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Results 1 - 25 of 2,730
1. A Darker Shade of Magic: Review

Hello! Do you like humorously told fantasies, unique magic, complex heroes, heroic villains, parallel worlds, and London(s)? Of course you do. You are a person of quality and good taste. So, great news! This book has all of those things. I mean, honestly, it had me at “parallel Londons!” Each London is distinct and wondrous in its own way. I loved being able to follow the characters through to the different worlds. Even our own dreary, magic-less* Grey London is a joy to visit. Red London is vibrant, opulent, and full of life. White London is gorgeously dark, creepy, and dangerous. Atmospheric, beautifully detailed, and rich in the character of its worlds; Schwab writes in such a way that I felt like I could step off from the main story and wander around in her various Londons exploring for days. This is world building done right. And give me a... Read more »

The post A Darker Shade of Magic: Review appeared first on The Midnight Garden.

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2. Short Review: Salt and Storm

Salt & Storm by Kendall KulperLittle, Brown. 2014. Reviewed from ARC.

Salt and Storm is set in an alternate 1860s, where witches and magic are real. Avery is the granddaughter of the witch of Prince Island, and should have been trained and raised to be the next witch. Except, her mother -- who refuses to have anything to do with magic or witchcraft -- drags Avery away from her grandmother and forbids her to see her. At sixteen, Avery is trying to escape her mother's control and claim her inheritance.

What I liked most about Salt and Storm is that Avery wasn't aware of the full picture. She knew what she knew, believed she had the full picture, believe she knew the real story about the witches of Prince Island. She thought she knew herself, but it turns out things aren't what she thinks they are. Which means what she wants isn't what she thinks it is. I also like the historical information in here, about life on nineteenth century islands.

Amazon Affiliate. If you click from here to Amazon and buy something, I receive a percentage of the purchase price.

© Elizabeth Burns of A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy

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3. “The Story of the Fisherman” Sketches and Video

During the course of working on "The Story of the Fisherman" I've generated many many sketches, here are just a few. I hope you enjoy them.



via Studio Bowes Art Blog at http://ift.tt/1DeDbsU

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4. Princely Binge Reading Material

My niece and I started a new series, beginning with The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen. It appears to be a trilogy, not a marathon like the last series we read. I thought it dragged just a liiiittllllle bit, but I definitely like a well done unreliable narrator. The best part? Books 2 and 3 have been published. I can whip through these things the way I like to.

Oh, wait. The best part, really? My niece compared Sage in The False Prince to another character in a book I gave her three years ago. I can't tell you who or what or you will figure out an important, neat thing about The False Prince. I figured it out about two-thirds of the way through the book but it was one of those figure-something-out-in-a-cool way not a oh-my-gawd-why-didn't-she-just-put-up-a-road-sign? way. But my point is, Becki made that connection between those two characters, which I, of course, had already done. She wasn't telling me anything.

But she saw the connection between two characters from two books that I had given her. My work as an aunt is done.

And I will be reading the sequels to The False Prince.

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5. Red Queen: Review

I am sad to say that Red Queen is yet another bland and wholly unexceptional entry in YA fantasy. What starts out with potential is ultimately unable to fulfill the promise of its premise. Here you have the story of a common girl, Mare, a Red, who finds herself in a position to make an actual impact against the brutal oppression of the supernaturally powered Silvers, and yet the story is one long slog fest of tired trope after another. The writing is competent, yet far from stunning. But it was the convenience of the plot that first got my hackles raised. In the space of a single day Mare: is selected from obscurity to get a job serving in the castle after a chance run in with one of the princes (he is obviously instantly enamored of her) is sent out to serve the most important families in the... Read more »

The post Red Queen: Review appeared first on The Midnight Garden.

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6. 2014 Andre Norton Award Nominees


The 2014 Nebula Award nominees have been announced, and with it the nominees for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy. The Nebula and Andre Norton awards are given by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America.

Two of the Andre Norton nominees were also Cybils Awards finalists: Salvage, by Alexandra Duncan, and Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, by A.S. King. As a Cybils judge, I read both books and they're both excellent, although very different, books. I've also read Love Is the Drug, by Alaya Dawn Johnson, and loved that one as well.

Here's the full list of Andre Norton Award nominees:

  • Unmade, Sarah Rees Brennan (Random House) 
  • Salvage, Alexandra Duncan (Greenwillow) 
  • Love Is the Drug, Alaya Dawn Johnson (Levine) 
  • Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, A.S. King (Little, Brown) 
  • Dirty Wings, Sarah McCarry (St. Martin’s Griffin) 
  • Greenglass House, Kate Milford (Clarion) 
  • The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, Leslye Walton (Candlewick)
The complete list of Nebula Award Nominees on the SFWA website.

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7. Book Review: The Last Wild/The Dark Wild

I read both of these books together, so I'm going to do what I rarely do and review them together. If you haven't read the first book, you might want to stop after my review of The Last Wild, because my review of The Dark Wild will, of necessity, have spoilers for the first book.



The Last Wild
by Piers Torday

In a dystopian future, all animals have died out from an illness called "red-eye" that mutated to spread throughout the animal populations. The only animals still living are a few hardy species like cockroaches. Even the bees are dead, which means that there are no more food crops. The only food left is a synthetic food called Formul-A, and the only supplier of Formul-A is the Facto corporation, essentially giving them control of the remaining human population.

Twelve year old Kester Jaynes has been incarcerated in Spectrum Hall Academy for Challenging Children for six years. The Academy is just as horrible as its name makes it sound: the children live regimented, restricted lives, and breaking the rules is punished by solitary confinement. Kester can't even complain: he hasn't been able to speak since his mother died. The words just won't come out.

Kester keeps company with a cockroach at lunch, but one day he's surprised to hear the cockroach speaking to him in his head. Shortly after that, one hundred pigeons break through his window and help him escape from Spectrum Hall. Kester discovers that Facto lied: the animals are not all dead. There is a group of them — a Wild — still living on the edge of civilization, and Kester has a unique ability to talk to them through a kind of mental connection. Between the red-eye virus and the cullers sent out by Facto to kill any remaining animals, the Wild is in grave danger. Kester sets off with the pigeons, the cockroach, a stag, and a wolf cub to find his father, who used to be a vet, and try to find a cure for the red-eye.

If all this sounds a bit unbelievable, it is, but that's ok. This isn't the kind of book that has to be realistic. The characters and the situations are somewhat exaggerated, like you might find in a Roald Dahl or a Lemony Snicket book, with the same kind of dark humor found in those books.

The main characters are Kester and a girl named Polly, whom he meets along the way, and various animals. Kester and Polly are good characters, but the animals are really the best thing about this book. Torday has done an outstanding job of giving the animals unique voices that really fit their personalities. Kester develops through the story, as he learns to be self-reliant and to take responsibility.

The pacing is good, and the plot keeps you turning pages, as Kester, Polly and the animals go from one situation to another as they try to make their way to the city to find Kester's dad. The Last Wild is a unique and interesting book, and a good read. I've read a lot of books, and I can honestly say that I haven't read anything quite like it.

Diversity?

There isn't really any diversity that I saw in the book. In fact, in a few cases I was bothered that some of the villains had impediments or physical characteristics exaggerated in a negative way for comic effect. For example, the evil headmaster stutters.

Who would like this book?

Middle-grade readers, particularly those who like animal fiction. Be aware that The Last Wild is a dark book, and there are deaths; some animals are killed by evil people in front of Kester and Polly. Sensitive children who are bothered by such things may want to give it a pass.

I suspect that this book would have strong appeal for fans of the Warriors series. It's a very different kind of book, but I think that Warriors fans would appreciate not only the animal characters, but also the dark conflicts in a dangerous world, the Wild community, the theme of personal sacrifice, and the well-paced plot.






The Dark Wild
by Piers Torday

Kester and Polly have saved the Wild, and helped Kester's dad find a cure for the red-eye virus. But the Facto corporation isn't going to give up their control of the world and everything they've worked for so easily. Selwyn Stone, the head of Facto, wants something more than to kill all the animals. He wants what Polly has, the secret she swore to her parents that she'd never reveal.

