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- Wonderful world-building, as mentioned above. I'm a big sf nerd and come across lots of books with great world-building but whose characters are flat and seem to be mainly props to move the plot and support the world-building. With THE DIABOLIC, I fell in love with the main character right away ... despite the fact that she is a bioengineered killing machine (another fact I adore).
- The diverse and entirely believable character relationships. Especially enjoyed the complex bond between the main character and her friend Sidonia.
- There were strong female characters throughout.
- Plot twists and political intrigue. I've never considered myself a fan of political thrillers, but got totally sucked into the political maneuverings in this story because of the great characters.
Just finished FIFTEEN LANES by S.J. Laidlaw (a.k.a. Susan Laidlaw), which comes out from Tundra Books/Penguin Random House on April 5th, 2016.
An intense and compelling read, FIFTEEN LANES follows the lives of two teenage girls from very different backgrounds. I found parts of the book difficult to get through because I felt so sad for the characters involved (one of the girls is the daughter of a sex worker in Mumbai, growing up in a brothel) but am so glad I kept reading. FIFTEEN addresses tough issues with honesty and hope.
It's no wonder the details and background are well-researched; the author herself works at an NGO facility in India, volunteering with sex workers' daughters in Kamathipura, the largest red-light district in Asia.
Synopsis of FIFTEEN LANES from Tundra Books:"Noor has lived all of her fourteen years in the fifteen lanes of Mumbai’s red light district. Born into a brothel, she is destined for the same fate as her mother: a desperate life trapped in the city’s sex trade. She must act soon to have any chance of escaping this grim future. Across the sprawling city, fifteen-year-old Grace enjoys a life of privilege. Her father, the CEO of one of India’s largest international banks, has brought his family to Mumbai where they live in unparalleled luxury. But Grace’s seemingly perfect life is shattered when she becomes a victim of a cruel online attack. When their paths intersect, Noor and Grace will be changed forever. Can two girls living in vastly different worlds find a common path?
"Award-winning author S.J. Laidlaw masterfully weaves together their stories in a way that resonates across class and culture. Fifteen Lanes boldly explores the ties that bind us to places and people, and shows us that the strongest of bonds can be forged when hope is all but lost."
Traditional nursery rhymes get a fun, modern treatment in this wonderfully kid-friendly collection. Illustrated with clever photos of diverse kids in a city setting, it’s a fantastic addition to any preschool library!
For 1st and 2nd Grade (Ages 6-8):
Sail AwayPoems by Langston Hughes illustrated by Ashley Bryan
Legendary illustrator Ashley Bryan pairs the lush language of Langston Hughes with vibrant cut paper collages in this wonderful assortment of poems that celebrate the sea. It’s a read-aloud dream!
Generations of readers have laughed themselves silly over the poems in this wildly imaginative collection from a beloved poet. Several members of our staff can recite poems from this book from memory – just ask. Giggles guaranteed!
An incredible gift for any kid, family, or teacher! Stunning National Geographic photos fill the pages of this huge anthology that introduces kids to poems both old and new. It’s a book they’ll never outgrow and will pull of the shelf again and again.
Grades 7 & up (Ages 13+)
The Red Pencil Written by Andrea Davis Pinkney, with illustrations by Shane W. Evans
Both heartbreaking and hopeful, this beautiful novel in verse tells the story of a Sudanese refugee whose spirit is wounded by war but reawakened by creativity and inspiration. Readers will be moved by this story of optimism in the face of great obstacles.
I was excited to receive a copy of TELL ME A TATTOO STORY, a new picture book written by Alison McGhee and illustrated by my friend Eliza Wheeler (Chronicle Books, April/2016). What a deeply moving, tender story, and soooo much for young and not-so-young picture book readers to appreciate. I teared up over many of the (beautifully illustrated) spreads as the father told his young son the story behind each of his tattoos. *snif*
"A bestselling author-illustrator duo join forces to create a modern father-son love story. The father tells his little son the story behind each of his tattoos, and together they go on a beautiful journey through family history. There's a tattoo from a favorite book his mother used to read him, one from something his father used to tell him, and one from the longest trip he ever took. And there is a little heart with numbers inside—which might be the best tattoo of them all. Tender pictures by New York Times bestselling illustrator Eliza Wheeler complement this lovely ode to all that's indelible—ink and love."
Love the utterly *gorgeous* art in THE NIGHT GARDENER, a debut picture book by Eric Fan and Terry Fan (Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers). Every time I read through it, I notice something new. Beautiful details (just noticed the lovely illustrations on the cover beneath the paper jacket!), stunning illustrations, magical atmosphere throughout. Highly recommended.
Whenever I hear of an upcoming movie adaptation of a book (especially a book I love), I have a mixed reaction. Part of me is excited beyond belief to see a favourite story brought to life on the big screen. I imagine who could play the lead roles, how the book might look on screen, and start lining up the appropriate bookish friends to go see it with. The other part of me is wringing my hands with dread over the many ways the studio can ruin the book. Combine characters, remove key characters, needlessly change the time period or the setting, change major plot points from the book, etc… I’ve seen enough adaptations that I’m sure I’ve experienced them all.
