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Results 1 - 22 of 22
1. Best New Kids Stories | December 2014

Hot New Releases & Popular Kids Stories This month is all about middle grade mania; plus a bonus young adult novel! Here are our picks for five kids books that we feel represent some of the best new kids stories releasing this month.

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2. Books of Poetry for Kids

By Nicki Richesin, The Children’s Book Review
Published: April 25, 2012

Beautiful Dreamers

In celebration of National Poetry Month, we’ve hand-picked ten many-splendored new books. Children are born loving poetry from the moment they form their first babbling words to when they begin to tackle more complex rhythms and tongue twisters. As they acquire language and enjoy how it rolls off their tongues, they also gain an appreciation for the beauty of creative expression. Nothing quite tops that moment when they learn to recite their first nursery rhyme. So leave a poem in your child’s pocket and help him discover the appeal of modern poetry.

Every Thing On It

By Shel Silverstein

If you’re like most of us, you may have grown up with Where the Sidewalk Ends, A Light in the Attic, or The Giving Tree on your childhood bookshelf. Master wordsmith and doodler Shel Silverstein invented laugh-out-loud silly rhymes for us to endlessly ponder. Every Thing On It has been posthumously published as a new collection of his irreverent poems and characters drawn with his trademark squiggly offhand style. It’s a great joy to share his nonsense poems with a new generation to puzzle over and love for years to come.

Ages 8-11 | Publisher: HarperCollins | September 20, 2011

A Stick Is An Excellent Thing

By Marilyn Singer; Illustrated by LeUyen Pham

What a winning combination Pham’s playful illustrations and Singer’s amusing verse make in this lovely poetry collection. Bouncing rhyme and pictures of active children at play ensure even the most poetry-adverse child will warm to its magical delights. As Singer’s light-handed verse concludes, “A stick is an excellent thing if you find the perfect one.” We’ve certainly found the perfect book of poetry in this one. For more on LeUyen Pham, check out our interview with her.

Ages 5-8 | Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt | February 28, 2012

Water Sings Blue

By Kate Coombs; Illustrated by Meilo So

In her first book of poetry, Kate Coombs takes us on a voyage under the sea.

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3. Review of the Day: Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It by Gail Carson Levine

Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It: False Apology Poems
By Gail Carson Levine
Illustrated by Matthew Cordell
Harper (an imprint of Harper Collins)
$15.99
ISBN: 978-0-06-178725-6
Ages 5-10
On shelves March 13th

I tend to run my bookgroup for kids between the ages of 9-12 like a gentle dictatorship. I choose the books, the kids vote on them, and so it goes. Now if the kids had their way we’d be reading fantasy novels day in and day out every single week. With that in mind, I like to try to make them read something a little different once in a while. For example, one week I might try to get them to read a Newbery winner. The next I would try to encourage them to dip into some nonfiction. One type of book I haven’t had the nerve to attempt for years, though, is poetry. Finding a really good, really interesting, really smart book of poetry for kids of that age is tricky stuff. Poetic tastes vary considerably, so it’s best to start with a book with a hook. And by hook or by crook, Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It is basically the answer to my prayers I’ve been seeking all these long and lonely years. It has everything. Humor, engaging illustrations, a clever premise, potential (and very fun) applications, and a passive aggressive streak that’s nearly a mile long.

Do you know that old William Carlos Williams poem about the plums in the icebox? The one that calls itself “This is Just to Say”? When you think about that poem, I mean really think about it, it’s just the most self-satisfied little number you ever did see. Williams is clearly not sorry, though he included the words “forgive me” in there. With that as her inspiration, Gail Carson Levine has penned forty-five or so false apology poems modeled on Williams’. The rules are simple. “The first stanza states the horrible offense. The second stanza describes the effect of the offense. The last stanza begins with ‘Forgive me’ and continues with the false apology, because the writer is not sorry at all.” Mixing together fairy tales and silly situations, Levine’s poems span the gamut, from the cow in Jack and the Beanstalk taking issue with her monetary worth to a girl’s pets asking pseudo-forgiveness for enjoying her diary’s contents. Saying sorry without meaning it has never been this charming.