Other factions are also after the secret, and Polly escapes into the city to protect the secret. Kester sets off after her, to help and protect her, but before he can find her he discovers another Wild — an army of bitter, angry animals living under the city, who are determined to destroy the human race. Kester is caught in the middle, and must try to find a way to stop the Dark Wild, while also saving Polly and the animals of his Wild from Facto.

The Dark Wild is a gripping read, and just as thrilling as The Last Wild. In the first book, Kester had to learn to be a leader, but in this one he learns something much more difficult: the value of loyalty, personal heroism, and sacrifice. Other characters develop as well, particularly the wolf cub, who is beginning to grow up and become an adult wolf.

It's also just as dark as the first book, if not more so. In one painful scene, Kester, as a prisoner, has to watch Selwyn Stone taxidermy a squirrel who had been one of Kester's friends. The squirrel was already dead, killed earlier in the book, but it's quite a horrifying scene.

Some things are not resolved by the end of the book, so there may be another book on the way.


FTC required disclosure: Review copy sent by the publisher to enable me to write this review. The bookstore links above are affiliate links, and I earn a very small percentage of any sales made through the links. Neither of these things influenced my review.



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8. Talon: Review

I didn’t know I needed a book about dragons masquerading as humans until I found one. Talon is about a world where the remaining dragons hide in plain sight in human form in order to stay alive and a girl who wants more for her life than what has been laid out for her. Although I had some issues with it, I liked the interesting characters, their relationships with each others, and the dragon culture. The book follows multiple perspectives, but the main character is Ember. She and her twin brother, Dante, have been moved to a small beach town for the summer by Talon so they can learn to blend in with normal human teenagers. For Ember, this is her one, brief period of time where she can have fun and do whatever she wants before the next stage of her mysterious training begins and she is officially locked into... Read more »

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9. Fairy or Demon - Part II

It's striking, in all of my reading the fairy lives in this 'in-between' place. Most would say "I have never seen one, but I believe they have a place on this earth.". I'm paraphrasing of course, but that's the gist.

Interesting. There are definitely those who believe in them, and those that do not, but most fall in the middle. The history of fairies is also of that, they are in the middle. Neither heavenly, nor demonic, just either stuck or thrown out and left to hide.

What I Believed


Lady of the Forest
It started as a romance. I was drawn to the beauty and mystical qualities of the fairy. They appeared to be one with nature, dance on air, and talk to animals. As a child I wanted all of this. I was swooned in. As I grew older I discovered their magic, their power, and the mists of Avalon. There was sensuality and mystery.... all that I thought was stronger and more valuable than anything else I had encountered.


When I first experienced magic I was astonished and thought I had the same power that the fairies had. When I believed I could conjure fire in my own hand out of nothing I thought I could BE someone, or something. I truly believed they were all around hiding and waiting to find the right time to reveal themselves to me. I worked so hard to make them think I was worthy enough for them.

I believed fairies were elemental workers of the earth. They were misunderstood, agents for our environment, spoke to us through runes and other natural tools (fire, water, air, stones, etc.). I thought by being an ambassador for them I was helping the earth and thus my own heart. I thought I was fighting for a better place in this world so full of pain, hate, and disregard for the tree spirit I talked to every day at school. I never saw anyone standing up for them quite like the fairies. Of course I sounded crazy to many.

The Reality Sets In


With most of my experiences, when I came into contact with a fairy or spirit, it was unpleasant and always made my depression worse. Something so beautiful didn't prevent me from thoughts and attempts of suicide, they didn't make me feel valued, loved, or gifted. This isn't to blame the craft and to say it caused these, but it didn't help either, and I thought it would.

In my early adult life I was asked many questions about my faery tradition practices and witchcraft. In an attempt to answer, I began to notice how much of a religion it all was, how it was similar to other religions. A group of people, a hierarchy, priests, elders, book of stories, etc. I had myself convinced it was different, but now not so much. I started to attend a church through a relationship and, although I had MANY negative thoughts and accounts about Christians and the religion, I left my heart open. I was desperate, in pain, stuck, and at my lowest. I fled the paganism and jumped on board. How???

Sisters

It's simple, all I wanted was to feel loved, to be an agent of the earth, and to freely use my gift for good. I had seen so many testimonies of the love people felt when they gave their life to God, to Jesus, I wanted it too. In my circles, I saw SO many people depressed, searching but never finding, and always wanting to gain more. In my experience I never met a witch who was at peace with who she was in her heart. I know they are out there, but it made me wonder and question from my own perspective.

Because of the mystery found in fairies and their folklore, I can now enjoy and experience the mystery found in the Bible and in God. Because of the belief I had in something unseen before, I can believe in Jesus. Because of my romantic lure into fairytales, I can read the Bible and see my prince, play the princess, and be the warrior on a horse fighting battles.

What I Believe Now


I was given this imagination from the start. I would run around in the backyard pretending I could talk to animals, connect with a tree and learn it's secrets, and fly. I would imagine running then taking off and flying just to fall asleep each night. I have always been drawn to the world of magic, mystery, and ethereal. So why, then, would that go away the moment I started to follow Jesus?

Why would I be given this imagination only to not use it? To deny it? That doesn't make sense. Not with the God that I know.

Cardinal Fairy
I wrestled with fairies for a long time after I began studying the Bible. There was nothing to guide me away, or anything that alarmingly stood out telling me to stop, drawing fairies. I read once somewhere that Brian Froud put wings on his fairies as an expression to who they were. To their personality. This resonated with me, and it's part of how I see fairies.

They are expressions of the earth, it's elements, it's spirit, and to aid in the belief that there is more out there than what we see. They are part of our imagination to get us wondering, to see outside the box, and to question.

They exist because we want them to exist. Are they as real as the flower I hold? I don't believe they are real like that. But what that flower does to your senses is what I believe a fairy can do, and that is where they are real.

Fairies represent vitality, freedom, expression, the possibilities, the unknown, wonder, beauty, humor, fears, and even what haunts us.

Interestingly fairies are more like a bridge in my opinion. They are that bridge between real and imaginary. They can bring you closer to God BECAUSE you are free to imagine and wonder. They can bring you closer to nature BECAUSE you're gardening to make a creative fairy garden. They can open up possibilities BECAUSE they are the stuff of magic and give us hope.

Angels are referenced as stars throughout the Bible and spirits of light. Fairies are accompanied by auras of light and twinkling 'fairy dust' about them. They are a reminder of my home, heaven, and the imagination God has given.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

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10. Birth of a Morning Glory - Sketch

Slowing getting the hang of these videos. :)


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11. Tea and an Art Thief

Manelle Oliphant Illustration - Illustrator and Writer

Tea and an Art Thief

A Short Story

By Manelle Oliphant

Download this story free by clicking here.

tea-painting-fin-flat

Tiffanie ran into her father’s office and slammed the door. “Father,” she gulped for breath, “quite by chance I’ve found out the information we need.”

Mr. Barton looked up from the documents spread over his desk. Tiffanie held on to the wingback chair across from him with one hand, while she pressed the other into her side. “Just give me a second.” she wheezed, “ran all the way from Aunt Laurena’s … stitch in my side.”

Mr. Barton looked stern. “You know you aren’t supposed to run on the skywalk Tiffanie.”

Tiffanie glanced at her father and slumped down in the chair. She gave him a dismissive wave. “Don’t be silly. You and your men do it all the time.”

“I and my men are police officers. Sometimes we must chase criminals. You are a young lady. If your Aunt Laurena knew how much time you spend here…”

Tiffanie sat up. “Oh tish Aunt Laurena. Don’t you want to hear what I found out at her house today?”

“I hope you don’t use language like that in front of your aunt.”

“Of course not. I hardly get a chance to speak a word around Aunt Laurena, as you well know. Besides that doesn’t matter right now.” Her voice got louder. “Father, not only did I find out the name of our gentleman thief but I also found out when he and his gang are planning to steal the necklace from Leopatra’s tomb.”

