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First Book’s book experts picked their favorite spooky stories that will frighten and delight young readers. Don’t be afraid to pick up any of our recommended titles!
Pre-K –K (Ages 3-6):
Ghosts in the House!written and illustrated by Kazuno Kohara
At the edge of town lives a clever girl with a spooky problem: Her house is haunted! Luckily, she happens to be a witch and knows a little something about taking care of ghosts.
We love this book because: it’s got just the right amount of sweet and scary for the youngest trick-or-treaters. Fresh and charming illustrations in dynamic orange, black and white bring this resourceful heroine and these spooky ghosts to life.
For 1st and 2nd Grade (Ages 6-8):
Los Gatos Black on Halloweenwritten by Marisa Montes and illustrated by Yuyi Morales
Follow los monstruos and los esqueletos to a Halloween party in a fun and frightful bilingual poem. Accompanied by illustrations that are as gorgeous as they are creepy, this is a great Halloween-themed read-aloud book that kids will want to read and re-read all year long.
We love this book because: this book introduces young readers to a spooky array of Spanish words that will open their ojos to the chilling delights of the season.
For 3rd & 4th grade (Ages 8-10):
Attack of the Shark-Headed Zombie by Bill Doyle
After Keats and Henry lose their bikes, they need money – fast. So the help-wanted ad at the supermarket seems ideal for them. All they have to do is weed Hallway House’s garden, find some light bulbs in the attic, sweep the garage…and battle a shark-headed zombie.
We love this book because: With an imaginative youngster as its main character, this book weaves the tale of an exciting and fun adventure that will keep kids turning pages and entertain even reluctant readers.
For 5th & 6th grade (Ages 10-12):
Ghost Fever / Mal de fantasma (Bilingual, English/Spanish) by Joe Hayes
Elena Padilla’s father didn’t believe in ghosts, and that’s a shame, because his disbelief ends up making Elena a very sick girl. The story starts in an old rundown house in a dusty little town in Arizona. Nobody will rent that house because … well, a ghost haunts it. The landlord can’t even rent it out for free! That is, not until foolish old Frank Padilla comes along thinking he can save some money.
Lucky for Elena that her grandmother knows all about the mysterious ways of ghosts. With her grandmother’s help and advice, Elena solves the mystery of the ghost girl, recuperates from her ghost fever and, in the process, learns a valuable lesson about life.
We love this book because: It’s really scary! The incredible details of this story – with English and Spanish on opposite pages – will stay with readers after the story ends. Children who enjoy a good fright will really love this book.
Grades 7 & up (Ages 13+):
Lockwood & Co. #1: The Screaming Staircaseby Jonathan Stroud
A sinister Problem has occurred in London: all nature of ghosts, haunts, spirits, and specters are appearing throughout the city, and they aren’t exactly friendly. Only young people have the psychic abilities required to see—and eradicate—these supernatural foes.
We love this book because: Complex and endearing characters navigate an alternate reality wherein the dead don’t die – what’s not to love? The book’s fantastic world is sure to hook readers – even we can’t wait to pick up the next title in the series!
Just read Kevin Sylvester's MiNRS 2 in one sitting, on the train to Buffalo. Or almost one sitting: I had to stop reading for a few minutes at U.S. Customs to answer the standard border crossing questions (I did keep reading in line until the very last minute). We were all told to turn off all digital gadgets during the 1.5 hours at the border, including digital readers, but HA!!!! I had a PRINT book.
Don't want to say too much about MiNRS 2 for fear of spoilers in case some of you haven't read the first book in this excellent middle grade sf space adventure series (and if you haven't, WHY NOT??). Great sequel with lots of action, suspense and mystery solving. I also enjoyed the believable interactions between characters, especially how the infighting evolves into teamwork.
With the end of the school year fast approaching in many places, it is also a time when students offer their thanks to the many amazing teachers who made a lasting impact, and are thankful to leave the awful ones behind. From Kindergartners to University Graduates, all have memories of great and not so great teachers, and in honour of these teachers we thought it would be fun to reflect on some of the most memorable fictional teachers.
1. Professor Minerva McGonagall from the Harry Potter Books. As fans of the books (or movies) will remember, she is the head of Gryffindor, and the Transfiguration professor. She is stern but fair, and has watched over Harry for most of his life. A formidable ally and a powerful enemy, it was definitely good for Harry and for Hogwarts that she was one of the good guys!