On the book’s dedication page read the words “To Susan Campbell Bartoletti, who led me down the poetry path.” I am currently in the process of putting in an order with FTD in the hopes of sending Ms. Bartoletti some flowers of my own. Whether intentionally or not, she has been at least partly responsible for helping to bring to this world a poet of undeniable talent. We all know Ms. Gail Carson Levine for her fantasy novels. Her Newbery Honor winning Ella Enchanted is probably her best known work. But when I saw that she had gone into the poetry business I couldn’t suppress a groan. Great. An author who thinks they can write. Whooptie-doo. Can’t wait to see what recycled trope makes its 100th appearance on the printed page yet again. Imagine my surprise then when I saw not only the idea behind the book (snarky in its mere conception, which is no easy task when you work in the world of juvenile literature) but the poems themselves. Ladies and gentlemen if I blame Ms. Levine for anything it is for denying the world her drop dead gorgeously twisted poin

10 Comments on Review of the Day: Forgive Me, I Meant to Do It by Gail Carson Levine, last added: 1/25/2012
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4. Net Nibblets and Nuggets – III

While tweeting this week, I found a few nuggets. I also asked for some recommendations from the fine folks on VerlaKay’s board. Here are the results from both fishing expeditions!

Megan Bickel’s Blog – The Write-At-Home-Mom – This is a good blog for finding nuggets of info in chewable bites! She has writing advice and even contest info.

Debbie Maxwell’s Blog – Writing While the Rice Boils — I found this blog while reading one of Jill Corcoran’s tweets. (I follow her and other agents on twitter.) I read an interview, a couple of other posts and then saw one on THREES. (if you read my blog last week, you’ll know why that caught my eye!) Anyway, good blog. Tons of great info for beginners and more advanced writers.

Jennifer R. Hubbard’s Livejournal – Jennifer shares writing info, helpful hints and inspiring challenges to her readers.

Gail Carson Levine’s website – She wrote a little book called Ella Enchanted. Ever heard of it? :) Great from an author who been there, done that, and still doing it.

Those are enough for today. Slow down. Take little bites. I’ll post more next weekend! 

(FTR - I did not receive any compensation for sharing the above links and info. I am not endorsing nor conding anything you find within the pages of the websites listed above. Check them out and make your own decisions.)

Filed under: writing for children Tagged: Betsy who cried Wolf, creating stories that fly, Debbie Maxwell, Ella Enchanted, Gail Carson Levine, Jennifer R. Hubbard, Megan Bickel, The Fairy's Return, The Wish, Writing magic 3 Comments on Net Nibblets and Nuggets – III, last added: 1/25/2011
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5. Gail Carson Levine at IRA Conference!

Next week (May 8-11) we’re off to another conference: the International Reading Association Annual Convention in sunny Orlando!  We have a stellar line-up of authors and illustrators – for a complete list of authors and signing times, click here.

One such author is Gail Carson Levine, author of some of the best-known books in children’s literature, such as ELLA ENCHANTED and WRITING MAGIC.  She’ll be featured on a panel called “Engaging Readers K-5″ with Kristin Clark Venuti, Laurie Friedman, and Ethan Long.  The fabulous Kate Messner will be moderating.  If you’ll be at the conference, this panel will be on Tuesday, May 10 from 11:00am-12:00pm.

Gail will also be signing her new book, A TALE OF TWO CASTLES, from 12:30-1:30 after her panel.  In its starred review, Kirkus said that this is a “thoroughly delicious romp” and we couldn’t agree more.  Stop by booth #1220 and say hi to Gail!

We hope to see you in sunny Orlando!

Additional resources:
ELLA ENCHANTED discussion guide
A TALE OF TWO CASTLES book trailer
WRITING MAGIC discussion guide

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6. A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine

Add this book to your collection: A Tale of Two Castles

Have you read this book? Rate it:
Note: There is a rating embedded within this post, please visit this post to rate it.

©2011 The Childrens Book Review. All Rights Reserved.

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7. Little Red Riding Hood Books

By Nicki Richesin, The Children’s Book Review
Published: September 13, 2011

If the phrase, “The better to eat you with!” struck terror in your childhood heart, fear not, these inventive retellings of the classic Little Red Riding Hood story will delight your little ones. The Brothers Grimm were especially gifted at creating dark and often haunting fairy tales, but these books below have a bit more gentle appeal. They also may serve as a great conversation starter with your children about the inherent danger of talking to strangers. As the moral of the folktale advises, children should beware of the charming and kind wolf perhaps most of all.

The Story of Little Red Riding Hood by those daring Grimm brothers (beautifully illustrated by Christopher Bing whose youngest daughter modeled for little Red) comes in an old-fashioned album meant to capture the timeless quality of the story. A cautionary tale, including the original black and white illustrated version from 1857, is inserted as a fold-out in the back of the book complete with the underlying moral.

In Betsy Red Hoodie by Gail Carson Levine, the talented author of Ella Enchanted, brings a new spin on the story. Accompanied by her wise-cracking sheep to Grandma’s house, Betsy encounters many obstacles and diversions on her path. Grandma has an unexpected surprise in store for Betsy when she finally arrives at her home. This is the second installment of Betsy’s plucky adventures (preceded by Betsy Who Cried Wolf!) with comic illustrations by Scott Nash.

