess to the bear's son, Teddy. (Oh, my gosh. Teddy Bear!!! No, actually his last name is Vaughn.) Ursula has a love interest, and, shades of Mr. Rochester, he's not free to love her. There is a mystery in this house, as there is in Jane Eyre. And it's related to a female, as is the mystery in Jane Eyre. This female, though, is young, with golden hair.

However, there is a whole nonJane plot involving human bigotry toward enchanted animals like Ursula and the Vaughns. I've read that some reviewers found that aspect of the book didactic. To me it was distracting, because it wasn't part of the Jane Eyre/Three Bears premise. It seemed unnecessary. What was going on with Goldilocks was so clever and unique that I would have liked a plot sticking much closer to that, which could have been closer to the Jane Eyre source material.

But, then, I know Jane Eyre. Readers who don't could feel differently. Since this is a middle grade novel, there will be many readers who don't know Jane.

While reading this, I wondered what Ms. Yingling would think of it. Sure enough, she read The Cottage in the Woods and weighs in on the subject. I agree that while I enjoyed it, it may have trouble finding an audience. 

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5. Author to Bookstore: Timeline

The process of writing or illustrating a children’s has often been compared to having a baby. That gestation-to-birth time is partly the work of creating the story and pictures, but that’s just the beginning. Here is a fantastic explanation of the actual publication timeline, written by tween and teen author extraordinaire, Jen Malone. Bookmark

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6. The End Of My Cybil Season Reading

I finished the last book I'd taken from the Cybils lists last night, and not a moment too soon. The finalists for the Cybils Award will be announced tomorrow.

I love the premise for The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods. Violet Diamond is an eleven-year-old biracial child whose black father died before she was born. She has never met his family because his mother originally objected to her son marrying a white woman and later, we learn, was so devastated by her only child's sudden death in an accident that she couldn't deal with the family he created with his wife. Once she'd recovered, staying away from them had become a habit.

I find that believable, by the way.

Violet's loving maternal family is extremely white,  and she lives in a very white, upper-middle class world. Her mother is a neonatologist, and her late father was a medical doctor as well. Her white grandmother runs some kind of on-line business and her white grandfather is enjoying retirement, cooking and playing golf. Violet wants for nothing, materially or emotionally. Except that half her identity is missing. Just not there.

She is aware that her black grandmother is a well-known artist, and when she finds out that grandmother will be in a neighboring city for an exhibit, she gets her mother to take her to the opening. Violet and grandmother meet, and Violet ends up being exposed to the half of her family history she's never known.

As I said, I love the concept and love the artist grandmother. I felt as if the story of Violet's exposure to her family took a while to get started, though.

For another take on biracial children meeting an unknown grandparent, check out Brendan Buckley's Universe and Everything In It (Hmm, similar title.) by Sundee Frazier.

The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond is a Cybils nominee in the middle grade fiction category.

After a couple of months of Cybilizing, I feel more up-to-date on recent children's lit than I have in quite some time.

0 Comments on The End Of My Cybil Season Reading as of 1/4/2015 6:56:00 PM
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7. Characters. It's All About The Characters.

A clever, spunky girl who keeps a journal and is dealing with a parent's tragic illness. Doesn't that sound like a stereotypical children's book, the kind adult gatekeeper's just love?

That was my first impression of The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern. In fact, I considered giving up on this one early on. Before long, I was very glad I didn't.

Twelve-year-old Maggie Mayfield is brilliant, knows it, and loves everything that goes along with being smart. She is given a journal in which she begins writing a memoir while sitting in a hospital room with her obviously critically ill father. This is all in the prologue. You can see why I wasn't immediately entranced.

But Maggie has a truly marvelous voice. She reminded me very much of Flavia de Luce, a child character of about the same age in an adult mystery series, not just in her intelligence and enjoyment of same, but in her relationship with her two hot, older sisters. There is antagonism there, but the older sisters also keep an eye out for Maggie, which she may not always recognize. Maggie also sets out at one point to cure her father of multiple sclerosis, just as Flavia sets out to do something miraculous and impossible for a parent in one of her books.

Maggie's memoir deals with the year between her eleventh and twelfth birthdays, the year when her father's illness took a turn for the worse, something her family couldn't protect her from, try as they would. Hmm. My college knowledge of memoir is that it's a recollection of an event the significance of which is not clear until after it happens. That pretty much fits the situation here.

One thing I found odd with this book was it's 1980s setting. Why? I kept wondering. So that dad could be the aging hippy he is here? So that the author can talk about decades old music? So that Maggie wouldn't have the Internet available to her, because the Internet would have made it a lot harder to keep knowledge of her father's illness from her? No, in an author's note at the end of the book we find out that The Meaning of Maggie is autobiographical. I can't believe I've never read an autobiographical children's book before. If so, was it this good?

The Meaning of Maggie is a Cybils nominee in the middle grade fiction category.

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8. Do you write middle grade fiction?