I’ve often debated whether or not in the case of a movie adaptation if it’s better to see the movie first. That way you can’t be disappointed by changes because you don’t know any differently, and if the movie is well-done, it works as its own entity and you don’t enter into it comparing it with the book. A perfect example is the recent adaptation of The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. My partner and I found it on Netflix the other night and without knowing much about it (other than it’s status as a popular novel), we decided to watch it. We knew none of the actors in the movie, it was mostly in Swedish with English subtitles, and it was a really charming and funny movie that we enjoyed tremendously. I don’t know how faithful it was to the book, and at this moment, it doesn’t really matter. At some point down the road I will probably get the book, and then I will have to try very hard to evaluate the book separately from the movie, and not let the movie experience be ruined by whatever differences there might be from the book.
When the movie is done well, such as the Harry Potter movies, everybody wins. Fans of the book are satisfied, those who haven’t read the books enjoy the movies (and hopefully are driven to read the books), and while obviously there are some differences, they aren’t major enough to detract from the enjoyment of either the book or the movie. At this year’s Oscars, a gratifyingly high number of the nominated films were based on books. Six of the eight Best Picture nominations are based on books. Some from well-known books such as The Martian, and Room, and others from quieter novels such as Brooklyn. As my partner and I movie binged during the holidays, I was pleasantly surprised at how many of the really good movies that we saw were based on books.
2015 was also a big year for YA page-to-screen adaptations, and though they don’t generally get the same critical recognition as the big adult adaptations, there were a few that I really enjoyed.
1. The Duff by Kody Keplinger.
Before you all start jumping on me about listing this movie here, I will qualify it with the fact that despite the questionable casting of Bianca, the movie was fun to watch, and had some really good moments. It certainly isn’t of the same caliber of Harry Potter or even Hunger Games, but if you happen to find it on Netflix or your local movie channel, it’s worth watching.
2. Paper Towns by John Green.
Considered by some to be one of his weaker novels, this adaptation was still worth watching. It’s reasonably close to the book, and storywise, it adds something unique to the typical road-trip novel. If you expect it to measure up to
Fault in Our Stars you’ll likely be disappointed, but on its own, it’s a good teen movie.
3. Me Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews.
This was by far my favourite YA adaptation this year, and it even elicited a tear or two from my partner. The screenplay was written by the author, and it’s a totally under-the-radar, awesome book and film that has drawn some comparisons to Fault in Our Stars. It was smart, well-acted, funny, and heartbreaking without being sappy or sentimental. I immediately read the book after seeing the movie, and I was glad for having both seen and read it.
4. Esio Trot by Roald Dahl.
Starring Judi Dench and Dustin Hoffman, this book was adapted for television by BBC1 in the UK, and was charming and wonderful, and a perfect family movie that does justice to the book. As far as I know it hasn’t aired on North American television, but if you can find it to stream online or on Blu-Ray/DVD definitely watch it!
The number of book related movies coming down the pipe continues to grow. The Fifth Wave, The Little Prince, Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, A Monster Calls, The BFG, and of course Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them are all scheduled for a 2016 release, and like many of you, I will definitely be watching them with anticipation and trepidation, hoping for a great movie experience that does justice to my beloved books.
What books to movies did you most enjoy this year, and what are you looking forward to in 2016?
I’m thrilled to introduce author Shannon Parker as our special guest today. February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month, and Shannon is here totalk about her upcoming YA debut, The Girl Who Fell, about a high school senior who is swept off her feet—and into an intense and volatile relationship—by the new boy in school.
Shannon M Parker shares the inspiration for The Girl Who Fell.
It is such a small word. Three tiny letters. A conjunction. Nothing you particularly focus on when reading or chatting.
Until it balances something ugly, justifies something hard.
When a girl tells you she knows it’s wrong the way her boyfriend treats her, but she loves him—that is when you notice this word. I did.
In my work with struggling teens, I have heard this justifying ‘but’ pass the lips of the fourteen-year-old-girl who is staying with the boy who beat the twins from inside her belly because the boy has promised her forever. Her eyes light when she tells me about the engagement ring that will come. How they’ll be married. How his father will give them the trailer at the back of the property. She tells me this and I wonder if she notices how her hands can’t help but rub back-and-forth over the band of her stomach, flat now.
Her boy didn’t mean it.
He loves her.
He will never hurt her again.
I know the college-bound student. Smart and driven. I see her long-sleeved shirts in summer, the way she hasn’t met my eyes since she met her boy. She whispers this ‘but’—she whispers now—when she tells me she’s not leaving her rural town for college. She remembers being the girl who wanted to get out, get away. But she stays behind for the boy who is attracted to her light—the bright beacon of possibilities I see fading into shadows.