Bernadette Watts paints a colorful, wondrous forest filled with wildflowers that tempt Little Red Riding Hood to pick a lovely bouquet for her grandmother. The wolf meets a gruesome end when the huntsman cuts him open to rescue them and they fill his belly full of stones. It almost makes one feel sorry for the wolf… so fiendish wolves better watch out for hunters with an ax to grind.

In his bold inventive book, acclaimed artist Daniel Egneus recreates a gothic wonderland for

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8. Overweight and Invisible

Since I don’t do much with YA on a regular basis I don’t read the blog of The Book Smugglers as often as I would like, even though they’re some of the best in the biz.  Love their reviews.  Really top notch stuff.

Anyway, they recently reviewed a book called The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson and they got to talking about plus sized folks on covers.  The initial galley for Carson’s book featured a waiflike slip of a white girl when the character is supposed to be plus sized and dark-skinned.  Necessary changes were made to the final cover, but you still wouldn’t be able to tell the girth of the heroine from either of them.  The Book Smugglers end their review with, “Something we haven’t talked much about, however, is this concept of slenderizing a plus-sized character for a cover. We’ve seen it before in books like Everything Beautiful. Have you noticed any of this in your reading?”  Elizabeth Fama recommended a great Stacked piece on the subject from 2009 which I remember seeing some years ago that discussed this very thing.

I’ve been wondering about portrayals of overweight children in books for kids myself.  With obesity rates the highest they have ever been amongst our nation’s youth, ours is a country that doesn’t know how to deal with its large children.  Their portrayal in literature, therefore, is something to think about.  Usually, if you’re a kid and fat in a book then you’re a villain of sorts.  A Dudley Dursley or Augustus Gloop.  If, by some miracle, you’re the hero of the book that’s fine, but you’d better be prepared to disappear from your own cover.

So I tried to find representation of fat children on middle grade book covers.  Alas, these are the only books I was able to come up with, and as you can see they’re hardly ideal.  Let’s look at what book jackets tend to do to large kids.  As far as I can tell, these fall into three distinct categories: Inanimate Objects, Taking Advantage of Momentary Slimming, or Part of the Body.

Inanimate Objects

By far the most popular solution.  On the YA end of things it’s almost de rigueur.  On the children’s side it’s less common but not entirely unheard of.

Larger Than Life Lara by Dandi Daley Mackall

Here we had a book about a confident, well-adjusted girl who was also fat.  And here we have a book cover of a dress, with no girl in sight.  Yes, it refers to the plot, but still . . .

Slob by Ellen Potter

Owen, the hero of this book, is a big guy but you wouldn’t know it from looking at the cover of the book.

11 Comments on Overweight and Invisible, last added: 9/30/2011
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9. Critique Groups and Criticism

Gail Carson Levine author of Ella Enchanted, which was a Newbery Honor Book in 1998 wrote an interesting article on her blog about accepting criticism.  Here is an excerpt of wrote she wrote: 

Although it’s hard and sometimes torture, criticism is essential. Few writers (but definitely some) can revise entirely on their own and turn in prose that needs only a light editorial dusting.

Constructive criticism is criticism you can use. I’ve mentioned on the blog that editors have responded to my manuscripts in the past with criticism that my heroines aren’t likeable. These editors have meant well, but that statement isn’t helpful all by itself. I haven’t intentionally made my heroines unsympathetic. What I need are specifics. What did my character do or say or think or fail to do or say or think at which moment in the manuscript to convey that she isn’t likeable? Show me the places: which action, which line of dialogue, which paragraph of thought. Then I can fix.

You don’t have to process criticism right on the spot, and you probably can’t. It may be impossible. A great line when you’re getting criticism is, “Thank you. I’ll think about that.”

Later, in the privacy of your room or office, you can go through the five stages of grief (classically applied to the response to a diagnosis of terminal illness, but no hyperbole is too extreme when applied to writing criticism!):

∙ Denial — The manuscript is fine exactly as it is!

∙ Anger — My writing pal is just jealous!

∙ Bargaining — I can change this paragraph on page 75 and the second sentence on page 112, even though I spent seven hours on each one, but if I revise them, I won’t have to rewrite the entire middle section.

∙ Depression — My story never was any good, never will be, and I might as well trash it. (Some of you, I suspect, skip the first three stages and go right here. If you must, you must, but try not to inhabit this step for long.)

∙ Acceptance — Hmm, hmm, hmm. If I make my villain more likeable, as my writing buddy suggests, then the conflict with the hero will have more tension. Oh, this is cool! I see how I can make everything better.