I am teaching an online class through the Loft Literary Center beginning on February 2, 2015. Here is the description:

Many consider ages 8–12, “the middle grades,” to be a golden age for readers. Their novels include classics like Charlotte’s Web, the Ramona series, and the earliest adventures of Harry Potter. Most Newbery winners also fall into this category. In this class, we will explore some of the qualities that make a book a hit with young readers, with an emphasis on developing a character-driven story. Topics covered include creating a main character kids want to chase through the pages of a novel, avoiding stereotypes and cliches, and being attentive to the inner life of a middle grade novel. Participants will have an opportunity to share their work and get feedback from their peers as well as from the teaching artist.

And here are answers to commonly asked questions:

  • The class is completely online and mostly asynchronous. We do have weekly live chats to check in but the meat of the class is in the online readings and discussion forums. (We use the Moodle platform, but don’t worry if that doesn’t mean anything to you.)
  • There is a chance to share works in progress with the rest of the class; you also get private feedback from me on about 10 pages of writing.
  • The class is listed as “intermediate” primarily because of the expectation that writers are familiar with (if not steeped in) middle grade books, but if you have not read a lot you can catch up by familiarizing yourself with at least some of the following books. Most are Newberry medalists or honorees, so look on that bookshelf if your bookstore or library has one! These are not assigned class readings, but I use them as examples throughout the class (this is a partial list):
    • Ramona Quimby, Age 8 (and others in the Ramona series) – Beverly Cleary
    • Bud, not Buddy – Christopher Paul Curtis
    • Harriet the Spy – Louise Fitzhugh
    • The Giver – Lois Lowry
    • Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH – Robert C. O’Brien
    • Hatchet – Gary Paulsen
    • From the Mixed Up Files of Basil E. Frankweiler – E. L. Konigsberg
    • The Westing Game – Ellen Raskin
    • Holes – Louis Sachar
    • Maniac Magee – Jerry Spinelli
    • When You Reach Me – Rebecca Stead
    • Charlotte’s Web – E.B.White

    We also all read one recent book recommended and voted on by the class, and I try to get the author to join us for a chat.

Sign up for the class here!


Filed under: Miscellaneous Tagged: middle grade fiction, online classes

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9. Going Out On A High

I have liked some of M.T. Anderson's Thrilling Tales/Pals in Peril books better than others. (I know I'm nitpicking on this, but the name of the series changed for some reason.) I had to be won over by the first book, Whales on Stilts, but the second one, The Clue of of the Linoleum Lederhosen, was a hit. The third one I read (there are supposed to be six; I seem to have missed a couple), Jasper Dash and the Flame-Pits of Delaware wasn't a favorite. But the final book in the series, He Laughed with His Other Mouths, is an absolute gem.

The basic premise for all these books: A Tom Swift-type character named Jaspar Dash and a spunky girl (younger and spunkier than the 1930's era Nancy Drew) existed in their own book worlds that reflected the eras that created them, the 1920s/30s and the 1980s/90s. And yet, at the same time, they are existing in our own twenty-first century where Jaspar, in particular, is both having adventures but out of place.

In He Laughed with His Other Mouths, Jaspar is now that classic/stereotypical character, the young male in search of his father. Jaspar will go to the ends of the universe in search of dear old dad. He will accept some pretty outlandish behavior from his father figure. However, Jaspar is a young hero, and he recognizes evil when he sees it. Maybe he doesn't recognize it right away and maybe he needs a little push from his spunky girl companions, but he does recognize and behave as a hero should.

All of the books that I've read in this series operate on more than one level. You have the basic contemporary adventure. You have characters from an older book world trying to function in a contemporary one. You have the knowledge that children who are now old, if not dead, read the older books back when they were new and shiny.

With He Laughed with His Other Mouths, Anderson does something quite marvelous with footnotes. Using footnotes for witty asides has become a cliche since Terry Pratchett perfected doing that back in the day. But Anderson uses his clever footnotes not to be witty but to tell another story entirely, this one about a kid during World War II who was a Jaspar Dash fan. This is a complete story, a piece of serious historical fiction embedded in a fantasy satire/comedy.

As with all these books that I've read, I wonder how much of this wonderful stuff child readers will understand. Assuming they enjoy the layer with the contemporary adventure, will they get the jokes that are part of it? Will they get the nostalgic elements?

Kid readers aside, for those of us who do get He Laughed with His Other Mouths, it's pretty damn brilliant.

He Laughed with His Other Mouths is a Cybils nominee in the Elementary/Middle Grade Speculative Fiction category.


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10. Wouldn't This Make A Neat Little Sitcom?

When I picked up The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher by Dana Alison Levy from the library, I told the librarian that I'd heard the book was like The Penderwicks but with boys and two gay dads. She said, "Ah, bringing the story into the present." I think that is the case. I liked The Penderwicks very much and found it contemporary, probably compared to/contrasted with Little Women, which it is a spin on. But I also thought "This book, simply by being a throw-back to Little Women and, perhaps, other pre-nineteen-fifties stories, is different." It had a retro thing going for it, it was "a story about sisters who worry about the family's honor and don't even mention a TV."