Her boy loves her so much.
He can’t let her go.
So he keeps her too close.
I’ve listened to the ‘but’ on the phone when the girl who was one credit away from completing her alternative high school credential calls again to say she won’t make it in.
Her boy can’t give her a ride.
He didn’t finish school so she doesn’t need to either.
He doesn’t need her having options.
These girls were never stupid or weak. They were in love and they could not see past that love. They could not see the worth that bubbled in them like a geyser waiting to jettison into the world. My debut is not their story. It is a work of fiction, though my inspiration for the book grew out of my time with these girls and so many others. Listening to their stories made one rise in me. And I hope my debut helps end a culture of blaming the girl—writing her off as damaged—just because she falls for the boy who wants to control her.
The Girl Who Fell is about a strong, powerful, beautiful girl who falls in love. Falls deeply. Physically. Mentally. Falls so hard that the line between Before Love and After Love starts to blur. Her priorities change. Her focus shifts. And why wouldn’t it? Who doesn’t want to feel love and feel loved?
The Girl Who Fell has swooning (and much of it).
There is love.
There is kindness and tenderness and trust.
Until there isn’t.
I want to thank Shannon for being our guest and sharing her inspiration for The Girl Who Fell! By way of introduction to our readers, here’s Shannon’s bio:
SHANNON PARKER lives on the Atlantic coast in a house full of boys. She’s traveled to over three dozen countries and has a few dozen more to go. She works in education and can usually be found rescuing dogs, chickens, old houses and wooden boats. Shannon has a weakness for chocolate chip cookies and ridiculous laughter—ideally, at the same time. The Girl Who Fell is her first novel.
If you’re like me, this post raises questions in your mind. Fortunately, Shannon is here for a Q&A:
Julie: I loved The Girl Who Fell! Knowing what moved you to tell Zephyr’s story made it even more compelling, but it also made me curious! First, when did you realize you wanted to write? Did you always plan to write novels, or did your work with at-risk youth create that desire in you?
Shannon: Thank you so much for having me here, Julie! I’m thrilled that you loved The Girl Who Fell! I’ve been writing most of my life, for work and pleasure. I started writing novels about six years ago, mostly quiet middle grade novels that were honestly pretty boring. I really found my literary voice when I set out to write Zephyr’s story.
Julie: It must have been exciting when Zephyr’s story started to come together. Did you know right away that this story was “the one?” Could you tell as you wrote that this book was different from your earlier attempts? When did you first realize this was the book that would be your debut?
Shannon: Setting Zephyr’s story to paper was exhilarating and petrifying all at once. I wasn’t sure the story would sell. In fact, even after I sold the book I was totally prepared for Simon & Schuster to call and say, “Um…, yeah. We meant to send that contract to SHARON M. Parker.” Ha! Kidding, but not. My debut is edgier than anything I’d written previously, which made the entire writing experience different. But if felt authentic and that’s what kept me going. All along I was acutely aware that IF the manuscript ever sold, it would need to find a home with an editor that was willing to take risks. I’m forever grateful The Girl Who Fell found that editor in Nicole Ellul.
Julie: Thanks for that honest answer! I can’t help but also wonder what thoughts you had about reactions. I know Zephyr wasn’t inspired by any one girl, but did you ever imagine some of the girls you’ve worked with reading the book, and did you worry how they might react? Did thoughts about reactions from anyone else—family and friends, for instance–ever threaten your process?
Shannon: Oh, sure! I’m pretty much crippled with worry about my book. I was worried when my mom read it–no joke! It’s edgy. The main character experiences her sexual awakening and I’ve always feared the backlash for acknowledging a teenage girl’s sexuality on the page. I wanted Zephyr to own her sexuality and her experimentation and I knew that would cross a line for many people. This never hindered my writing process, though because the sexuality—the total intoxication of first love—had to read authentically. The reader has to believe that a strong, driven young woman could fall prey to a manipulator. So, it’s intense.
The greatest shock has come from feedback from early adult readers. Almost every woman who has read my book has told me about their story, their daughter’s story, their best friend’s story. All hauntingly similar to Zephyr’s story. So many women have lived a similar story. Survived it. The sheer numbers of woman who can relate has been a real eye-opener.
I want to thank Shannon for being our guest! Here’s more about The Girl Who Fell, which releases from Simon & Schuster/Simon Pulse on March 1, 2016.
Zephyr is focused. Focused on leading her team to the field hockey state championship and leaving her small town for her dream school, Boston College.
But love has a way of changing things.
Enter the new boy in school: the hockey team’s starting goaltender, Alec. He’s cute, charming, and most important, Alec doesn’t judge Zephyr. He understands her fears and insecurities—he even shares them. Soon, their relationship becomes something bigger than Zephyr, something she can’t control, something she doesn’t want to control.
Zephyr swears it must be love. Because love is powerful, and overwhelming, and…terrifying?