The best strategy for getting comfortable with a dose of criticism is to sit with it for a while. Let your readers’ suggestions percolate in your brain without making judgments.  Click here to read the full article.

Gail’s other books include Ever, Fairest, Dave at Night, an ALA Notable Book and Best Book for Young Adults; The Wish, The Fairy’s Return, The Two Princesses of Bamarre, and the six Princess Tales books. She is also the author of the nonfiction book Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly and the picture books Betsy Who Cried Wolf and Betsy Red Hoodie, both illustrated by Scott Nash.

Talk tomorrow,

Kathy


Filed under: Advice, article, authors and illustrators, Process Tagged: Criticism, Gail Carson Levine, Writing Critique Groups
3 Comments on Critique Groups and Criticism, last added: 11/28/2011
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10. November 6th Meeting

The meeting began with three members who attended Rabbit Hill Festival of Literature sharing their experience. Rick Riordan, author of Lightning Thief, suggested checking out a program called Inspiration to map out plot development. His website is also full of resources for writers and is worth looking at. Gail Carson Levine, author of Ella Enchanted, shared that the hardest part about writing for her is accepting her own work. A good lesson for some of our members to take with them. Next, the group critiqued the submitted chapters. At the end of the meeting the group decided to accept more members and to try to meet every two weeks.

0 Comments on November 6th Meeting as of 1/1/1990
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11. Ever by Gail Carson Levine


Review by Emily, head mama of DCR and ...whimsy...

Ever is a brand new fairy tale brought to you by the author of Ella Enchanted, Fairest, and many other great stories.

Ever is told from both the perspective of Olus, god of winds, and the mortal girl he falls in love with, Kezi.

Olus lives a lonely life. None of the other gods are even close to his age. When he turns 17, he leaves the Akkan gods and seeks a life with the mortals. He becomes a goatherd for Kezi’s father. He watches Kezi and grows to care for her. The other gods tell Olus that it is a waste to care about mortals because they are soap bubbles. They are here one moment and die the next. But when Kezi’s life nears its end, Olus can’t stand the thought of it. He and Kezi embark on a hero’s journey to save her.

As I mentioned, Ever is an original fairy tale. The characters are fun and interesting, but I’m not sure they are as fleshed out as I would have liked. The plot is fresh. Seeing from each character’s point of view is intriguing, although occasionally confusing.

I definitely recommend Ever to teens and preteens who enjoy fairy tales. I didn't love it as much as Fairest and Ella Enchanted, but it is still worth reading.

3 Comments on Ever by Gail Carson Levine, last added: 6/10/2008
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12. Fairy Tales! and a calendar of events

It's June! Glorious, busy June!

I am back from Iowa--it was beautiful and sunny and I ran into Kelly at the coffee shop and am happy, sleepy, and sunburned. It's fun to see that the people I went to college with are fundamentally the same. We're happier and better dressed, and can now afford MUCH better beer, but fundamentally we're the same. And it's awesome.

We have some fun events coming up here in blog-land. Events YOU can all play along with at home.

First off, Weekly Geeks has declared this week's geekery to be "catch up on reviews week" which I think is something we all need to do, right? So this week (until Friday) I'm aiming for 5 reviews a day. (Even though I am way more than 25 books behind-- I currently have 39 unblogged books, but given I have issues blogging 5 books a week, I'll aim for 5 a day. It's like vegetables. 5 a day!).

This weekend is MotherReader's 48 Hour Book Challenge. Go sign up for your chance to turn X-treme Reading into an X-treme sport. Also, take a vote in my sidebar for which books you'd like me to read!

AND! At the end of the month (June 28-29) is the 24 Hour Read-a-thon to benefit Reading is Fundamental. More information on the event and to sign up is here. And information on how to sponsor my reading extravaganza is here.

Anyway, let's get started on that 5-a-day business, ok?


Ever Gail Carson Levine

As far as I'm aware, this is an original tale. Olus is the Akkan God of the winds (part of a pantheon that reminds one of Greek or Roman mythology. At 17, he's the youngest of the Gods by a few hundred years and is lonely. He longs for a mortal friend, but fails in his attempts to make friends.

Kezi lives in the land of the Admat, and omnipotent, invisible God more similar to the religions of Abraham...

In his longing for friends, Olus has become a shepard and rents land from Kezi's father and falls hopelessly in love. However, Kezi is doomed to die. Not in the way that all mortals will die eventually, but she has been promised as a sacrifice to Admat and will die in 30 days.

Olus knows of ways one can become immortal, but Kezi would have to realize that there are other Gods than Admat, and she must become a herione and Olus must become her champion. Only then can they possibly save Kezi's life.