The Fletcher boys may be viewed as a little innocent and other-worldly not because they're retro in any way but because their stories and lives are very rooted in traditional child issues. This in spite of the fact that they are not genetically related, they are not even all the same ethnic background, and they are all the children of two men who are living and raising a family together. Each boy has his own storyline with his own issue:

  • Boy One is a popular athlete who is considering trying something different 
  • Boy Two is dealing with growing apart from a friend and moving on, as well as trying to interview the crotchety old guy next door for a school project
  • Boy Three is highly intelligent and has begged Dad and Papa to let him go to a school for the gifted
  • Boy Four has the "stereotypical" imaginary friend. Or does he?
You know the one problem none of these kids have? Those gay dads. The men are just there, doing any kind of dad stuff. There's nothing didactic or instructive here about accepting families with nontraditional parents. These guys have had children in the school system for a number of years now. People know they're there. Halloween parties are held. Ice rinks are made. Holidays are celebrated. Life goes on.

This is not to say that no one ever raises an eyebrow over the gay family. When they are attending an open house at a new school, oldest brother Sam feels compelled to address questions. "We were all adopted as babies. Our dads have been together for ages. They got married two years ago"..."Do you have any other questions? Want to know our birthdays? Height and weight?"

That was a neat way to handle back story, by the way. The newspaper article written by an eighth grade student about the Fletchers and their annual Halloween party is also a clever way to get the back story on how the Fletcher kids became brothers.

As I was reading this book, I thought this premise would make a charming sitcom. The various chapters here could be the first season's episodes. Then the story could expand with episodes about the gay dads dealing with their boys going to camp, getting babysitting jobs, heading to high school, getting jobs, dating girls. 

The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher is a Cybils nominee in the Middle Grade Fiction Category.

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11. You Don't Have To Love Mockingbird To Like This Book

I Kill the Mockingbird by Paul Acampora is about a group of teenagers who set out to increase To Kill a Mockingbird's popularity by making it appear to be disappearing and thus unavailable. Everyone wants what they can't have, right? Part of their plan is to take their project viral. Some readers might think that they were unrealistically successful with that. All the characters, teen and adult, are amusing and clever, though some readers might find that they sound a lot alike.

Yes, yes, "some readers" is me.

Okay, let's talk about the intriguing things in I Kill the Mockingbird:

  • This book really is about literate teens. These kids aren't just spokespeople spouting the party line on classics. They can actually discuss a book. They know why not everyone loves To Kill a Mockingbird, for instance. No, no, I am not one of the dislikers. But, nonetheless, I understand why not everyone embraces it and appreciate that mindset being expressed.
  • This book is about religious observance. I do not mean it is about dogma or doctrine. It is about kids who go to religious services and religious school. There are hundreds of thousands of young people who attend the services related to whatever faith their families follow. I don't see a lot of that reflected in children's books.
  • This book does have some of the "this-is-an-important-book-about-death" thing going on. Though it's more an-important-book-about-not-dying-and-having-to-get-over-it thing. And, yes, that's different.
  • I liked the father's reason for thanking God--it's always good to be polite. And the mother's argument that we are only able to enjoy living because we're able to pretend we're not going to die. And the discussion of "Ordinary Time," a season in the Christian church calendar? The main character gives a meaningful explanation of its significance. Though I was a Catholic child, I didn't learn about the church calendar until I was a Sunday school teacher in a Congregational church. I thought Ordinary Time was just that period of the year when nothing else was happening.
I liked I Kill the Mockingbird for all the odd little things I found in it. It's getting all kinds of loving  from people who probably liked it for other reasons.

I Kill the Mockingbird is a Cybils nominee in the middle grade category.


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12. Environmental Book Club

Operation Redwood by S. Terrell French is one of the first pieces of fiction with an environmental setting/theme that I think I've read for this project. It deals with a boy from the city who learns of an endangered old growth forest of redwoods and gets involved with a child-directed initiative to save it. It's very much a city-people-with-money-bad, rural-farm-people-good story. That kind of stereotype is not a big drawback in children's publishing because child readers have not had time to become widely read. Old scenarios are new to them. In fact, Operation Redwood won the Green Earth Book Award in the children's fiction category in 2010. For this adult reader, the most interesting part of the book was the Author's Note in which French, an environmental lawyer, describes the history of redwood preservation, which also gave some idea of the inspiration for some of the events and characters in the book. The novel includes a lot of information and could easily be a reading list staple for school environmental units.

Reading this book raised lots of questions for me about environmental fiction. For one thing, what exactly is an environmental theme? In the case of Operation Redwood, I would say that it's that humans have a responsibility to act as caretaker for the Earth. But what would other themes be? Are there other themes? Is there any way for a writer to use the humans-as-caretakers theme without making it instructional instead of thematic?

And what about my desire to see environmental books that include an immersion in some kind of natural experience? Can you get that particular type of sense of place while working a plot?

How does Saving the Planet & Stuff fit in with all this? Thematically, that book is about having to decide how we'll live our lives. There's an environmental setting. There are environmentalist characters. If there's any kind of environmental theme, I'd say that it's the difficulty of living an environmental life.

Wait! Wait! Go back three paras at which point I asked for other environmental themes! I just came up with one!

Well, I look forward to reading more environmental fiction and obsessing on this further.




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13. Star of the Team by Beverly Stowe McClure

teamA girl.

A dream.

An accident.

A dream shattered.