But love shouldn’t make you abandon your dreams, or push your friends away. And love shouldn’t make you feel guilty—or worse, ashamed.
So when Zephyr finally begins to see Alec for who he really is, she knows it’s time to take back control of her life.
If she waits any longer, it may be too late.
Doesn’t that sound amazing? I was lucky enough to read an ARC of The Girl Who Fell, and I can tell you that it is a powerful read.
And now I want to invite our readers into the conversation. What are your thoughts on books that deal with difficult issues? Do you have any questions or comments for Shannon? Please share your thoughts in the comments!
Our favorite books this month celebrate the differences that make us great, inspire us to believe and dream, reinforce the power of friendship (real or imaginary!), and take us on an epic journey with two supervillains.
Which of our five favorites will you read this month?
For families of all stripes comes a sweet celebration of what makes us unique—and what holds us together. Fran Manushkin’s rollicking text and Lauren Tobia’s delicious illustrations paint a breezy and irresistible picture of the human family—and how wonderful it is to be just who you are.
Long ago on an island filled with music, no one questioned that rule—until the drum dream girl. Inspired by the childhood of Millo Castro Zaldarriaga, a Chinese-African-Cuban girl who broke Cuba’s traditional taboo against female drummers, Drum Dream Girl tells an inspiring true story for dreamers everywhere.
Nemeses! Dragons! Science! Symbolism! All these and more await in this brilliantly subversive, sharply irreverent epic. As sidekick and supervillain, Nimona and Lord Blackheart are about to wreak some serious havoc. Their mission: prove to the kingdom that Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and his buddies at the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics aren’t the heroes everyone thinks they are.
Disclosure: This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. Thanks for your support.
When people find out that I have a love affair going with children's books, they often ask me: "So what's your favorite book at the moment?" or "What do you read to your children at bedtime?" or "What books do you recommend?" These are questions that parents and grandparents and nannies and teachers are always curious about - everybody seems to be looking for a new great book to read!
Today I'm sharing 10 great books to read aloud. I read these books often with my children, and these are books that we all love and can read again and again. Some of these books may be familiar to you, some may be unknown - but if you haven't read them aloud with your child yet, you should!
1. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst and illustrated by Ray Cruz
As a child I loved hearing this story, and as an adult I love to read it to my children even more. Everyone can relate to having a "terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day". It's a great book to read aloud because Alexander's voice and attitude are expressed so clearly in the way Viorst writes that you can make the character "come alive" as you read it. And while I have seen this book criticized, I really couldn't love it any less, no matter what some say about Alexander being bratty and spoiled. It's a perfect book to open up a conversation with your child about having a day that's just not going his way.
2. Veggies with Wedgies by Todd H. Doodler
You might know author Todd H. Doodler from another underwear-themed tale, Bear in Underwear. This story about a bunch of veggies who happen upon a bunch of underpants hanging out to dry is....well, pretty funny. There are lots of veggie characters in this book and when I read it with my children, I give each one its own distinctive voice. I promise this book will make you and your kids chuckle, or at the very least smile. Veggies with Wedgies would be a great book to buy for a potty-training toddler or preschooler - it will not only get them excited about underwear, but will put some silliness into what can sometimes be a less than fun transition.
3. Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
In my humble opinion Shel Silverstein is a genius. I've read this collection of poems over and over and over again and never tire of it. My children can recite some of the poems by heart because many are short, and I'd imagine can keep the attention of even the busiest of toddlers. All of the poems in this collection are what I would call "whimsical". Some are touching. Some are just outright hysterical and goofy. Basically what I'm saying is that this book of poems has something for everyone. And, did you know that rhymes like these aid in your child's pre-reading skills by drawing his attention to the different sounds in spoken words? Yep, you should really pick up this book if have never read it, and your child's preschool teacher will thank you. Oh, and Silverstein's drawings are just as genius as his words.
4. Blue 2 by David A Carter
Blue 2 is really an art book to me. There aren't many words, but the words that Carter uses in this intelligently crafted pop-up book will give your child a lesson in vocabulary. I put this book on my "read aloud" love list because it's something fun to read and do with your child. If you ask my daughter what her favorite present was this past Christmas, she'll definitely respond, "Blue 2". Trust me, you will read this book over and over again - not always because you want to, but because you just HAVE to find all of those hidden Blue 2's!
5. Brief Thief by Michael Escoffier and illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo
I do have to warn you that this book does contain potty humor, but the giggles I get from reading it make me happy. Brief Thief does have a very important lesson to be learned too: don't touch other people's things. My children just love to read this book over and over for a plain and simple reason: it's fun. And in my mind, if you can take a valuable lesson and make it fun to learn, it's a win win for all.
6. Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty and illustrated by David Roberts
This book gets one thing right with its title - this world needs more female engineers! I'm loving this book not only because it's inspiring to little minds, but it gives you a great feeling when you are done reading it. You can't help but feel like you did at least one thing "right" in the day by reading it with your child.