Told in short chapters of alternating viewpoints, this is a bit of a departure from such Levine classics as Ella Enchanted and Fairest but Levine knows how to tell a story. The language is more sparse than I'm used to and it lacks her usual humor, but Levine can paint a scene with a minimum number of words . I liked the illustrations used above the chapter numbers-- the numbering system looks like an ancient form of writing and it was fun to realize what was going on there. I think Levine fans will still love this. I also think it will really appeal to fans of Julius Lester's Cupid: A Tale of Love and Desire.

Book of a Thousand Days Shannon Hale

Once again Hale turns to the Brothers Grimm for inspiration, this time, not Rapunzel as the tower suggests, but Maid Maleen.

Set in a land inspired by Ancient Mongolia, Dashti is mucker, a nomad, looked down on by the city dwellers. But she is also an orphan and must find work to survive and becomes the maid to Lady Saren, only to find that Saren is about to be locked up in a tower for seven years after refusing the match her father has made.

Dashti goes to the tower where it is dark and foreboding. Although they have been left enough food to last seven years, that's only if they can keep it from the rats. Lady Saren is spoiled and given to tantrums. She is also completely helpless. Lord Kasar, the dreaded fiance appears frequently to taunt the captives. But Khan Tegus, Lady Saren's true love also visits and brings small comforts in the form of a branch that smells of the outdoors and a cat to help with the rats.

Shannon Hale is still on the top of her game. She can paint a culture and a people with just a few sentences. This book is also illustrated, which is nice. I'm reading it in ARC form, so I think some illustrations are missing but the ones that are included are nice. Most are made to look like the illustrations Dashti herself has drawn in her diary, but there is high artistic quality.

There is much to the book besides the days in the tower, although there isn't much to the Grimm tale, and that's where Hale's magic lies-- when she takes the tale way beyond its original borders, while still staying true to the source material.

full disclosure: I got the ARC from the publisher last summer at ALA, but I would have read it anyway, I mean, it's SHANNON HALE!


The Swan Maiden Heather Tomlinson

Doucette has always been jealous of her older sisters. Beautiful and haughty, they're able to work magic, while she is plain and stuck at home learning how to be a chastelaine. Embroidery and running a household is nothing on her sisters who can fly.

But then she finds the swan skin her mother has hidden from her, the swan skin her mother would give Doucette's future husband in order to keep her from running.

But, the true story comes when Doucette falls in love with a shepherd boy. In order to gain the right to marry her, he must perform 3 impossible tasks. But that might not be enough to keep them together...

Doucette is a character that's easy to identify with, but more so. Not only are her sisters perfect and beautiful, which is bad enough, but dude! They can fly! And Doucette is always falling down and tearing her clothing and always left behind.

And then when she gets what she thinks she wants, it doesn't necessarily help.

A wonderful addition to the genre that should be read by everyone who likes Shannon Hale or Juliet Marillier, but will also appeal to those who aren't already converts to the new breed to fairy tale retellings or original tales that maintain that old timeless quality.

13 Comments on Fairy Tales! and a calendar of events, last added: 6/20/2008
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13. Marvelous Marketer: Gail Carson Levine (bestselling author)

Questions for Teens

As you may know, our teen panel starts in Feb. They will be talking abut books, what they like, what attracks them to covers, how they hear about books, etc.

If you have any questions for our teen panel on marketing, please leave them in the comments or email me by the end of the week.

This is your chance to get in the minds of teens and find out how to target them directly.


Marvelous Marketer: Gail Carson Levine
(Bestselling author, Ella Enchanted)

Hi Gail. Thank you so much for joining us. Can you share a little with us on your latest project, how you got started, and your journey to publication?

Hi Shelli. Thanks for having me today.

My latest book is Ever, a young-adult fantasy set in ancient Mesopotamia, which got its start after I read the bible for the first time and became interested in the troubling story of Jeptha and his daughter. My story spun off the biblical one. It doesn’t have its own website. My general website, which is maintained by HarperCollins and I also have a blog.


You are a blogger, did that have anything to do with your success? Or how do you utilize your blog in a marketing way?


I recently started blogging in May, ’09, and I was originally published in 1997. However, I started the blog with the hopes of bringing more people to my books, which are listed on the site. I also use the blog for event announcements.


In your opinion , what are the top 3 things every author should and must do to promote their book?

  • Write the best book you can. Then revise it. Then take your editor’s suggestions VERY seriously. Never disregard an edit unless you have a really good reason.
  • If you’re comfortable with public speaking, let your publicist know, and say that you’d like any opportunities that come along to speak at conferences about your books. But do NOT bug your publicist or expect a lot of support for a first book.