Her father looked nonplussed. He planned a sting operation to catch a gang of gentlemen thieves, but had been missing one crucial bit of information. They knew the necklace on display at the national museum was the target, and they knew the gang’s usual methods for stealing objects in similar environments, but despite the many formally worded textograph messages they’d intercepted, he still didn’t know when the gang planned to strike. He cleared his throat. “My apologies dear. Please, do tell me your story.”

“Well, as you know, I was late.”

“You should make an effort to correct that dear.”

Tiffanie sighed. “I sometimes wonder if I accidentally make myself late on purpose, since I never want to be there.”

Mr. Barton’s mouth twitched up at the corner but he managed not to smile. “What does this have to do with your discovery?”

Tiffanie paused. “Sorry, I got off my train. I shall skip to the good bits, shall I?”

Mr. Barton smiled at his daughter. He was used to her somewhat muddled conversation. “Please do.”

“When I arrived I paused on the stoop to catch my breath. I didn’t want to get scolded, for I did run much of the way, and I was positively gasping. That’s when Mrs. Harrison opened the door.

“She looked quite harassed when she said, ‘Miss Barton, you’re here at last.’ So I knew Aunt Laurena must be in a right pickle at me being late. Which, of course, meant we were having tea with a rich and eligible man.

“Harrison took my hat and gloves and sighed with relief. ‘They are in the parlor miss. You best hurry.’

“Her manner made me ever so nervous, and my stomach flopped about as I walked toward the parlor door. The last time she’d looked that fagged, Aunt Laurena introduced me to the fat duke who was at least 40 and kept buying me all those flowers. You remember him Father?”

“Indeed I do. I don’t know what your aunt could have been thinking.”

“She thought he was very rich, as you well know.”

He frowned. “Indeed. Well, was it a fat duke?”

“No. I had a moment to appraise the back of his head and it was quite well formed. Unfortunately, Aunt Laurena sat in her favorite chair where she could see the doorway so I couldn’t lurk for long.  She scowled at me but quickly went into her simpering impress-the-gentleman attitude. You know how she is. ‘Ah, Tiffanie, you are here at last. Come. Sit. Meet our guest.’ She motioned to the sofa’s empty spot right next to the gentleman. I moved forward, but he turned around and about choked on his tea when he saw me. I admit, if I’d been drinking tea at that moment I would’ve had a similar reaction. Instead, I froze in my tracks and made a noise that sounded like Aunt Laurena’s old lapdog.”

“Well, who was it?” Mr. Barton interrupted.

“It was our art thief of course.”

“You’re sure?”

“Quite sure. I have seen him at least two times you know.”

“Yes. Although I don’t know how you seem to be the only one who ever runs into him. Sergeant Beckstand has only glimpsed the back of his head.”

Tiffanie grinned. “Did he tell you it was well formed?”

Mr. Barton smiled at her joke, “I still wonder how you’ve been the only one to see him.”

“You know both times happened by chance. I was in the right place at the right time.”

“Or the wrong place at the wrong time. You shouldn’t have been there at all.”

“Let’s not go into that again Father.  Do you want to learn his name or not?”

Mr. Barton sighed but motioned for his daughter to continue.

“Okay, well, I sat down. All the while Aunt Laurena scolded me for the dog noise. You know how she is. ‘What is the matter with you child? Such unladylike noises. What will our guest think?’

“She, of course, didn’t notice how ‘our guest’ mopped tea off of his tie with her best Egyptian cotton napkins. It was very hard not to laugh, I tell you. Aunt Laurena was trying to marry me off to a criminal who just spilled tea all over himself. If she only knew!

“Eventually she finished her scolding and saw fit to introduce us. ‘Tiffanie dear, this is Mr. Charles Havendish of the Saagford Havendish’s. Mr. Havendish this is my great niece Miss Barton.’”

Mr. Barton smacked the desk with his fist. “Mr. Havendish! I never would’ve guessed. We knew our thief was gentry, but he’s rich as blazes. I assumed it would be a man down on his luck. How did we not see it?”

“Well. I know how I did not see it. I’ve heard of Mr. Havendish of course, but we’ve never been introduced until today.”   

“He recognized you. Do you think he meant to put you on your guard?”

“No, he was as surprised as I. One does not usually spill tea all over one’s self you know.”

Mr. Barton chuckled. “True.” He paused, “Did you not tell me you found out when they plan to steal the necklace? Please continue.”

“Well, after introductions we sat like civilized people to enjoy our tea. Except Mr. Havendish kept smirking at me. It’s a smile that… that just, rankles. If I was a man I would have punched him.”

“You didn’t!”

Tiffanie looked affronted. “Of course not! Not in front of Aunt Laurena. I do have some sense you know.”

“I’m sorry dear. Although, I do wish those young officers had never taught you the finer points of sparing.”

“Well I didn’t punch him. I only thought about it. Which must have shown on my face, because Aunt Laurena said, ‘What is the matter with you child? You will get wrinkles if you constantly furrow your brow like that.’

I would have responded but Mr. Havendish cut me off, ‘You have a nice painting there on your mantel Mrs. Barton. It looks like a Marnet. Is it original?’

“He was obviously sporting with me. When Aunt Laurena turned toward the painting I sent him my most withering stare. He smiled at me over his teacup.

“I declare, Father, I detest the man. He’s an odious person who cased Aunt Laurena’s house right in front of me even though he knows I’m your daughter. Not to mention he kisses people when they least expect it.”

Mr. Barton jumped out of his seat. “What! He kissed you at your aunt’s house. I’ll murder the man!”

Tiffanie started in her seat. She looked a little abashed, “No, of course he didn’t kiss me at Aunt Laurena’s. Where did you get that idea?”

Mr. Barton stared down at his daughter. “Tiffanie, you just said…”

“Did I? No, I don’t think so.” She smiled and looked down at her hands. “Anyway, he did not kiss me at Aunt Laurena’s”

Mr. Barton sat down with a humph and stared across the desk at his daughter. She glanced up, then away.

“So the man did kiss you. When?”

Tiffanie squirmed in her seat. “It’s of no account.”

“When?”

“Well, if you must know it was that first time I saw him, outside the museum. You’d gone inside with your men, while I waited on the skywalk.”

“You told me he ran up with the package under his arm, doffed his hat in your direction and ran on.”

“Well he did, but between the doffing and running, he kissed me.”

“And you have been protecting him!”

“I have not been protecting him, I’ve been helping you to catch him. Have I not? Besides I didn’t want you to overreact.”

“I am not overreacting. You are my daughter and despite some of your boyish tendencies, and my work here you are a lady of good birth. I will not have you treated thus.”

Tiffanie huffed but after a pause she grinned. “Well, I suppose we better catch him then.”

“Yes, I suppose we’d better.” He shrugged a hand in her direction. “Finish your story.”

“Thank you.” Tiffanie sat back in her chair. “We talked about the painting for a while. Luckily it wasn’t a Marnet, but one of his unknown students. So Aunt Laurena’s house is safe for now. After another bit of chitchat Harrison entered with a note on a tray. She held it out to Havendish. ‘Pardon me, Sir. This message just come for you on the textograph.’

“Havendish read the message and looked pleased. Then he looked at me, and winked! I glared at him. I had to see what that note said. He placed the note in his pocket, stood up, and said. ‘I’m sorry to say I’ll have to cut our tea short today.’ He bowed at us in turn, ‘It was enchanting to meet you Miss Barton, Mrs. Barton.’

“That’s when I made my move. As he walked past me I stood as well. We collided and there was a bit of a scuffle as he tried to extract himself.” Tiffanie giggled.  “You should have seen me. I was at my best. ‘Oh! Mr. Havendish, I do apologize. Let me get that for you.’ and I made sure to brush lots of imaginary crumbs off of his jacket. Eventually he made his escape, and I got what I wanted!”

At this last statement Tiffanie held out a scrap of textograph paper.    