7. Eric!...The Hero? by Chris Wormell
Ah, Eric! The boy that nobody believes in, and who seems to be good at nothing. I think we all can relate to feeling a little lost and misunderstood at times which is why I love this book. Wormell's story is about courage, finding yourself, and believing in your own abilities, even when no one else does. This book is especially great for kids who love monster books, and parents (like me) who love to teach important life lessons through books.
8. The Gruffalo by Julia Donaldson
My kids adore this book, and I do too because it's clever. The first time I read it I remember thinking - well, isn't that an adorable ending to a perfectly enjoyable book. The Gruffalo is fun to read aloud because you can really put a lot of expression into the character's voices, and even give the story an eerie feel in the way that you read it. In my opinion, this is one of those great children's books that you can cuddle under a blanket and read together....and anticipate exactly what's going to happen next. This book is truly a greatly told story.
9. The Girl Who Wouldn't Brush Her Hair by Kate Bernheimer and Jake Parker
A story of a little girl who wouldn't brush her hair...and you know what happens to her? She has a little village of mice who take up residence in her over-tangled locks! There are many days that I think this book was written specifically about my daughter (she even has the same long brown hair). We love this story because it takes something that we struggle with on a daily basis and exaggerates it. I'm sure many families with little girls can relate. And of course, if you think a book was written for you and about you...you're going to want to read it aloud again and again like we do.
10. Tap to Play by Salina Yoon
A truly interactive book where you play a game as you read along! My 5-year old and 2-year old equally love reading this with me and the second we are through, ask to read it again. While Tap to Play reads like a traditional book, it feels like an iPad app with all of the fun, and none of the screen-time guilt (which I sometimes feel, anyway). I have no doubt this book will become one of your household favorites to read (and play) over and over, like it is ours.
So there you have it....my book love list (just in time for Valentine's Day). Of course, if you ask me in a week, I might have some new favs to add to the list, but as of right now these books get my votes and I'm sticking to it.
What are your favorite books to read aloud lately?
I recently had a chance to read the f&gs (which stands for "folded and gathered", an unbound galley) for WHEREVER YOU GO, a new picture book coming out from Little, Brown in April, written by Pat Zietlow Miller and illustrated by my friend Eliza Wheeler.
LOVE THIS. When I read picture books for the first time (and second and third...) I usually read them out loud, and this one was so fun to read aloud with its rhythmical prose.
Young readers will appreciate the fun journey and look-more-closely-what-do-you-see gorgeous artwork. Adults will also appreciate the multi-layered interpretation of the prose. The following (especially when combined with the beautiful artwork on that spread) is just an example:
Every life landmark, the big and the small.
The moments you tripped,
the times you stood tall."
*snif* (this wasn't the only page spread that made me teary-eyed)
And another big thank you goes to Colby Sharp and Jon Samuelson for including The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch (along with Bob Shea’s Ballet Cat and Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl) in the latest episode of the Booklandia podcast.
I love the surprise in Jon’s voice when he realizes that the story of Lynch’s 10-year rise from slavery to the U.S. House of Representatives during Reconstruction is nonfiction rather than historical fiction. I also appreciate the thorough notes on this episode — very helpful, guys.
The other day, I was fortunate enough to attend a Book Summit, which was a day of discussion and education for people from all facets of the book industry in Canada. In one of the sessions, the speaker was discussing the pros and cons of Amazon and virtual book shopping, and he raised some interesting points. While online bookstores offer readers greater choice than they ever had before, they are also limiting our ability to discover books, and thus also limiting our choice.
While at first this notion may sound ludicrous, it actually makes perfect sense. The algorithms that suggest books to you on sites such as Amazon or Goodreads are designed to collect information on what authors/titles you are reading, looking at or purchasing, and then to search the database for identifiers that suggest authors/titles that are somehow considered similar. For example: On Amazon, when I entered Hunger Games, it told me that other customers had bought Divergent, Maze Runner, The Outsiders, and Twilight to name a few. It also gives me the option to search within similar categories such as Teen sci-fi, fantasy, adventure and thriller. Sounds good right? Amazon obviously believes that in looking at The Hunger Games, I must have an interest in one of those categories, because these are subject codes that have been assigned to this book, but they aren’t made on any personal knowledge of my personal or reading interests, and of the first several they recommended, I’ve already read them or didn’t want to read them, so I struck out on all counts.
Goodreads is slightly better, showing me books that other users who have read or are interested in reading the book I’m reading have also read. I won’t pretend that I haven’t scrolled through the list to see if anything catches my eye, or even that I have occasionally discovered something cool. I like to know what others are reading- especially if they seem to like something I’ve enjoyed- but it’s also very limiting. The recommendations are typically books of the same or similar genre. If they identify that I’m reading a YA fantasy, other books that are YA fantasies come up on the feed. Goodreads is a community, and there are opportunities to join groups and engage others in discussion, but that’s different. What I’m specifically talking about is the computer controlled portion of these sites.