Eleven-year-old Kate Taylor dreams of being the star of her basketball team, Angels. When Kate’s tooth is knocked out at one of the games and her mother, who is also her coach, says she can’t play until the tooth the dentist replants heals, Kate’s dreams are in jeopardy. Add Emily, the new girl at school who claims she’s the best, and Kate faces a challenge to prove that she is the star.

Will Kate succeed? Or will Emily ruin Kate’s plans?

PURCHASE AT:

Amazon:  http://tinyurl.com/k5y1mky

 

Barnes and Noble: http://tinyurl.com/18r6ox4bev

Most of the time, you’ll find Beverly in front of her computer, writing the stories little voices whisper in her ear. When she’s not writing, she takes long walks and snaps pictures of clouds, wild flowers, birds and deer. To some of her friends, she is affectionately known as the “Bug Lady” because she rescues butterflies, moths, walking sticks, and praying mantis from her cats.

For twenty-two years Beverly taught children in grades two through five how to read and write. They taught her patience. Now, she teaches a women’s Sunday school class at her church. To relax she plays the piano. Her cats don’t appreciate good music and run and hide when she tickles the ivories. 

http://beverlystowemcclure.blogspot.com

http://beverlystowemcclure.wordpress.com


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14. Top 10 Toys (and Candy) at the Turn of the (Last) Century: Wheels of Change (plus a giveaway!)

??????????You know I love lists. I’m a listophile. This blog features t a list of 500+ Things that Kids Like, Things They DON’T Like, and a list of over 200 fun, cool and interesting words. List-o-mania! List-o-rama! The lister! (Pretend I’m talking in Rob Schneider’s SNL “annoying office guy” voice.)

Today I invited debut author Darlene Beck Jacobson to the blog to share the Top 10 Toys and Candies of the early 1900’s, the time when times, well, they were a-changin’. It was also the time during her new middle grade novel, WHEELS OF CHANGE! (Don’t you just LOVE that cover?)

TOP TEN TOYS OF 1900-1920

  1. Teddy Bear (1902)—in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt who, on a hunting trip, had an opportunity to kill a bear and didn’t.
  2. Erector Set—invented by AC Gilbert, a gold medal Olympian in the 1908 Pole Vault.
  3. Lionel Trains (1901)
  4. Lincoln Logs (1916)
  5. Raggedy Ann Doll
  6. Radio Flyer Wagon (1917)
  7. Tinker Toys (1914)
  8. Crayola Crayons 8 pack (1903)
  9. Tin Toys
  10. Tiddlywinks

Other popular toys of the time  included: Baseball Cards (1900), Ping Pong (1901), Jigsaw Puzzle (1909), Snap Card Game, playing cards, marbles, checkers, chess, yo-yos, wooden tops and (of course) dolls.

Let’s see, what would the top 10 toys of today be? I think Teddy Bears might still have a shot at it. Maybe Crayola crayons, too. But I bet no one back then could envision an app being the most popular toy. (An app? they might say. You mean a tiny apple?)

Now let’s devour the top tasty treats of the era!

POPULAR CANDY FROM 1900-1920

  1. Candy Corn (1880-s)
  2. Juicy Fruit Gum, Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum (1893)
  3. Tootsie Rolls (1896)
  4. Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar (1900) with Almonds (1908)
  5. Necco Wafers (1901)
  6. Conversation Hearts (1902)
  7. Brach Wrapped Caramels (1904)
  8. Hershey Milk Chocolate Kisses (1906)
  9. Peppermint Lifesavers (1912)

Hmm, I think Hershey would still rank pretty high today. But my kids love Sour Patch and Fun Dip and AirHeads and all kinds of gross things now. Give me a Hershey’s any day (although make it a Cookies-n-Cream bar).

Last night was back-to-school night at my daughter’s elementary, and I’m astounded every year when the principal says, “Our children will be working in fields  that haven’t even been invented yet.” That’s how fast things are moving. I’m sure in another hundred years the top toys will be time machines and molecular transporters that will bring the catchphrase “Beam me up, Scotty” back in style.

Today’s world is moving fast, and that tempo is paralleled in WHEELS OF CHANGE with racial intolerance, social change and sweeping progress. It is a turbulent time growing up in 1908. For twelve year old EMILY SOPER, life in Papa’s carriage barn is magic. Emily is more at homehearing the symphony of the blacksmith’s hammer, than trying to conform to the proper expectations of females. Many prominent people own Papa’s carriages. He receives an order to make one for President Theodore Roosevelt. Papa’s livelihood becomes threatened by racist neighbors, and horsepower of a different sort. Emily is determined to save Papa’s business even if she has to go all the way to the President.

Sounds exciting, right? IT IS!

And guess what, you have yet another chance to win another book! Leave a comment stating what YOU think the #1 toy and #1 candy is right now, in 2014. You have until the last seconds of September 29th to enter. The winner receives WHEELS OF CHANGE.

To learn more about Darlene Beck Jacobsen and WHEELS OF CHANGE, visit DarleneBeckJacobson.com.

taraanddarlenenjscbwi13

Tara and Darlene at NJ-SCBWI 2013!