2. Miss Honey from Matilda. She is that rare kind of teacher that can make her students love her and turns even the slowest learners into brilliant students. She is nurturing and mother like, and eventually ends up adopting and rescuing Matilda from her horrible parents. If only there was a way to clone Miss Honey and have her teach every child who struggles in school!
3. Miss Stacy from Anne of Green Gables. Miss Stacy is the first female teacher in Avonlea, and even prior to school starting, she captures the imagination of Anne. She expands her students’ horizons, inspires them to learn, and was the primary reason that Anne decided to become a teacher. What better endorsement is there than that for a teacher?
4. Mrs. Frizzle from Magic School Bus. She is the eccentric 3rd grade teacher at Walkerville Elementary School, and she uses magical techniques to teach her students science concepts. She must have eyes in the back of her head as she always seems to know what her students are up to, and she always seems to know the answer to every question they ask. As a kid who hated science in school, I suspect having her for a teacher would have quickly changed my mind!
5. Mistress Miranda Pimm from Curse of the Blue Tattoo. The stern headmistress of the Lawson Peabody School for Young Girls, she initially dislikes Jacky, but eventually grows to like her. Despite her dislike, she deals fairly with Jackie, and is open minded enough to change her opinion of her. Of course being rescued from a fire by that same person will do that to you.
6. Mrs. Baker from Wednesday Wars. Holling is convinced that Mrs. Baker hates him because as a Presbyterian, he’s the only pupil left in class on Wed. afternoons as the Catholic and Jewish students leave the school and she has to stay with him. She starts reading Shakespeare with him, and eventually he comes to realize that she is a caring teacher with her own set of problems. Thanks to her, he is able to start looking outside of himself and learn about tragedy and what is going on in the world. Being able to get a student to do that is the sign of a gifted teacher, and Mrs. Baker is a good reminder that not all assumptions we make about people are correct or fair.
7. Mr. Terupt in Because of Mr. Terupt. Mr. Terupt is the new 5th grade teacher in Snow Hill School in Connecticut. While the initial reactions to him are varied, eventually they warm up to him. He has a way of engaging the students and making them want to do better, and his influence over them is felt even when he’s unable to directly interact with them. Mr. Terupt is the kind of teacher you want to have for every grade, and he’s definitely an inspiring example of a great teacher.
8. Mrs. Gorf, Mrs. Jewls, Miss Zarves from the Wayside School books. These contrasting teachers stand out in Louis Sachar’s zany books about a crazy, mixed-up school and the kids who are in the class on the 30th story. Mrs Gorf is a terrible teacher who turns misbehaving students into apples by sticking out her tongue and wiggling her ears. You don’t want to act out in her class! Eventually, she gets turned into an apple when one of her students holds up a mirror and turns the effect on herself. Mrs. Gorf is eaten by the yard teacher when he takes an apple from her desk. Mrs Jewls is the replacement teacher for Mrs. Gorf, and is the complete opposite. She is extremely nice, and initially believes the students are monkeys because they are too cute to be children. She has some unusual teaching methods (such as throwing a computer out the window to demonstrate gravity), but she was determined to teach the students three things every day, and unusual or not, they learned. I think we’ve all had a few teachers who are on the eccentric side. Honourable mention goes to Miss Zarves who never actually appears in the book but seems to be the stuff of legend in the school but nobody actually knows her. In chapter 19 of the original book, readers discover that the reason nobody has actually met her is that she doesn’t exist!
9. Mr. Freeman in Speak. After Melinda’s terrifying rape by a Senior at a party, she stops speaking and is unable to tell anyone what happened. Mr. Freeman gives her solace and a voice through art to come to terms with what happened and find a way to get past it. Mr. Freeman is perceptive and encouraging without pushing too hard. He’s the only one who is able to get through to Melinda, and without him, she likely wouldn’t have had the courage to speak up.
10. Mr. Keating in Dead Poets Society Technically, Mr. Keating is not a teacher from literature, but because he taught English and was so connected to literature and poetry, he deserves mention. The “Oh Captain My Captain” scene is unforgettable and inspiring, (if you don’t know what I’m talking about go watch the movie) and any teacher who can make a bunch of teenage boys appreciate Shakespeare and Whitman must be doing something right!
I’m sure there are hundreds more great literary teachers not mentioned here, and we’d love to hear who some of your memorable book teachers are!
- 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?
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)
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.
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!