I couldn’t even give you an exact figure of how many books are in print, but chances are, most of them are available online from Amazon. They have something around 15 million titles to purchase which is vast and a bit overwhelming, so they try to narrow your focus to something they think you’ll like. Nothing wrong with that, but it comes back to the question how do we know what we don’t know? We don’t- just as we don’t know about all the books that are out there that we might like to read but won’t unless we discover them somehow, and a computer can only go so far to help us do that.
Human interaction is still the best way to weed our way through all of the millions of books out there and find exactly the right book for ourselves or for whoever we are purchasing for. A knowledgeable bookseller/librarian knows exactly the right questions to ask you, and can find that hidden gem for you. And if you visit frequently, over time, they might even have books already in mind that they want to share with you! We hear tons about blockbuster authors & bestsellers. My Twitter feed is inundated with information about the new Harper Lee, Stephen King or James Patterson, or the surprise hit that everybody is reading for book club, but my reading tastes do not fit into a narrow little box. Just because I enjoy horror doesn’t mean that I only want to read horror. And just because I liked Gone Girl doesn’t mean I’m only interested in authors who write thrillers.
If we are indeed in a “golden age” of publishing and storytelling as experts proclaim, then the next time you’re wondering what to read next, don’t ask Amazon. Instead, try visiting your local bookstore/library and asking for a recommendation. You might just be amazed at what you end up with!
This #TenThingsToSayToAWriter contribution by author Jen Malone (Maps to the Stars) — I just put a review of your book on Amazon, Barnes and Noble *and* Goodreads and requested from my library. #TenThingsToSayToAWriter — Jen Malone (@jenmalonewrites) July 30, 2015 — was a welcome reminder for me. And a needed one, too. Each time recently […]
#BookADay: NINJA BUNNY by Jennifer Gray Olson (Alfred A. Knopf Books For Young Readers). Such a fun picture book with adorable and eye-catching illustrations. Also love the underlying positive message about collaboration and friendship. A great read for little ninjas everywhere!
Just in time for our back-to-school TeachingAuthors posts, which JoAnn kicked off Friday with a Book Giveaway of her WRITE A POEM STEP BY STEP, I share my THUMBS UP review of Kate Messner’s REAL REVISION (Stenhouse, 2011) – a must-read for anyoneany time of the year (really!) who wants to get his or her writing right.
Personally, I’m a Big Fan of the prefix “re” – as in, back to, return to, again and again. According to my trusty online dictionary, verbs affixed with re connote restoration and repetition, a backwards motion, a withdrawal.
Think Second Chances.
REAL REVISION makes all of the above possible, breaking down the revision process into doable, fun-even tasks, by sharing the revision strategies of a bounty of award-winning children’s book writers – Mentor Authors who truly show readers that all writing is revising.
Kirby Larson, Nora Raleigh Baskin, Jane Yolen, Kathi Appelt, Mitali Perkins, Donna Gephart, Tom Angleberger, Tanya Lee Stone, G. Neri, Rebecca Stead, just to name a few – share honest-to-goodness manuscripts and revision experiences of specific titles they’ve published in order to illustrate a key element of narrative – say, voice or characterization, setting or plot, and the writing process – maybe research, seeing the Big Picture, word choice, copyediting or brainstorming.
I’m talking REAL examples that lead to raised eyebrows and bulging eyes and all sorts of head-shaking responses.
Each Mentor Author’s offering is the stuff of a mini, personalized writer-to-writer one-on-one.
Each Mentor Author also offers a Try Out for the reader that accompanies the teaching point of each chapter– an easily-reproducible hands-on, doable, concrete exercise that underscores what’s – really – important.
The quotes that begin each chapter are delicious, too.
For instance, Lisa Schroeder’s:
“Revision is like cleaning your room because it may not be fun while you’re doing it but when you’re finished, you can stand back and see what you’ve done, and think, ‘Wow! That looks great!’”
Or Kirby Larson’s:
“Revision is like a newborn because it’s a 24/7 commitment and worth every sleepless night.”
Or Donna Gephart’s:
“Revision is like a lottery ticket because it’s a golden opportunity to make your work even better!”
Throughout REAL REVISION, Kate herself wears both her author and teacher hat, sharing her writing life, her process and the revision stories of her books. Kate happens to be a National Board-certified teacher – and – the award-winning author of such books as the E.B. White Read Aloud Award winner THE BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z., SUGAR AND ICE and the Marty McGuire chapter book series.
I don my two TeachingAuthor hats to sincerely thank Kate for bringing REAL REVISION’s Mentor Authors and their realistically-presented, insightful and informative revision strategies to the page in such a fun and readable instructive way.
Whether it’s back-to-school for you, and/or back-to-writing, don’t leave home without this anytime/anyonetool.
Oh, and don’t forget to enter our Book Giveaway for JoAnn Early Macken’s WRITE A POEM STEP BY STEP.