What creative things have you done to promote a book?


I always send postcards out especially to family and friends by snail mail when I have a new book coming out. Ask your editor if the house would be willin

23 Comments on Marvelous Marketer: Gail Carson Levine (bestselling author), last added: 1/20/2010
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14. March Audiobooks

I was able to get a lot of "audio" reading done this month, finishing three, and really loving two of those three. Head on over to and link your audiobook reviews at Audiosynced, this month at Abby (the) Librarian.

Frindle by Andrew Clements


I know, I know, I'm a librarian and I have yet to make my way through Andrew Clements' books. Each one that I've actually read, I've loved, and this one was probably my favorite. The reader, John Fleming, did a great job and kept me completely engaged from start to finish.

This is a quick read and a great choice for a family road trip. You could make it through a couple of books this length in a few hours.


Audiobook borrowed from my local library


 The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan

I'm going to really push this one on you! I've read the book and was just using the audio version as a refresher in anticipation of The Dead Tossed Waves. I didn't count on being completely taken in by the reader, Vane Millon, and feeling as if I was really experiencing the story for the first time. This reader is the BEST reader I have ever come across and I'm going to be frantically searching for more titles she's read.

One of the few times I'll actually say that the audio version was better than the actual book. Loved it!


Audiobook borrowed from my local library

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

Unfortunately, this is the one that I didn't enjoy quite as much as the others. I know that so many of you just love this book and it may be because I listened to the audio rather than reading, but I really felt the entire story was just ok. Almost cheesy at points. And the reader, Eden Reigel, sounded about 9 years old through the whole book, even when Ella was almost out of her teens.

Just not great for me. But I know that there are lots of Ella fans out there, so go check it out for yourself!


Audiobook borrowed from my local library

6 Comments on March Audiobooks, last added: 4/1/2010
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15. Weaving Background.

In a recent post, Gail Carson Levine discusses how to get background material into a story without the use of a flashback scene,
along with tips for when you do use a flashback.

Weaving in Backstory

Poem. She points out that in her story, The Two Princesses of Bamarre, she uses an epic poem: everyone knows the poem, quotes from it at times, or even perform parts of it.

Newspaper clippings. Levine also points to The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood, which uses newspaper clippings to introduce backstory.

Dialogue in a counseling session. Of course, a character could spill the beans during a session with a counselor.

http://www.flickr.com/photos/piggytea/4446836021/Sometimes, I’ve heard the opinion, though, that these “techniques” are cheats of sorts, ways to work in material that doesn’t really belong. A story should start in one place and pretty much progress linearly. Using backstory is like this picture of tattoos on a woman’s back: for her, there’s no easy way to SEE these tattoos (mirrors, photo, description), it’s unnatural for her to visualize them.

A bold opinion, that backstory is a cheat — there are certainly shades of this.

Do you think backstory techniques like this are effective, or do they feel like cheats? When are they effective? Do you like prologues as a way to introduce backstory? What’s your favorite way to deal with backstory?


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16. SCBWI TEAM BLOG Pre-conference Interview: Author Gail Carson Levine

Our series of TEAM BLOG interviews with Annual Summer Conference faculty continues as Martha Brockenbrough features award-winning author Gail Carson Levine on her WWA SCBWI blog.

Gail will be offering a conference keynote address, SWEAT AND MAGIC, and will give a workshop on INFREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT FICTION WRITING.

Here is a bit from Martha's interview with Gail:

"There's something so magical about Gail Carson Levine's stories. Her first, Ella Enchanted, reimagined Cinderella; in it, Ella is cursed to be obedient--an absolutely genius touch. That book won a Newbery Honor Book in 1998, and eventually became a movie starring Anne Hathaway.

You could call Gail Carson Levine the queen of fairy and princess stories. Later works include Fairest, a beautiful twist on Snow White, as well as several works in the Disney Fairies series...:"

Click here to register for the Annual Summer Conference.



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17. Gail Carson Levine: Sweat and Magic

Although the title of Gail Carson Levine's talk is called Sweat and Magic, she will mostly be talking about sweat.

Gail has been writing her blog on writing for over a year. Her most frequent note about writing is, "I don't know what I'm doing."

"I get very stupid when I write."

"There is so much that is possible." If you're writing story that doesn't follow a traditional story arch, Gail believes you can make it work.

She likes to make lists, and suggests you might try to. "When you make a list, no idea is stupid."

Usually plot arises out of situation. Watch people and see this in action. "We all create plot as we all create our lives. So it's worth observing ourselves and the people we know."