Mr. Barton grinned. “That’s my girl! Got the message off him then?”

Tiffanie nodded.

He took the paper and read it’s contents. “Invitations received and all have RSVP. We are ready for tonight.”

“They plan to hit the museum tonight!” Mr. Barton jumped up. “Why didn’t you say so at once, Tiffanie dear?” He bustled around his desk, grabbed his hat, and ran out of his office yelling, “Operation Gentle-thief is a go. We must act fast. They strike tonight!”  His voice had changed. When talking to Tiffanie he was a doting father. Now he was the Chief of Police commanding his men. Tiffanie followed after him. She planned on being present when they arrested Mr. Havendish.

•••

Tiffanie stood around the corner from the museum with Officer Jensen, her glorified nursemaid. She could give him the slip, but she knew when her father found out it would mean more teas with Aunt Laurena.

She’d sneaked into a cruiser with two younger officers but Mr. Barton caught her before she could follow them inside. So, instead of being part of the excitement she waited, feeling huffy. She found the clue, why should she not be present at the arrest?

Whistles and yelling came from the museum’s direction. A man ran around the corner being chased by a group of officers. Officer Jensen blew his whistle and raced forward. The man saw him coming and dodged around him.  This brought him quite close to Tiffanie. She drew her fist back and brought it forward turning it over at the last second like she’d been taught. The man doubled over, and Tiffanie saw the back of Mr. Havendish’s well-formed head. She’d punched him square in the stomach. He was still gasping as his hands were cuffed and he was shoved into a cruiser.

For a few minutes there was still some commotion as the rest of the gang was apprehended. Once all the thieves were secure Mr. Barton pushed through the crowd of officers to his daughter. “Well done my girl! We caught them red handed. I take back my words earlier. I’m grateful those officers taught you to punch so well. Officer Jensen will take you home now.”

Tiffanie started to protest but Mr. Barton cut her off. “No arguments or I’ll tell your aunt what you’ve been up to.” Her shoulders slumped but she didn’t argue. He kissed the top of her head and left to arrange their caravan back to the station.

Tiffanie looked through the window at Mr. Havendish. When they made eye contact he grinned, gave her a respectful nod, and winked.

Tiffanie stared open mouthed as the cruiser pulled away from the skywalk. She expected a humbled man, who’d been punched by a girl, but he was just as cocky as ever. She smiled to herself. This game wasn’t over yet.

The End

If you enjoyed this story learn how you can support the creation of more like it at www.patreon.com/manelleoliphant

Manelle Oliphant Patreon

The post Tea and an Art Thief appeared first on Manelle Oliphant Illustration.

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12. Super Quick Reviews on RED QUEEN and SEEKER

Reviews by Andye RED QUEENRed Queen #1by Victoria AveyardHardcover: 400 pagesPublisher: HarperTeen (February 10, 2015)Language: EnglishGoodreads | Amazon Mare Barrow's world is divided by blood—those with common, Red blood serve the Silver- blooded elite, who are gifted with superhuman abilities. Mare is a Red, scraping by as a thief in a poor, rural village, until a twist of fate throws her

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13. 2015 Caldecott Awards: a terrific range & selection of books!!! (ages 4-14, yes really!!)

This year's Caldecott Committee broke boundaries by including a graphic novel for young teens among their seven (7!!) books awarded honors. This selection of picture books, meaning books told with and through pictures, serves a wide range of children -- from preschoolers who will adore Dan Santat's Beekle, to teens who are the perfect audience for Jillian and Mariko Tamaki's graphic novel This One Summer.

Before I get any further, if you're considering This One Summer for your child, please learn about it before you order it. I genuinely recommend this for kids who are 13 and 14, but not for elementary students. Skip down to the end if you're specifically looking for information about this book.

The 2015 Caldecott Award for the most distinguished American picture book goes to:

Dan Santat, the author and illustrator of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend. This delightful story has charmed our young students at Emerson, with Santat's special message about loneliness, imagination and finding your own special, true friend.

My students are huge fans of Dan Santat's and will be thrilled to see this picture book, which comes so much from Dan's heart, honored and celebrated. Dan truly captures so much of what children value in this world -- playfulness, fun and friendship with an incredible eye and vivid imagination. Perfect for preschoolers, but enjoyed by older kids as well (ages 3-9).

Six (!!) Caldecott Honor Awards were given:

Nana in the City, by Lauren Castillo, captures the relationship between a young boy and his grandmother, as she helps him overcome his fears by listening, understanding and helping him. I especially love how his nana never scolds him, but rather emotionally comes to where this little guy is. Another truly special book, perfect for kids ages 3-6.

The Noisy Paint Box, illustrated by Mary GrandPré and written by Barb Rosenstock, conveys the way abstract artist Vasily Kandinsky experienced colors as sounds and sounds as colors. It's fascinating--this picture book biography didn't appeal to me right away (I brought too many grown-up questions to it), but my 5th grader found it fascinating and the art captivating. Kandinsky listens as “swirling colors trill…like an orchestra tuning up,” and GrandPré shows him lifting his paintbrush much like a conductor. A fascinating intersection of art and music, for ages 6-10.


Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, illustrated by Jon Klassen and written by Mac Barnett, is another huge kid favorite at Emerson precisely because it makes kids laugh and wonder at the same time. Sam and Dave are indeed digging a whole, as you can see on the cover, and they are determined not to stop until they find "something spectacular." What I love best about it is the respect Klassen and Barnett have for kids who love to puzzle over things and think about questions that don't have easy answers, or necessarily ANY answers. They're totally comfortable with that uncertainty, something grownups often forget. Kids from 4 to 10 have loved this.

Viva Frida, by Yuyi Morales, made me gasp in wonder the very first time I saw it -- and it's had the same effect on children and adults alike. Just look at the colors on the cover -- but then open, and you enter the dreamlike world that Morales creates, combining handmade puppets and carefully crafted stage sets. Morales conveys a sense of an artists' world, and how one artist infuses another artists' dreams and spirit. While this isn't a biography at all, it is an incredible testament to the artistic spirit that appeals to the very young as well as older readers who can put it into more context (ages 3-12).

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus, illustrated by Melissa Sweet and written by Jen Bryant. I adore this utterly splendid book that tells the life of Peter Roget and the creation of his thesaurus. Sweet uses playful illustrations to draw children into young Peter's life, showing them how he loved lists of words and discovered that words had power, especially when gathered together and organized in interesting ways. This is a book children will enjoy pouring over again and again, noticing more details each time. I particularly love showing kids (ages 6-10) the ways science, language and art intersect.

This One Summer, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki and written by Mariko Tamaki. This fantastic graphic novel eloquently captures young teens on the cusp of adolescence, as they spend the summer together. For the first time, the Caldecott Committee said, YES, the illustrations in a graphic novel is a true form of art, one that is vitally essential to the story. It is utterly ground-breaking and I am so happy.

This book speaks to young teens about the way friendships change as they enter the murky waters of adolescence. Rose is so happy to spend the summer once again with her friend Windy, but she rejects many of their past activities as too childish and yearns to mimic the older teens in this beach town. I like the way Kirkus sums it up: "The realistic dialogue and sensitive first-person narration convey Rose’s naïveté and confusion, and Windy’s comfort in her own skin contrasts with Rose’s uncertainty." Teen pregnancy, gossip and a parent's depression all wind their way through this story. I've found it speaks well to young teens, ages 13-15.

Please seek out and share these books with kids in your life. They are each truly special. Early review copies were kindly sent by the publishers Little, Brown, Random House, Candlewick, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Macmillan and Eerdmans. We have purchased additional copies for our school library and classrooms, and we will continue purchasing more for gifts. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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14. And Now For Something Completely Different: BOOK OF EARTH

You know how I’ve been writing contemporary all these years?

I’ve secretly always been a medieval warrior girl in my heart.

Time to see what that’s all about.

Book of Earth

One rash act: anything to finally protect herself from her mother’s abuse.

One rash act: and young Bradamante unlocks a future where she’s destined to become a warrior.