Our favorite books this month will get kids exploring the outdoors, show them the importance of kindness and illustrate the bond between parents and children, no matter the distance. You’ll also find a beautiful coming-of-age story for older readers and a tale about life during wartime.
Jenn’s pick this month: “This colorful book featuring a diverse group of friends is perfect for young children! Use it to get kids up and moving, learning about opposites, and exploring the great outdoors.”
Alison’s pick this month: “I can’t stop talking about this book! It’s one of the most honest and accessible books I’ve read about the long-term impacts of neglect and abuse, and an empowering look at life with a disability. On top of all that? It’s an engrossing novel about life in war-time, finding family, and allowing yourself to feel and show love – to yourself, and to others.”
Matthew’s pick this month: “This is one of the most honest and beautiful coming-of-age stories about personal identity, relationships, and love (both platonic and romantic) that I have ever read. Aristotle and Dante’s poetic journey will stay with you.”
Just finished THE KIDNEY HYPOTHETICAL: OR HOW TO RUIN YOUR LIFE IN SEVEN DAYS by Lisa Yee (Arthur Levine Books, Mar/2015). I've been a fan of Lisa's since MILLICENT MIN, and I thoroughly enjoyed her new YA. What I love about all of Lisa's books, including this one: the wry sense of humor, flawed and appealing characters, how the relationships develop throughout the story. And who could NOT love a character named Higgs Boson Bing? :-)
"Lisa Yee gives us her most fascinating flawed genius since Millicent Min.
Higgs Boson Bing has seven days left before his perfect high school career is completed. Then it's on to Harvard to fulfill the fantasy portrait of success that he and his parents have cultivated for the past four years. Four years of academic achievement. Four years of debate championships. Two years of dating the most popular girl in school. It was, literally, everything his parents could have wanted. Everything they wanted for Higgs's older brother Jeffrey, in fact.
But something's not right. And when Higgs's girlfriend presents him with a seemingly innocent hypothetical question about whether or not he'd give her a kidney . . . the exposed fault lines reach straight down to the foundations of his life. . . ."
One of the most rewarding experiences being connected to the writing world is seeing people you think are amazing and talented blow up and become wild successes. This year was an incredibly fruitful time for some of the writers I'm fondest of as both writers and human beings, and I'm delighted to point you to them!
Check these out...
I first met Sarah McCarry way back in 2010, when she was secretly writing her legendary blog The Rejectionist. I finagled a way to meet her in New York and we've been great friends ever since. In addition to publishing the awesome Guillotine chapbooks, she's now the author of the wildly acclaimed trilogy All Our Pretty Songs, Dirty Wings, and now About a Girl. All three books are incredible coming of age stories featuring intertwined characters in different times, with mythology weaving through. Sarah is one of the finest writers I know and even apart from the compelling narratives, the prose alone is worth the purchase.
Back in 2007, I was a literary agent on the hunt for new authors and Lisa Brackmann sent me one of the best query letters I've ever received. A few years and many revisions later, that book became Rock Paper Tiger and received a rave in the New York Times.
Following Hour of the Rat in 2013, Lisa has now completed a trilogy with Dragon Day. One of the most amazing qualities of Lisa's books is the way she's able to weave in seemingly disparate cultural threads, her deep on-the-ground knowledge of China, and a knack for realistic suspense into wildly compelling narratives.
I met Carmiel Banasky through Sarah McCarry a few years ago, and at the time she was putting the finishing touches on an intriguing literary novel. That novel, The Suicide of Claire Bishop found a publisher, rave reviews fromeveryone, and is now out for you to read.
The Suicide of Claire Bishop has the type of mind-bending plot you don't often find in literary fiction. In the 1950s, a woman's husband commissions a painting for her. The artist disturbingly depicts her suicide, and her life starts to unravel. In the 2000s, a man with schizophrenia comes across the painting and improbably thinks his ex-girlfriend is the artist, which is impossible unless she can time travel. Weaving all this together is some of the best prose I've come across in a long time.
Daniel José Older is one of the last authors I started working with before I left agenting. We went through many rounds of revisions on an incredible young adult novel set in a Brooklyn alive with Afro-Caribbean mythology, where graffiti paintings come alive and dark spirits are threatening.
But in the meantime, you can content yourself with the third book in the series, Library of Souls. These innovative novels combine found photographs that are interwoven into a charming and spine-tingling alternate world.
Can't believe I know these talented people! You can't go wrong with their books.
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I read middle grade novel THE NEST (written by Kenneth Oppel and illustrated by Jon Klassen) in one sitting last night. Totally lives up to the hype. I'm a horror fan and this was genuinely scary, with tension and dread gradually building to a nightmare-inducing climax. Yowza.
If you or your 8-12 year old are looking for a good Halloween read, I strongly recommend THE NEST.
- Combine this book with the ingredients for one of the many excellent recipes in this book for a middle grader who likes to cook/bake.