 


12 Comments on Top 10 Toys (and Candy) at the Turn of the (Last) Century: Wheels of Change (plus a giveaway!), last added: 9/19/2014
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15. Middle Grade Novel Fellowship: Eldin Memorial Fellowship

Eldin Memorial Fellowship

Christine Elizabeth Eldin (1966-2012) was an aspiring middle grade author. Her passion for learning, and for sharing her knowledge with young people, inspired her to earn a master's degree in education and dedicate her life to writing young adult literature. She co-founded "Book Roast," an online book promotion site that spotlighted the recent releases of dozens of authors. She also maintained a popular blog and actively supported her community of fellow writers. She was a loving mother, sister, and daughter, and a dear friend to many.

Chris left this world too soon when her life took a tragic turn. Her gentle soul, creative spirit, and generous heart will forever be remembered by the many people whose lives she touched and inspired. *

The Christine Eldin Memorial Fellowship ("Eldin Fellowship") has two purposes:
1. Honor the memory of Chris Eldin.
2. Provide recognition and financial assistance to an unpublished middle grade fiction writer whose work-in-progress reveals potential for a successful writing career.

The Lascaux Review will host an annual contest to choose a "best" middle grade novel work-in-progress, along with a short list of finalists, among entries submitted. The contest will be conducted initially in 2014 (for award of the 2015 fellowship) and scheduled annually thereafter. A middle grade novel is understood to mean a work of fiction, typically a chapter book, for readers between the ages of eight and twelve.

Any unpublished middle grade manuscript, in whole or part, for which no publication contract exists at the time of submission, is eligible. Only English language submissions will be considered.

Contestants cannot be previously published in middle grade book-length fiction. Other types of previous publications are allowed. Previously self-published works are allowed. Contestants may be of any nationality and reside anywhere.

Judging takes place in two stages. In the first stage contestants submit the first 5000 words of their manuscripts, along with a synopsis. The synopsis may be of any length not exceeding 2000 words, and it should describe the entire story, including how it ends. Contestants submit digital files (doc, docx, pdf, rtf, etc.) via Submittable. The entry fee is $10. Readers selected by the Eldin Fellowship committee will choose the finalists.

In the second stage, a judge selected by the Eldin Fellowship committee selects a winner.

The first year's fellowship is $1000 and a trophy. The first year's judge is Louise Hawes.

Deadline for submissions is 31 December.
For more information contact:

lascauxreviewATgmailDOTcom (Change AT to @ and DOT to . )

To submit to the contest, click on the following link.

To contribute to a fundraiser presently underway, visit Indiegogo.

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16. #NoiseforNess Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness Giveaway

It’s no surprise I’m a huge Patrick Ness fan. In the past I’ve written about how inspiring his work is as well as the time when I was actually able to meet him in person. I’ve also reviewed quite a few of his books:

The Knife of Never Letting Go
The Ask and the Answer
Monsters of Men
A Monster Calls

I’ve also interviewed the narrator for the audiobooks, Nick Podehl, whom is a personal favorite of mine. The way that Nick narrates The Knife of Never Letting Go will turn any non-audiobook fan into a audiobook listener for life. He’s brilliant!

Chaos Walking paperback

So when the publisher, Candlewick Press, reached out to me to offer a giveaway featuring the newly designed paperback covers for The Chaos Walking series I couldn’t resist. Not only do I love the redesign, but it also reminds me a bit of the UK edition that I love. Also, they’ve added additional content to each book! Each paperback includes a short story that was only previously available in eBook format. Candlewick has really done an excellent job with this new edition and I’m thrilled to have a full set to giveaway to one There’s A Book reader!

Giveaway!

Thanks to the wonderful people at Candlewick Press I have ONE FULL SET of this new edition of The Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness which also includes a bonus short story within each book! Be sure to enter using the rafflecopter form below and be aware that this one is for US and Canadian residents only.

Ad1_PatrickNess

Find the new paperback edition of The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness at the following spots:
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Powell’s Books | Indiebound | Book Depository | Goodreads | ISBN10/ISBN13: 0763676187 / 9780763676186

Thank you so much to the publisher, Candlewick Press, for providing a copy of this book for review! Connect with them on Twitter, Google+ and on Facebook!
Purchasing products by clicking through the links in this post will provide us a modest commission through our various affiliate relationships.

Follow There’s A Book with Bloglovin.

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Original article: #NoiseforNess Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness Giveaway

©2014 There's A Book. All Rights Reserved.

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17. Have you ever ridden on a sea lion?

Miriam at Create Hope Inspire blog interviewed me about Rescue on Nim's Island this week.

 Her two young sons also had some great questions! Here are a couple:

Have you ever ridden on a sea lion?
What does a sea lion's fur feel like?
Wendy sent this gorgeous photo in answer to these rather funny questions!



Flip- 
Was the cake actually poisoned? What with?
It was actually poisoned. They used juice from rhubarb leaves, because that makes you very sick but probably wouldn't kill you.

Why was there a passage where Tiffany's foot got stuck?
Why was the hole joined to the bat's cave?
All the passages, tunnels and caves were formed in the mountain by water dripping or running through the limestone rock, and gradually dissolving it, so that bigger passages, tunnels and caves were formed. Of course this took many thousands of years! Also, any small earthquakes or rumbling through the mountain when the volcano erupted made new faults and cracks, so the water dripped down those and continued to erode the new holes in the tunnel or passage.