With the help of a mystical teacher, Bradamante and her brother Rinaldo learn the skills they’ll need to survive in a brutal kingdom. They’ll also learn that destiny can demand giving up the one that you love.

Loyalty and betrayal, danger and triumph, the magic of mystics—

The Bradamante saga begins.

BOOK OF EARTH, coming February 14, 2015. It’s my Valentine’s Day present to you.

You can pre-order it for the special price of $2.99 from:
Kindle
iBooks
Kobo
Barnes & Noble (link to come)
Scribd (link to come)
Page Foundry (link to come)

Want to know more? Read the opening chapters here.

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15. 2015 Mock Newbery discussions at Emerson, part 7: OUR WINNERS! + GIVEAWAY!!!

It's been an exciting journey with our students, reading and discussing what they think the most distinguished books for children have been in 2014. My students know their voices and opinions are valued--and that's made a huge difference to them. But even more than that, they've had a great time sharing their ideas with each other.

As a special celebration, I'm hosting a giveaway of one of these titles of your choosing. Please see below for full details!


The winner for the 2015 Mock Newbery at Emerson School is The Crossover, by Kwame Alexander. 

Students passionately argued that The Crossover was not just a book they loved, but the writing distinguished and distinctive. They shared examples about the characters, the plot and the language. Students from all sorts of different backgrounds connected to the themes and language in The Crossover. This is not just a sports book, but rather a book that operates on a multitude of levels. I think most of all, they responded Kwame Alexander's voice, in the way he both riffed on rap style but also wove deeper issues that made kids pause and think.

We celebrated three honor books that all received more votes than the rest of the titles. The three honor books for 2015 Mock Newbery at Emerson are:
The Swap, by Megan Shull -- a book that resonated emotionally with many students, because it captured some of the inner and social pressures kids feel today. The followed the complex plot, and found the voices clear and consistent. I especially appreciated the nuanced gender roles -- some typical for boys and girls, some less expected.
The Snicker of Magic, by Natalie Lloyd -- students responded to the lovely language, the heartfelt themes and the magical fantasy in Lloyd's debut novel. They understood how hard it was for Felicity to move every time things started to get tough for her mom. They could feel how important words were to Felicity. And they could see Felicity growing throughout the story.
The Fourteenth Goldfish, by Jennifer L. Holm -- it was wonderful to see how students responded to the layers of science, fantasy and family. There was just the right amount of depth to draw students in, but never overwhelm them. That balance takes incredible skill; Holm creates thought-provoking situations without making readers feel like they're being led into a discussion. Our readers responded to the humor, the heart and the love in this story.

Will any of these win the 2015 Newbery Medal? We'll all find out on Monday, February 2nd when the winners are announced in Chicago at the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting. You can follow the live webcast here early Monday morning.

I'll be spending the weekend with my library "book friends", talking about favorite books we've read and new books we're looking forward reading this year. These four special books will certainly be ones I'll be sharing--because my students' excitement is contagious!

GIVEAWAY: As a special celebration, I would like to send one of these titles to a classroom or school library as a way to share a love of books. Please fill out the Rafflecopter below. Giveaway rulles are simple:
  1. Giveaway ends Thursday 2/5 at 12am Pacific.
  2. Winners must be to the United States shipping address.
  3. Kids & parents may enter, and present the gift to a teacher or school library.
a Rafflecopter giveaway


I want to give a special thanks to all the publishers who supported our book club by sending review copies. It made our small adventure possible. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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16. Magic Tree House Super Edition #1: Danger in the Darkest Hour by Mary Pope Osborne, illustrated by Sal Murdocca

One warm June day, Jack and Annie, siblings living in Frog Creek, PA, receive a message via carrier pigeon.  The message is from their friend Teddy, asking them to come to Glastonbury, England immediately, their help is needed.

When Jack and Annie arrive in Glastonbury, they are met by Teddy who tells them they have arrived on June 4, 1944, two days before the D-Day invasion at Normandy, France by the Allies forces and the beginning of the end for the Nazis.

Teddy and Kathleen, who iare really young enchanters from Camelot, have been made agents in the Special Operations Executive (SOE) by Winston Churchill to do undercover work in countries occupied by the Nazis.  But now, Kathleen is still in Normandy, France and needs to be rescued, but they only clues to her whereabouts is a coded riddle she sent Teddy by carrier pigeon.

Jack and Annie's job is to parachute into France and find Kathleen within 24 hours - they need to be gone by the time the invasion begins.  Jack and Annie are told to try to find members of the French Resistance to help them, but to avoid the Nazis, who are everywhere.  But when they land in a French field, they are spotted and chased by Nazis using a dog.  Jack and Annie hide in a barn, calm the dog down and are found by a man and his wife, whose sons were members of the Resistance.

The couple feeds them, and help to figure out the riddle from Kathleen, then they give Jack and Annie two bikes and some money, and send them on their way.  The road to Kathleen is fraught with both friend and foe, but eventually the two find her and now, they must figure out how to get her back to England. It seems Teddy forgot to give them the magic wand Kathleen needs, since her innate magic seems to have disappeared.  Not only that, but Kathleen has acquired some fellow travelers she is determined to get out of France, a group of very young Jewish orphans, which means a bigger, more noticeable plane will be needed for the rescue.  Oh yes, and a large vehicle to get all of them to the pickup point.  And there is only a few hours left before the invasion begins, with all its bombing and shooting.

Can everyone be rescued in time and will Jack and Annie find their way back to Frog Creek?

This is an interesting chapter book.  It is longer than the previous Magic Tree House books and the subject matter is much darker.  And since the magic wand was forgotten, Jack, Annie and Kathleen have to rely on their own skills to solve problems and figure out how to escape France before the invasion.

Osborne gently introduces the reader to Hitler and the Nazis, and though she never uses the word Holocaust, Teddy does tell Jack and Annie that "[the Nazis] have killed countless innocent civilians, including millions of Jewish people." (pg 25)  This may sound a little watered down, but consider the age of the reader and that for many this may very well be an introduction to that "darkest hour" of modern history.

i didn't expect to really like this book, but I did.  With a willing suspension of disbelief, I found the story compelling and exciting, and I felt it was very clear that Osborne is comfortable with her characters and knows her audience.  Things do work out nicely in the end, which is OK when you have magic on your side (and yes, there was some surprising magic used in the end).

At the back of the book, there is a "Track the Facts Behind Jack and Annie's Mission" that includes lots of information ranging from the use of pigeons in war, the German Enigma machine, and other interesting facts, all age appropriately described.

Besides the colorful cover illustration, showing Jack, in all his fear, and sister Annie parachuting into France, there are some wonderful black and white double page illustrations throughout the book, all done by Magic Tree House illustrator Sal Murdocca.

I have to confess, I have never read a Magic Tree House book before this.  Sure, my Kiddo and all her cousins read and loved them when they were in elementary school.  So did the kids in my classes, which made me happy since most of them were not yet reading at grade level.  But I did hear Mary Pope Osborne speak at a BEA Children's Author Breakfast one year, so I knew that author Mary Pope Obsorne is a very generous donor of her books to kids who might not otherwise get copies of them.  And I could help but wonder how many kids have become readers thanks to the Magic Tree House books?