Suspense Builders:
-Time "When you have time pressure in a book it's wonderful."
-Distance, Distance can operate a lot like time.
-Thoughts, "If you character is worried, your reader will be worried."
-Action
-Separation, from the problem
-Main character flaw
-Secondary character flaw
-Expectation, could be good or bad
-A test or a trial
-Disaster
-Something lost

Prompt: As you go through the rest of the day, think of ways, wherever you are, that something tense could happen. Write about it.

"When we reread a book, it's totally predictable, but we love it anyway."

How to surprise:
-confound expectation
-surprise yourself
-ask your characters
-make a list!
-avoid easy morals
-review
-workshop it

Prompt: Create a distaster by having one character ask another about his thoughts at that moment.

Character Development

Gail's characters don't arrive whole and fully formed. She must be with them for a while before they are fully developed. She discovers it through dialogue and action as she wings it. "It’s kind of existential. We become ourselves through our acts and so do our characters."

Gail recommends the book WHAT IF: by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painters which has a character questionnaire she uses throughout the writing process.

It's wonderful to listen for speech mannerisms.

Prompt: Three characters getting ready for school. How does each one prepare? Reveal the thoughts and feelings of each, and each should be different.

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18. Gail Carson Levine - Infrequently Asked Questions About Writing Fiction


Gail Carson Levine has written 17 books for children. Her first book was "Ella Enchanted," which won a Newbery honor and was made into a movie. She blogs about writing here and wrote the nonfiction book, "Writing Magic" - with dozens of writing exercises for kids and the rest of us. She has a picture book and a mystery coming out, and she's sharing with us responses to questions she's had from writers and others...

WRITING FROM A MALE POV (If You're a Woman)
Try thinking of somebody in particular.

When she wrote a character who was trying to keep it's gender a secret, she had the character bow to a Count and then curtsy.

A bow and curtsy are shortcuts, and we need shortcuts because we don't have an eternity to establish a character - but shortcuts can tend towards stereotypes, so use them with care.

Establish your character's gender early - because it's jolting to be reading it wrong.

And she advises to get a guy to read it to make sure the character didn't act in a way that isn't credible.

NAMING CHARACTERS
Find a name that fits but isn't too obvious.

Think of what your character is like, and go to the thesaurus - look at the synonyms. If your character is Moody - Melancholy. Melody? Petulant. Petchula? What about nicknames? The name could be Michael, but his friends could call him "Mope." (He might not like that, and it would just make him mopier!)

SETTING
Be aware of the dangers of information dumps in the first chapter. (Though it worked in "Tuck Everlasting," she says in general to avoid it.)

Setting can be a tool for character development.

In an action scene, you don't necessarily want to stop to describe what the character is wearing. But if you drop in early that the hero dresses in his usual baggy pants, and then wham! It's a problem when he's riding his bike in that chase scene.


And for what happens:

If a fishtank is going to explode and you need to set up it's there first for the reader when the character enters the living room, think about the character NOT saying "Julia, I see your Dad still has his fishtank."

Consider the character saying "I always think those fish are staring at me."

Or the character thinking, "The room always felt heavy to him, two sofas, fish tank, leaden curtains..." - You drop it in there and when the fish tank explodes, the reader will be surprised but will also accept it.


CHARACTER/PHYSICAL DESCRIPTION

She looks at pictures and art as inspiration for the details she uses for her characters.

She's also sharing writing prompts throughout this session. Like the idea of taking one of your characters with you when you go somewhere - what does your character notice? miss? react to emotionally? Write it down when you get back.

Lots of great advice!

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19. Betsy Red Hoodie Blog Event Day Two - A profile of Gail Carson Levine

Gail Carson Levine is convinced she’s been touched by a fairy’s wand or has roamed accidentally into a fairy tale.  After working as a mid-level bureaucrat in New York State government for twenty-seven years, Levine’s first children’s book, Ella Enchanted, won a Newbery honor in 1998 and became a major motion picture in 2004.

The magic continues.  Levine now has eighteen books under her belt.  They’ve been published globally and translated into thirty-five languages.  She’s won reader choice awards - the most gratifying for a kids’ book writer because children do the choosing - in six states.  Her novels have been named annual Best Books by School Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Los Angeles Times, and the American Library Association.  Levine’s historical novel, Dave at Night, was selected by the New York Public Library as among the Best Children’s Books of the 20th Century.  Her “Snow White” fairy tale, 0 Comments on Betsy Red Hoodie Blog Event Day Two - A profile of Gail Carson Levine as of 9/14/2010 8:17:00 AM
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20. Besty Red Hoodie Blog Event Day Four - A Writing Contest from Gail Carson Levine

Writing Magic: Creating Stories that Fly


I have a treat for all you writers out there today. Gail Carson Levine, who has written an excellent book about writing for children called Writing Magic, has kindly created a little writing exercise contest for you. This is her challenge:

When I talk to children about “Little Red Riding Hood,” I suggest they picture themselves in the place of Little Red.  Then I ask if they would listen to the wolf and leave the path.  They all say they wouldn’t.  I challenge them.  “What if the wolf was as clever as the smartest person you know?  Might he trick you into doing what he wants?”  They start weighing the possibilities.  I go on.  “What if the grandmother was your real grandma?  Would she let herself and you be eaten?”