- Great hostess gift for your favorite librarian or kidlit book lover: a copy of this book along with a a yummy baked Twinkie Pie (or No-Peek Chicken, Maybe Even Better Soup, Madder'n Heck Smashed Potatoes, Special-Occasion Fancy Sandwiches, Pull-Aparts, Easier-Than-Pie Pudding, Impossible Pie, Tangled-Up Pie, Heartbreak On Toast, Pick Me Up, Cherries In The Snow or one of the other recipes)
- Other combo gift items you could include: baking or cooking utensils or tools, a cookbook, Twinkies :-))
Those end-of-the-year “best of” book lists can be rough. When you try to come up with only ten or fifteen titles, chances are some very worthy books aren’t going to be included, especially some of those published earlier in the year. It also seems like the same titles are always being mentioned; no doubt those books are great, but let’s share the love a little, yeah? Here then, from PubCrawlers and friends, are our picks for the best middle grade and young adult books of 2015 that you probably won’t find on any other lists. These are terrific choices for last-minute gifts for the readers in your life! In no particular order:
INFANDOUS by Elana K. Arnold. This is a gorgeous, lyrical coming-of-age contemporary (and I don’t often read contemporary!) YA novel set in LA. —recommended by S. Jae-Jones (Wintersong, Thomas Dunne, 2016)
THE STORYSPINNER by Becky Wallace. This book is an easy to slip into YA fantasy, laced with magic and romance, and with a creative MC who I rooted for throughout the entire book. —recommended by Stephanie Garber (Caraval, Flatiron/Macmillan, 2016)
THE LIFE AND DEATH OF ZEBULON FINCH by Daniel Kraus. It was marketed as YA but probably holds more appeal to adults. It follows the extraordinarily long life of Zebulon Finch, who’s murdered as a teenager, but comes back to life and can’t die. I don’t know if you can call a book like this a Bildungsroman, but it has the feel of one. The writing is spectacular, and Kraus somehow manages to make this really horrible character sympathetic and likable. —recommended by Rachel Seigel
CONSPIRACY OF BLOOD AND SMOKE by Anne Blankman. The sequel to PRISONER OF NIGHT AND FOG, it’s amazing historical fiction set in Germany during the rise of the Nazis, and it’s a dang good story. —recommended by Julie Eshbaugh (Ivory and Bone, HarperCollins, 2016)
THIS MONSTROUS THING by MacKenzie Lee is a steampunk retelling of Frankenstein from the perspective of a teenaged mechanic who repairs human “clockwork” parts. A fascinating look at what it means to be human. —recommended by Stacey Lee (Under a Painted Sky and Outrun the Moon, G.P. Putnam’s Sons for Young Readers, 2016)
ZEROBOXER by Fonda Lee is a science fiction thriller set in a world where zero-gravity boxing can elevate one’s standing in society. Absorbing and fast-paced! —recommended by Stacey Lee
CITY OF THIRST by Carrie Ryan and JP Davis. The sequel to MAP TO EVERYWHERE, this fun adventure series is on par with Harry Potter–it has the most imaginative world I’ve ever been immersed in, and the characters are brilliantly written, funny, brave, and just wonderful. It’s not just a huge hit with me–it’s also my nephew’s favorite book! Definitely dive into this story! —recommended by Beth Revis (Across the Universe, The Body Electric, Paper Hearts)
THE LIES ABOUT TRUTH by Courtney C. Stevens, which is the wrenching and poignant story of a car crash survivor whose mental and physical scars have isolated her from everyone she knows and loves. Court has this gift of being able to look the worst parts of life unflinchingly in the face and somehow still see hope, along with the capacity for healing and change. Lies is one of those books that makes me sniffle and then smile within the space of a few pages. —recommended by Bethany Hagen (Landry Park, Jubilee Manor)
FIRES OF INVENTION by J. Scott Savage. It is about a couple of kids who defy the “no inventing” rule in their underground city and build a steam-powered dragon huge enough to ride. I don’t think I’ve ever read a steampunk with this much heart. It was well written, chock full of action, had great characters and fascinating conflicts and plenty of mysteries to keep you dying to find out what happens next. And did I mention a STEAM-POWERED DRAGON?! —recommended by Peggy Eddleman (Sky Jumpers)
FIG by Sarah Elizabeth Schantz. Beautifully written, moving story and complex characters. —recommended by Elisa Ludwig (Pretty Crooked, Pretty Sly, Pretty Wanted, Coin Heist)
UPDRAFT by Fran Wilde. It’s rare to encounter such an original and fascinating setting as this city with its living bone towers, winged citizens, and frightening sky monsters. Wilde has built a world with a detailed, believable history and society, and layered the story with intrigue, action, and compelling characters—rich with themes of tradition, progress, ambition, and class struggles that will resonate with readers. —recommended by E.C. Myers (Fair Coin, Quantum Coin, The Silence of Six)