You can read a two chapter sample of Danger in the Darkest Hour HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 7+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL

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17. 2015 Mock Newbery discussions at Emerson, part 6: The Swap, The Witch's Boy + The Zoo at the Edge of the World

“Isn't it odd how much fatter a book gets when you've read it several times?" Mo had said..."As if something were left between the pages every time you read it." -- Cornelia Funke, Inkspell
When our students look back on our Mock Newbery discussions from this year, they will see parts of themselves in the books they loved and championed. Each book appealed to different readers -- and that's something the Newbery committee wrestles with as well. How do you clearly evaluate the art while acknowledging the personal response? Our discussions just started to dig into this topic, but they helped students listen to each other and consider all that goes into selecting the ultimate award-winning books.
The Swap
by Megan Shull
Katherine Tegan / HarperCollins, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-13
Ellie and Jack might look like they each have everything going for them, but they're each struggling on the inside. When they bump into each other on the first day of school and magically switch bodies, they're forced to see life from a different perspective. While the premise might seem familiar to adults, my students found it compelling and well-written.
"Megan Shull described the setting really well because I felt like I was in the story. I could totally imagine where they would be. Once, when the two characters were switched and the boy was at soccer practice with the girls' team, I could imagine being on the field practicing."
"Oh, and I remember how they were at the swimming pool in the very beginning and Ellie's friend was so mean to her."
Shull creates characters and social situations that my students understood because they were so familiar. From sleepover party dramas to friendship issues, our readers saw elements from their own lives. Emily said,
"The Swap was awesome! The characters were super strong. I could feel that they were actually real people.... The girl was being bullied but when she switches bodies with a boy, he helps her with it."
It was interesting how none of the kids found it difficult to keep track of which character was talking -- they could really feel and understand the nuances in the characterization. I saw the ending as a bit too predictable, but my students focused on the emotional journey and resolution for the two main characters.
The Witch's Boy
by Kelly Barnhill
Algonquin, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-12
Students were drawn into Barnhill's the fantasy world in The Witch's Boy by Ned's journey to stop the coming war and make sure that magic is used wisely and justly. As Alessandra said, it has something for all types of readers. Those who want adventure will like the danger and obstacles Ned and Aine face. Readers who want fantasy will like the magic, the talking stones, the moving forest. But, as Alessandra notes,
"The author did a good job making sure there was friendship and some sadness, weaving in different kinds of stories so different kinds of readers would like it."
As I think back on The Witch's Boy, I think that this is certainly a book that would benefit from another rereading. I could tell that students responded to the themes of courage, justice and inner-strength, but we didn't have enough time to really talk fully about these.
The Zoo at the Edge of the World
by Eric Kahn Gale
Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 8-12
Our 4th graders were especially excited to recommend The Zoo at the Edge of the World to one another. "If you like animals, you'll love this book," said Claire in her nomination. I was happy to include an action-packed adventure in our selection. However, students did not end up citing it during our final discussions.

Students like the development of Marlin's character, as he discovered his ability to speak directly with the animals even though he stuttered so badly that he couldn't speak to other people. I was concerned by the characterizations of the zoo employees who were native to British Guiana. They were never fully developed, but rather used as a contrast to Marlin and his father. I think students really responded to Gale's exploration of treatment of animals in captivity.

The review copies came from our school library and my personal collection. Review copies were also kindly sent by HarperCollins. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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18. The Daily Sketch

Yesterday I started a new semester at The Des Moines Art Center, teaching teens fantasy art. I've taught there for over a decade now ( O_O ) and I tried something I've never done before! It was super fun too, at least it got more interaction and conversation from the teens than usual.

I made three categories: symbol/animal/fantasy figure

There were ten in each category, folded up and placed in three cups. The kids divided a large sheet of drawing paper into eight sections and then drew whatever I pulled from the cups. Finally they picked one they liked and elaborated for the final.

I didn't draw with them during the eight, but I did sit and draw with them during the final. My personal favorite was

leaf + rabbit + elf



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Although I didn't get to draw this weekend, here are a few highlights from around our home.


Little bird added to our bathroom, next to his new buddy the Goldfinch.


New amazing rug found on craigslist for the living room. In LOVE!

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19. It's Monday + Weekend Round Up


I believe this Martin Luther King Jr. quote is as true for the inside of ourselves as it is for the outside to others. We must drive out the darkness within our minds, and love ourselves. Thank you Dr. King for so many inspiring words and faith.

This past weekend was a whirl wind of a time! We did so much, that by Sunday I was tired enough to sleep through Norah waking up from her nap. Who knows how long she was in her crib playing before she finally started to let me know she wasn't happy there. I find these are the times I learn the most about myself, because they are also when I'm my weakest, most vulnerable, and busiest. Do you ever have weekends like that?

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It's a new week though, with new thoughts, new perspectives, and new schedules! I have discovered that every week is different with my schedule, time to  E • M • B • R • A • C • E  it! 



I tried something new this morning, I tried some meditative prayer. Like most women, my mind is always moving. Surprisingly it stayed pretty clear, and I think I caught myself drifting to sleep a couple of times (sitting up in the studio). Since then I've been very calm, and I knew I needed to get it down on paper, so I began this drawing. I look forward to working on her throughout the week during these times of peace every morning.

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After that first nap I give Norah all of my attention. We played around and got to ride on the dragon in the studio. It's so special to have her in the studio with me, even if I'm not working. I remember spending many days and nights in my dad's studio, and I wish the same for her.


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I struggled with my daily sketches these last few days. To find the joy and the motivation to draw when so drained is like pulling teeth for me. I feel like Tinkerbell, only able to handle one emotion at a time, except it's more than just emotions, but actions too. I did it, and I'm proud of myself for getting them done. It's okay to not be elaborate, or detailed, or whatever else I think I HAVE to be. Sometimes, just a simple sketch is all there needs to be.



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20. Another Series That Ends Well

I got the last Skulduggery Pleasant book, The Dying of the Light by Derek Landy, in from England a few months ago. I didn't rush to read it, because I'd found the last few Skulduggeries a little slow and long. Not this one. This one moved along, I kept wanting to find more time to read it, and I would have been happy to have read still another book about the bony one.

The last few books, including this one, jumped around with points of view. With the other books, I felt that slowed everything. With this one, not so much. I began to feel with this book that when you're using multiple points of view in a book, the book may not be one person's story as much as it is the story of some kind of event in which many people have a point. That was a bit of what was going on here. Instead of being just Valkyrie Cain's story (these books have never really been about Skulduggery Pleasant), The Dying of the Light is the story of how a group of magical folk battle the seemingly unbeatable Darquesse. Valkyrie is a significant part of that, but it's not just her, which is why the point of view switches seemed workable.

Two particularly interesting bits:
  • Every now and then, the scene in Dying of the Light switches to what appears to be a totally different story involving an unnamed Irish woman in the U.S., a mortal, and a couple of evil types we know from an earlier book. Oh, and a dog. We're not even sure who the woman is until the end. This is the kind of thing that I would usually become very impatient with. I loved it. Who is she? What's going on here? And when?
  • Unlike many fantasy authors, Landy addresses the issue of Christianity. As in, if there is a magical world with gods, as there is in the Skulduggery Pleasant universe (most are insane and Valkyrie has punched one), what about the Judeo-Christian concept of God? I've wondered about that with, say, the Percy Jackson books. If the Greek gods are real, does that mean Baby Jesus isn't? In The Dying of the Light that issue is discussed. "Is there a God?" Valkyrie's mother asks Skulduggery. And her uncle says, "My wife and I go to mass every Sunday...Don't you sit there and tell me there's no God." And Skulduggery doesn't. He just can't tell him that there is.
So, great stuff in this book, which I'll be passing on to my niece. Sigh. We've finished our series. What's next for us?

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21. December 2014 Sketchbook

Manelle Oliphant Illustration - Illustrator and Writer

At the beginning of December I wrote this post about sketchbook inspiration.  In December I committed to draw a sketch every day, and I sketched with a theme. This is me checking in to tell you how it went.

December Sketchbook Favorites

December Sketchbook Favorites

First of all I have to give a shoutout to my friends Jen and Shawna. They were my accountability partners for this project. We texted or email every day to make sure we were all sketching. This was really helpful for me. I hope it was for them as well. If you take on a project like this I recommend getting some friends involved to keep you on track.

I picked the theme fantasy land creatures and wanted to work on my gestures and expressions. I also ended up making some of my sketches into watercolors. It was a fun way to practice keeping my watercolors loose and free. I goal I also had when I was making my Six Swans illustration. 

Mostly though, I just kept to old fashion sketching. The image above has a few of my favorite sketches from the month.

I put all of my December sketches plus a few bonus images which fit the theme into a downloadable 15 page PDF. It’s $1.99 to download in my store. If you are one of my patrons you can download it for free by following this link. Just a small way for me to say thanks for your support.