For the complete interview and Miriam's review, go to: Create Hope Inspire




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18. Call for Book-length Fiction: Luminis Books

Luminis Books is an independent publisher of 'Meaningful Fiction.' We are seeking submissions of thought-provoking adult literary fiction, new adult, young adult and middle grade fiction that explores the intricacies of human relationships. We look for beautifully crafted prose above all—writing that is compelling and stories that are thought-provoking. 

For consideration, please submit a synopsis telling us about your book including the beginning, middle and end. We want to know exactly what the book is about. Also include a 10-page sample of the manuscript. We only accept online submissions. 

Email your submission to:

editorATluminisbooksDOTcom (Change AT to @ and DOT to . ) 

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19. book review: Saving Kabul Corner

Readers will appreciate that young people solve all of the questions at hand and ultimately bring the two families together." Kirkus

“Readers will appreciate that young people solve all of the questions at hand and ultimately bring the two families together.” Kirkus

title: Saving Kabul Corner

author: N. H. Senzai

date: Simon and Schuster; 2014

main character: Ariana Shinwari

synopsis:

From Afghanistan to America, family matters most in this companion to Shooting Kabul, which Kirkus Reviews called “an ambitious story with much to offer.”

A rough and tumble tomboy, twelve-year-old Ariana couldn’t be more different from her cousin Laila, who just arrived from Afghanistan with her family. Laila is a proper, ladylike Afghan girl, one who can cook, sew, sing, and who is well versed in Pukhtun culture and manners. Arianna hates her. Laila not only invades Ariana’s bedroom in their cramped Fremont townhouse, but she also becomes close with Mariam Nurzai, Ariana’s best friend.

Then a rival Afghan grocery store opens near Ariana’s family store, reigniting a decades-old feud tracing back to Afghanistan. The cousins, Mariam, and their newfound frenemie, Waleed Ghilzai, must ban together to help the families find a lasting peace before it destroys both businesses and everything their parents have worked for. –Source

My take:

Saving Kabul Corner seems to develop quite independent of its companion novel Shooting Kabul, a book I have not yet read. This book had a compete story line and makes little reference to prior events. Particularly for a continuing storyline, the main characters were well developed.

This story revolves around Arianna’s dislike for her cousin, Laila, from Afghanistan who is staying with her. Something odd is going on in the neighborhood that could mean the end of the family’s local business. Arianna and Laila along with schoolmates Mariam and Waleed, work together to solve this mystery. The story begins with Arianna looking forward to a new home her father is having built. She describes strong desire for privacy and looks forward to getting her own room. Unfortunately, the new house is never again mentioned.

The Shinwari family is very much connected to events in their homeland, as are many first generation Americans. While I think Senzai did a skillful job of balancing the portrayal of events in Afghanistan with Arianna’s life in Los Angeles, I think there were at times too many historical details crammed into the novel. Senzai gives us Arriana, in a story drenched in Afghan history, laced with the language and decorated with the foods and a storyline that is as American as apple pie. Is she telling us that at the core, we are all very much the same?

Saving Kabul Corner is written for readers at the younger end of the YA spectrum.


Filed under: Book Reviews Tagged: Afghanistan, H. Senzai, middle grade fiction, N

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20. YA and Children's Fiction Competition: Hunger Mountain's Katherine Paterson Prize for Young Adult and Children's Writing

Hunger Mountain is accepting submissions of young adult and children's literature. One first place winner receives $1,000 and publication and three category winners receive $100 each and publication. The categories are: Young Adult (YA) Middle Grade (MG) Picture Book Writing for Young Children. Enter your original, unpublished piece under 10,000 words. Your entry may be a short story or a novel excerpt, but if it’s a novel excerpt it should really stand alone. 

The 2014 judge is Katherine Applegate, the Newbery Award winning author of The One and Only Ivan. About: Hunger Mountain is both a print and online journal of the arts publishing fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction. The print issue comes out annually in the fall.

Entry fee: $20.00

Deadline: 7/1/14

Enter here.

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21. author interview: Estela Bernal

Estela Bernal made her debut as an author this past May with Can You See Me Now? (Pinata/Arte Publico). As you get to know her today and find out a little more about Can You See Me Now? you’ll be impressed but, be even more impressed to know that she’s donating 100% of her proceeds to education and animal rights.

Just a little about the book. Kirkus says:

Tragedy strikes on Mandy’s 13th birthday when her father is struck by a drunk driver and killed. Now grief—both her own and her mother’s—complicates the already confusing landscape of early adolescence.

can u see me nowWith her mother working more and more hours in the wake of her father’s death, Mandy begins spending most of her time living with her grandmother. Often the target of bullies, loner Mandy approaches Paloma to be her partner for a school project. Paloma is also a misfit, but she carries herself with a self-assured grace that Mandy finds compelling. As she becomes closer to Paloma, she learns about the practices of yoga and meditation, which are foundational in Paloma’s family. An overweight boy in class, Rogelio, is also touched by tragedy when his family’s home burns down, and Paloma invites him to join their yoga crew. As the three continue practicing together, they each begin to cultivate their own peace amid the chaos in their lives. Though each faces personal challenges, they find friendship and support in one another. Bernal has succeeded in crafting a story that acknowledges tragedy without wallowing in it, placing her emphasis on resilience and personal growth. The quick pace and distinctive characters make for a smooth, well-crafted read.