This happens to be an excellent exercise in character development for writers of any age or experience, to replace fairy tale characters with real ones.  The real people by their natures force old stories to change and become more complex.  After all, even in a story you can’t make your brilliant best friend say something stupid or your stubborn cousin suddenly turn compliant.

The most important task in expanding fairy tales is to slow the action way down.  Imagine that the heroine just flung a cloak of invisibility around her shoulders.  What does the cloak feel like?  What’s the fabric?  Is there a label?  Wait!  Back up!  Can she even see the label, or does the cloak vanish the moment it’s touched?  What are her sensations as it envelops her?  Does invisibility happen instantly or creep up?  Can she continue to see herself even though others can’t?  And so on.

So here’s the challenge: In “Little Red Riding Hood,” Little Red meets a talking wolf.  Talking animals appear in many fairy tales, and they’re a source of wonder that you’re about

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21. Planning an author visit, Part II

Last time I discussed author visits, I focused on planning tips for teachers and librarians. This time around, let’s turn the tables and look at visits from an author’s perspective.  Newbery Award-winner Gail Carson Levine has visited schools, libraries, and conferences all over the world.  She’s an expert at connecting with students and educators, so I asked her for some pro tips for authors who want to make the most of their appearances:

  1. Think of a few ideas you’d like the kids to remember. Everybody approaches school visits differently. I don’t have a set presentation, but there are points I like to make. For example, I often read from a particular one of my books, a few paragraphs in which there’s a mistake. I challenge the kids to catch the mistake, and then, after it’s identified, I segue into the publishing process and the number of times I revise before and after my editor sees a manuscript. Since many children despise revision and I love it, teachers are usually delighted with this part. Sometimes I read from something I’m working on, and I rely on the children’s questions to take me to the lessons I want to share. I don’t have a PowerPoint presentation, but I do have images on my laptop that I can show when the right moment comes along.
  2. School visits are best when the children are familiar with your books. The kids get the most out of their session with you and the schools are the most satisfied. I ask ahead of time that the students have read at least one of my books before I come, but still this doesn’t often happen. Recognize that schools have their own priorities, one of which may be to encourage the children to read your books in the future by having you come now. Also, the person who arranges your visit may not have the authority to make sure your books get read.
  3. It’s okay to tell kids to be quiet. When you do, do so quickly and move on. And don’t take it personally.
  4. Don’t stand behind a podium or up on a stage if you can avoid it. The separation creates distance and will make it harder to hold the children’s attention. Also, involve them, even when you’re speaking to an assembly of hundreds of kids. Especially then. If you use a hard word, for example, ask someone to define it. Respect guesses. If you come down hard on a wrong answer, the kids will clam up. Check with them by asking questions to make sure they’re with you. This will also keep them more alert, because they won’t know when the next question will erupt.
  5. You don’t have to put up with misery. If the kids are out of control and the teachers aren’t dealing with it, you are not being paid enough to struggle on. I’ve never abandoned a group, but on a few occasions I wish I had, and in the future I will, even if I have to sacrifice my fee. If you continue on lamely as I have, no one learns a lesson.
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22. Horns on the roof...still...

It's been a while, so I thought I'd post an update on the cow horns that are on my roof.  If you're a new LJ friend and don't understand why someone would do this, you can read all about it in my earlier post.  (Then you can quietly un-friend me if you decide I'm just too strange to hang out with, after all.)

I checked on the horns tonight, and the small critters eating away the gunky stuff between the horn and the bone in the middle of it have made some progress.  Not much, but a little.  In one horn, you can now see a tiny gap between horn and bone, where the fleshy stuff is gone.  At this rate, however, SPITFIRE will be published, read, and out of print before these things are ready to show anyone at a presentation. They also smell bad.

What I really need, I've decided, is something that works more quickly.  Blog karma brought me the answer when I checked out Unabridged -- the Charlesbridge blog and heard about what some of their editors saw on a tour of the American Museum of Natural History during a break from BEA. 

Check out these guys...

Turns out you can order them online, too, but they're expensive (and kind of scary, frankly).  Let's hope the critters on my roof get to work soon.

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