December 2014 Sketchbook Cover

Dragon walk and Napping Fawn are some of the watercolors I did during the month. They are available as a prints. If you’d like to hang one on your wall you can order one by clicking on the image.

napping-fawn-print dragon-walk-print

Overall I think the project was a success.

 

The post December 2014 Sketchbook appeared first on Manelle Oliphant Illustration.

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22. 2015 Mock Newbery discussions at Emerson, part 2: The Crossover + Dash + The Fourteenth Goldfish

Our students have had passionate, thoughtful conversations all year, recommending books to one another, considering which book they liked and why it resonated with them. Throughout, we talked about the key components of literature and storytelling: character development, plot and pacing, setting, language and themes.

Ever since I first shared Kwame Alexander's The Crossover with Emerson students, it was clear that this book spoke to our students in a unique way. It's been fascinating listening to kids talk about why.

The Crossover
by Kwame Alexander
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014
my full review
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-14
From the very first page, the language of The Crossover pulls young readers right into the rhythm and feelings of a fast-moving basketball game. Just look at the opening lines and you can see the combination of basketball terms, rhythm and rhyme, and downright attitude.
"At the top of the key, I'm
              MOVING AND GROOVING,
POPping and ROCKING--
Why you BUMPING?
              Why you LOCKING?
Man, take this THUMPING,
Be careful though,
'cause now I'm CRUNKING"
As Norah said, "It's not quite rhyming, but it's almost like rap, like a song." Mahari added that he likes the form of poetry: "It made it more interesting for me as a reader. The language conveyed the character's feelings." Norah added that it isn't just printed normal on the page. Kids really noticed that the way the words are arranged enhanced the way language conveyed both character's feelings and the author's message.

Other students commented on the character development in The Crossover. Maddy said that she "felt like she was there with the characters at every move" (that word choice seemed so appropriate to me, since there's so much movement in this story). Kids could really see twin brothers Josh & J.B. as distinct characters and relate to the tension between them. Madeline added that she felt their father was a very detailed character, because Alexander showed how much he loved basketball but how he also really loved his family.

I asked students if they felt that they could see what was coming (in other words, was the plot too obvious?), and they really felt like they were right there with the characters. While some might have had an idea of the foreshadowing, they really didn't notice the signs that the mother was concerned about the father's health -- certainly not the way adult readers would notice.

Several students commented on how The Crossover made them think a little more about what they were reading. They liked how the titles of the poems related to the themes and the plot--giving them a sense and focus. Several other students talked about how they had to take a second, reread a passage and ask what the author was really saying. I think this attests to Alexander's nuanced, layered language.

Historical fiction often draws the attention of the Newbery committee, and I was happy to see students respond so passionately to Kirby Larson's story about Japanese internment during World War II. "Dash is one of the best books I have ever read!"
Dash
by Kirby Larson
Scholastic, 2014
my full review
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-12
Here's Abby's recommendation from early September: "If you like dogs a lot, you'd probably love it. If you like books with hardship and struggle, you'll probably like it. It's also heartfelt, with a lot of love. Every single chapter keeps you hanging." She passionately shared this book all year long.

Right from the beginning, young readers relate to how alone Mitsi feels when her friends start avoiding her -- all because of something that happened in a war far, far away. Larson creates a unique, distinctive character, but focuses on elements that many readers can relate to. Just as I write that sense, I realize what a tricky balance that is!
"The author describes Mitsi's emotions so well, her love of being an artists and her talents and passion. She brings out who she is and who she wants to be. I could imagine what she looks like and what she's feeling at the moment."
Abby said, "The setting and details of the characters and their experiences were amazing. I could picture it like a movie in my mind---they should make a movie of it!" I would agree with Abby, especially noting the way I could picture the different camps in my mind and how the harsh conditions made life so much more difficult for Mitsi's family.
Mitsi Shiraishi and her beloved dog, Chubby -- inspirations for Dash
I was particularly moved reading in Kirby Larson's blog this letter from Louise Kashino, who endured experiences similar to Mitsi's:
I read DASH and poured over every sentence inasmuch as I was 16 when we were incarcerated on May, 1942. My family was assigned to Area D inside the Puyallup Fairgrounds, where our barrack among others was built inside the racing grounds. I don't know who guided you through the whole incarceration, but you did an excellent job of describing the experiences for someone like me. I also relocated to Chicago and eventually returned to Seattle, so again, your description of the whole movement brought back many memories. Thank you for your accurate descriptions of our experience to give the general public an insight into what we experienced during our incarceration.
We had a rousing discussion about The Fourteenth Goldfish, with students arguing on both sides of the fence. It had real supporters and others who just weren't drawn into it.
The Fourteenth Goldfish
by Jennifer L. Holm
Random House, 2014
my full review
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-12
Overall, my students loved Jennifer Holm's blend of realistic relationships, humor and science with a touch of fantasy. Maisy said, "It's a really good book because it has lots of science, but not too much so you can't understand it." I am impressed with how well Holm understands her audience, adding in just enough layering of science to introduce students to the history of science and scientific thinking without overwhelming young readers.

Some students really enjoyed the fantasy elements. Talia noted that it reminded her of Tuck Everlasting. But other students found it a little confusing, especially at the beginning when Ellie is figuring out that this teenager is actually her grandfather.

I would actually venture to guess that the students who liked it were drawn in by the themes of the story -- the idea that you can figure out a solution, that things are possible if you work at a creative solution, and the idea that grandparents and grandchildren actually have a lot more in common if they could only discover a little more about each other as real people.

The review copies came from my home collection and our library collection and our classroom collections. Early review copies were also kindly sent by the publishers: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Scholastic, and Random House. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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23. Ghosts of War: The Secret of Midway by Steve Watkins

When Anderson, 12, and his friend Greg decided to start a band, they were given permission to practice in a basement room at his Uncle Dex's junkshop, provided they clear it out themselves.  Alone in the room, Anderson notices an old military trunk with a strange glow to it.  He finds an old Navy peacoat in it that he decides to keep.  Inside the coat pocket, is an old letter and when he pulls it out, he hears a voice saying "that's mine."

Later that night, the voice materializes in Anderson's bedroom.  It belongs to a young World War II sailor who doesn't seem to remember who he is or what happened to him and has been living in a kind of limbo since the war. Anderson is understandably freaked.

The next day, while discussing with Greg the possibility of adding keyboard player Julie Kobayashi to the band, Anderson's ghost appears in the cafeteria.  And it seems that Greg and Julie can both see him.  Pretty soon, the trio decides to help their ghost find out about himself.  Anderson tracks down the recipient of the old letter he found in the peacoat.  It turns out to be an old girlfriend, Betty Corbett,  who tells them their ghost is named William Foxwell, that he went missing in action on a ship in the Pacific Ocean and presumed dead.  Later, she married William's friend and they named their son after him.

One helpful clue about William is the mention of the Battle of the Coral Sea in his letter.  Anderson and his Uncle Dex both are history buffs, and Uncle Dex knows all about this battle.  Little by little, Anderson, Greg and Julie begin to piece together that particulars of William's life in the Navy, and as they do, William begins to remember things as well.

All of this is taking time and it seems that William is having a harder and harder time materializing and is, in fact, beginning to fade away again.  Then, matters get more complicated when a Japanese sailor who has been keeping a secret about William and the Battle of Midway for 70 years refuses to tell them what really happened.

Will Anderson, Greg and Julie be able to solve the mystery surrounding William's death in time for him to find eternal peace?

Ghosts of War: The Secret of Midway is a short but exciting mystery, one that will definitely appeal to boys as well as girls.  The mystery is historically based, so there is lots of information about the two battles mentioned and what being caught in the middle of war is really like.  But we also see how the war impacted everyone, including those like Betty Corbett on the home front.