Middle-grade readers should respond to this tender story of learning to connect with others through open eyes and an open heart. (Fiction. 10-13)


And Estela’s interview!

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in South Texas (the Rio Grande Valley).

Estela Bernal

Estela Bernal

Do you have any pets?

I love animals and have had many pets through the years.  I currently have two cats.

What were some of the first books you found as a child that turned you into a reader?

I grew up in a home where we had no books.  There were no public libraries in my hometown either.  Despite the lack of age-appropriate reading material, I fell in love with books as soon as I learned to read.  I remember reading the Weekly Reader and whatever else I could get my hands on at school.  Although I don’t remember where I got it, Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth was one book I read and re-read.  I’ve always been a dreamer and this book opened up an exotic new and very fascinating world to me. 

Meat or vegetables?

Vegetables, absolutely!  As an animal lover, I volunteered with many animal welfare organizations until I was able to form my own.  Through it I do community education and help provide low-cost spay/neuter services to residents’ pets in underserved communities.  It would be hard to justify rescuing some animals while eating others.  Besides, I find that when I eat a healthy diet, I feel so much better.

Which famous person would you most like to have write a review for your book?

So many famous and not-so-famous people come to mind.  It always makes me happy to hear about celebrities and other public figures who are also great philanthropists and who help raise awareness about some very important issues facing society today.  But there are also many unsung heroes quietly working to help make their communities better places to live.  I sincerely believe we all have the potential to do good and that, after all, is what really matters.   Two of my own favorite causes are education and animal welfare so my choice would have to be someone with similar ideals.

What three things would you like to add to a list of national treasures?

Although man-made treasures are priceless, I believe that natural treasures are absolutely essential.  I’d love to see all public waterways, land (public, private, agricultural), and all living beings protected and preserved for our well-being and that of future.

 

Why would you be up at 3am?

Usually, I’m only up at that time if I’m traveling and have to catch an early flight.

What book(s) are you currently in the middle of reading?

I’m currently making my way through a 100 Greatest Books for Kids list and just started Pam Muñoz Ryan’s Becoming Naomi León.  I’m also reading my latest copy of Glimmer Train.

What made you decide to write about a teen who discovers yoga?

One of my nephews died accidentally a few years ago.  The accident happened in front of his wife and children and I began to wonder how such a tragic event would affect any family who witnessed such a tragedy. That also got me thinking about how a child, already weighed down by grief, would cope with the additional burden of parental abandonment and being bullied on top of everything else.   Adolescence is tough enough as it is, and adding all this other stress can lead to such despair that anyone could easily be overwhelmed.  I wanted to introduce the idea that there are alternatives to violence, that there is help even when we think there is no safe way out of certain situations, and most importantly, that there are ways to access inner peace. 

When I first discovered yoga, I was going through a stressful period in my life and still remember the feeling of calm and well-being that I experienced when I was able to slow down the thoughts racing through my mind long enough to catch my breath and try to put things in perspective.  The character Paloma seemed the perfect vehicle through which to introduce the topic and Mandy, of course, was the ideal student.

I’m sorry to hear your family experienced such a tragedy. I can definitely see how that experience could inspire your writing.

I haven’t had the opportunity to read Can You See Me Now, but I do know it’s about a thirteen-year-old girl whose father dies in a car accident and her mother blames her for it. At 13 (or there about) to which adult were you the closest?

I was a very shy child and at thirteen I was closest to my mother.  Because I was the youngest child in my family and my parents were old enough to be my grandparents, the fear of losing them seemed to always be in the back of my mind.  If my mother wasn’t there when I got home from school or from playing with my friends, I panicked.

Who is your favorite author and what is it that really strikes you about their work?

Again, this is a hard question to answer because there are so many authors I admire, but I’d have to say Harper Lee ranks pretty high on my list along with Sandra Cisneros.  Although their work is very different, I find the characters so easy to relate to and the stories so hard to forget.

What’s the trick to writing humor?

I’m sure there is a trick to it and I suppose part of it is to be naturally funny.  I don’t set out to write humor, but because I do write about serious issues which can be hard to address when writing for a younger audience, I try to ease the tension by including bits of humor here and there as I weave the story.  The humor I use is based on things that tickle my own funny bone.

What does diversity mean to you?

Diversity to me is inclusivity.  I try to write about things that all readers can relate to regardless of their racial or social background because, no matter what other commonalities we may or may not share, there are certain things that we all have to experience at some point in life.

Speaking of diversity, I’m glad to see that the need for diversity in children’s literature is finally starting to get the attention it deserves.  Although the need has always been there, it’s great that diversity among the writing population is also changing, however gradually. 

Thanks, Estela! It’s a pleasure getting to know you!

Visit Estela’s website.