Besides William's story, we also learn about Anderson and Greg's life, but not so much about Julie's yet.  Anderson's mother suffers from Multiple Sclerosis and is often in pain and tired.  His dad works long hours and Anderson frequently comes home and makes his mom some dinner.  Greg's dad is a binge alcoholic with a short temper.  When things get bad, Greg sneaks out of the house and stays with Anderson.

And, of course, because they are sixth-graders in a junior high school, there are bullies to contend with. All of this makes for a well rounded story and gives depth to the characters, who, I assume, we will get to know better and better.  Ghosts of War: The Secret of Midway is the first in a series of books, and yes, you guessed it, they all begin with the mysterious glowing military trunk.

This is a great book for kids who like history, especially military history, but even if history isn't their thing, it's still an exciting read.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, Scholastic

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24. 2015 Mock Newbery discussions at Emerson, part 4: Magic in the Mix + Nest + The Night Gardener

getting ready for book club -- each week, I took notes
What draws us into great stories? Is it the chance to see a glimpse of ourselves in other people? Is it getting lost in another world, so far from our own? Or maybe it's getting swept away by an exciting plot, full of suspense and danger. As we met each week, I loved listening to my students recommending books to one another each week during our book club lunches, hearing what they loved and what captured their interest.
Magic in the Mix
by Annie Barrows
Bloomsbury, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 8-12
Many kids are drawn to stories with characters that inspire them because of their courage and bravery. Molly and Miri return from The Magic Half, but they are the only ones in their family who know that they haven't always been twin sisters. Molly and Miri's brothers always annoy them, but when the brothers stumble through the time portal that Molly and Miri have opened, the twin sisters know that it's up to them to rescue their brothers.

Our 4th and 5th graders all commented about how much they could imagine these characters, how the story pulled them through, and how they liked the mix of time-travel fantasy and historical fiction.
"I liked learning a little bit about the Civil War, but not too much."
"I could really see Molly and Miri and how brave they were helping their brothers."
"When they were scared, walking through the forest, I could feel like I was right there."
In the end, Magic in the Mix was read and enjoyed by many students (our two copies have circulated 25 times already!), but it didn't rise to the top of many final voting lists.
Nest
by Esther Ehrlich
Wendy Lamb / Random House, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 10-14
Eleven-year-old Naomi "Chirp" Orenstein is devoted to her mother, but life starts to fall apart when Chirp's mother is hospitalized for depression. When I first read Nest, I wasn't sure if it was right for an elementary school library, but several of my early readers were adamant that it was an amazing book that should be in our library. Angel and Corina wrote in their nomination,
"It's not a happily ever book, but it shows how much a girl and her family care and love each other after various tragedies.They may not end up with a perfect life but I found it was even better that way."
Nest is suited for students who like heartfelt stories that linger with you. Some students who like realistic fiction could tell that it was too sad, and stopped reading. Speaking with middle school librarians, it's finding a wider audience there. This is definitely a story that makes readers think long after they've turned the last page. What I loved about my students' reactions is how much they related to Chirp's inner strength as she copes with her mother's illness.
The Night Gardener
by Jonathan Auxier
Amulet / Abrams, 2014
my full review
Your local library
Amazon
ages 10-14
Students who read The Night Gardener held it up as an example for masterful plot, setting and character development. "I could see how the tree was built right into the house," said Amelie. "I really imagine the house, seeing how it was old now, but also how it used to be." The setting was integral to creating the frightening tone for the story, especially the suspense that kept students reading. Kaiyah specifically mentioned that she felt right in the forest when Molly and Kip were in their wagon heading toward the Windsor's estate.
friends discussing books for Emerson's Mock Newbery
It's interesting -- I think both The Night Gardener and Nest might be seen as "more appropriate" for middle school students, but are ones that my students advocated strongly for including in our library. They are both emotionally intense stories, but I've found that students will stop reading them if they aren't ready for them. Both have depths in their treatment of different themes that I would love to talk more about with small groups, and both would stand up well to rereading. I was very happy to see both of these excellent books part of our discussion.

The review copies came from my home collection and our library collection. Early review copies were also kindly sent by the publishers, Abrams and Bloomsbury. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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25. 2015 Mock Newbery discussions at Emerson, part 5: Nuts to You, The Red Pencil + Snicker of Magic

Listening and sharing ideas in our Mock Newbery discussions
In our Mock Newbery book club, students were able to choose which books they wanted to read. In order to vote, they had to read five or more of the nominated titles. I wanted to give them freedom to choose what to read, but I also really enjoyed listening to them recommend titles to one another. We had informal book club meetings once a week for lunch in the library, and then we met in January for our final discussions. Many students chose to read today's three books--I hope I can capture some of their comments.
Nuts to You
by Lynne Rae Perkins
Greenwillow / HarperCollins, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 8-11
Right from the beginning, students started talking about how Nuts to You was both funny and full of adventure. After a hawk captures the unsuspecting squirrel Jed, his friends TsTs and Chai are sure that he's still alive. They set off following a trail of "buzzpaths" and "frozen spiderwebs" (electrical lines and utility towers) to rescue him. I love that the kids responded to the satirical footnotes and twists in language. Just take this example from near the beginning:
“To squirrels, ‘Are you nuts?’ is a combination of ‘Have you lost your mind?’ and ‘You remind me of the most wonderful thing I can think of.’”
Some students had trouble getting into this story and found the tone or perspective confusing. Maisy said at one meeting that she was half-way through the story and didn't quite see what's funny about it yet. McKenna told her that it starts getting funnier and funnier as you start getting more into the book--in fact, she wondered if it would be funnier the second time you read it. Talia and Gwen definitely agreed with McKenna.
The Red Pencil
by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Little Brown, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 9-12
Students consistently mentioned The Red Pencil not only as a powerful, touching book, but also one that they could really understand what the characters were going through even though it was so different from their lives. When the Sudanese rebels attack her village, young Amira's home is destroyed and her whole life is upended. She escapes to a refugee camp, but what about her dreams of going to school?

When we were discussing plot and pacing, Corina expanded on why she thought The Red Pencil was so effective:
"I felt like I always knew what was going on even though it wasn't familiar to me. Each small moment, the author would break it down so you knew how everyone was feeling about it. You didn't know what was going to happen next -- you felt like you were in the present of the story and were right there with the characters."--Corina
I just went back and checked -- it's fascinating that Pinkney writes this in the present tense. Amira's emotional journey was important to students. She had to escape her war-torn home, and she also had to discover how to navigate following her own dream of learning to read and write despite her mother's traditional views.
Snicker of Magic
by Natalie Lloyd
Scholastic, 2014
Your local library
Amazon
ages 8-12
Just look at all those post-it notes--so many kids read Snicker of Magic. We all agreed that kids liked it, but during our Mock Newbery discussions we tried to explore why the story and writing were especially good. When Felicity Pickle moves to Midnight Gulch, Tennessee, our readers could tell right away that she was lonely--but Nia's comment to book club back in October was: "She think the word lonely is really really strong to say." Time and again, students mentioned how Felicity sees words, but they also noticed how the author really shows readers how Felicity feels. This magical element helped them see deeper into Felicity's feelings and Lloyd's themes.

This mix of magical fantasy elements in a real-life setting appealed to many readers. They loved the details like blueberry ice cream that helps you remember lost memories, and they could relate to many of the characters. A few mentioned that the pacing seemed a bit uneven ("sometimes it speeded up and then other times it was really slow or went off into something that didn't go with the plot") but others strongly disagreed and liked the way different plot elements wove together.

In our discussions we didn't have enough time to explore the themes of the stories, but I firmly believe that those underlying themes are a major reason why these different stories all appealed to readers. Whether it's TsTs' loyal friendship in Nuts to You, Amira's resiliency in The Red Pencil or the Beedle's generosity in Snicker of Magic, each of these deeper themes resonated with readers in lasting ways.

The review copies came from my home collection and our library collection. Early review copies were also kindly sent by the publishers, HarperCollins, Little Brown and Scholastic. If you make a purchase using the Amazon links on this site, a small portion goes to Great Kid Books. Thank you for your support.

©2015 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books

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