Filed under: Authors, Interview Tagged: Arte Publico, interview, latino, middle grade fiction, Pinata

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22. Naturalized Diversity

By Joyce Audy Zarins Like daffodils naturalized in the woods, all Native Americans, immigrants from everywhere in the world, people with various abilities, talents, handicaps, and preferences populate our American nation. We are all in this cross-pollinated garden together. Our stories should reflect that biodiversity. By “naturalized diversity” I mean that the characters in our […]

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23. The Luck Uglies by Paul Durham


The Luck Uglies

I finished The Luck Uglies last night and I was satisfied to see that it promises a sequel.

When the (evil, disgusting, arrogant, cruel, etc.) Earl of Longchance captures a young Bog Noblin, he invites doom and terror to the village of Drowning.  Rye, her friends, Folly and Quinn, her mother, Abby and the mysterious tattooed man, known as Harmless, must save the village.  Spells, magical beasts, potions, and incredible escape acts, most occurring in the dark of night, keep the pages turning.

I admit I skimmed.  I often skim through battles because reading about swordplay and how the characters avoid decapitation or mangling makes me itchy.  (I am not an 11-year-old boy.)  I took the time to read one such scene and it was cinematically presented - the type of action/adventure sequence that the target readership will LOVE.

I love the cover and chapter illustrations.   I thought that one or two scenes were dragged out for suspense and action's sake.    Even the villains - except for the Earl, who is beyond the pale - have their not-so-awful moments.  So, yes, I think fantasy and adventure fans, boys and girls alike, will enjoy this book.

ASIDE:  Is there a running around the rooftops meme circulating through kids' fiction right now?  This is not the first, or even the second, book that I've read this year in which city rooftops are used as escape routes or roadways.  Just wondering.



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24. Using Picture Book Techniques in Novels by Anna Staniszewski

Anna Staniszewskiby Anna Staniszewski

As an author who’s slowly been transitioning from novels to picture books (my first picture book will be out in March 2015), I’ve realized that picture book techniques have started influencing my novel-writing process. Here are a few examples.

1. Brevity and Word Choice
This is probably the most obvious connection. When you’re used to working with 500 words, you tend to get a little pickier about the words you use in longer projects. Even when I have 50k words to work with, for example, I still find myself making sure to cut out unnecessary phrases (particularly unneeded dialogue tags) and using strong verbs and interesting nouns to make each sentence count.

2. Tying the End to the Beginning
This is my favorite picture book technique. In picture books, the ending almost always echoes the beginning of the tale. I love using this approach in novels, reflecting something from the opening chapter in the closing chapter in a different context. This technique shows us that the character has grown and changed, and it also makes the story feel cohesive and satisfying.

3. Repeating for Emphasis
Repetition can be great in picture books, but in novels it can feel like telegraphing. A strong repeated image, however, especially one whose meaning deepens over the course of the story, can work well if it’s revisited throughout the novel. It can help show how the meaning of that image or experience has changed for the character over time.

4. Using the Senses
In picture books, we have to be mindful of not focusing too much on the visual details so that we don’t step on the illustrator’s toes. That means we have to use other senses to give the story depth. I try to use a similar multi-sensory approach in my novels, so I’m not simply describing how things look to the characters, but I’m also thinking about the smells, sounds, and textures around them. I’ve also found myself using a lot of onomatopoeic words—kapow!

For those of you who write in longer and shorter formats, how do you find the two influencing each other? What’s your favorite picture book technique to use in novel-writing? Please comment below and join the conversation!

.

prank list cover 2Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna Staniszewski grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. Currently, she lives outside Boston with her husband and their crazy dog. When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time reading, daydreaming, and challenging unicorns to games of hopscotch. She is the author of the My Very UnFairy Tale Life series and the Dirt Diary series. Her newest novel, The Prank List, released on July 1st from Sourcebooks. You can visit Anna at www.annastan.com.


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25. From the Family Bookshelf – July

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We’re still on vacation right now, but that means we’ve had a chance to get some reading done. Both girls signed up for the library’s summer reading program. The Lil’ Diva has already surpassed her goal. The Lil’ Princess is making her way to her goal.

Since our arrival, the Lil’ Diva has read Love? Maybe by Heather Hepler, Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare, and Draw the Dark by Ilsa J. Bick. The Lil’ Princess brought Half Upon a Time by James Riley with her from home, but she’s been tied up reading the recently released Dork Diaries 7: Tales from a Not-So-Glam TV Star by Rachel Renee Russell. We bought it this week at Downtown Books in Manteo.

Dad has actually gotten some reading in too. He’s still slowly reading Under the Dome: A Novel by Stephen King. He’s also reading The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman.

As for me, I’ve been trying to catch up on my massive TBR pile. Before we left, I had read Four Corners or A Book That Will Tickle Your Intellectual Nipple by Cary Smith and Breath of Spring by Charlotte Hubbard. Since we got here, I’ve managed to read A Nation Under Judgment by Richard Capriola and Corrie ten Boom by Kaylena Radcliff, part of the Torchlighters Series. I’m in the middle of Buffy and the Heroine’s Journey by Valerie Estelle Frankel.

That’s it for this issue of From the Family Bookshelf. Hope you’re enjoying your week.


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