This past week I was wrapping up the last bits of the Girl Scout year for my two troops, so it's not a big surprise that I'd stumble on this appropriate title. Timely too, as it gave me that extra bit of connection and dedication I needed to make it through two financial reports.
First Girl Scout: The Life of Juliette Gordon Low
by Ginger Wadsworth
Clarion Books, 2012 review copy from library
If you were a Girl Scout, than you may know a little bit about the founder of the organization, Juliette Gordon Low. We hear about how spunky she was as a child and the sad tale of how a grain of rice thrown at her wedding caused her to lose her hearing. And then all of a sudden she's a woman in her fifties starting the Girl Scouts. Is it just me, or are we missing some backstory there? Well, this book provides it. At the same time it becomes clear why it is missing from the narrative that the organization prefers. For the founder of an American classic in scouting, "Daisy" spent a lot of her life in England. For an organization of acceptance, she spent her life in a truly privileged class. For an organization of high integrity, she was forced into divorce proceedings at a time when such things were absolutely scandalous. The lady herself - for all her drive, dedication, and lasting impact - could have been, personally, a little hard to take. All of which made the book fascinating for a Girl Scout leader and former scout who loved to see the blanks filled in. The book is also an insight into a personal story of growing up in southern society at the turn of the century, with lots of photos, letters, and personal stories. It was a truly interesting middle-grade biography with a great deal of care devoted to the research and to telling the story of a woman who defied the odds and expectations.
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Booktalking at schools is a time-honored way of pitching summer reading, but only if you have the books that command attention. With a great topic, title, and cover, this one is a booktalker's dream.
How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous
by Georgia Bragg, illustrated by Kevin O'Malley
Walker Books 2011, reviewed from library copy
It starts with a warning: "If you don't have the guts for gore, do not read this book." It continues with a conversational and cheeky tone, "There are funny crying parts and disgusting stupid parts and hideous cool parts, but it's pretty much one train wreck after another." There are stories about people from the past like Cleopatra, Pocahonatas, Mozart, Dickens, Darwin, and Einstein, along with little fun fact breaks about mummies, scurvy, and bloodletting. Yay! In exploring the ends of historic figures - often in graphic and gruesome detail - bits of actual history and biography are included. Perhaps without the student realizing that learning may be taking place. For instance, to get to Marie Antoinette's losing her head at the guillotine, the reader goes through pages of description of her life and place in the French revolution. The clever illustrations add to the irreverent feel, while adding interest and explanation. You know, in case you wondered what George Washington's wooden teeth might have looked like. While disgusting, horrifying, and absolutely creepy, How They Croaked is completely engrossing - with emphasis on the gross. Available in paperback this month, this is a fantastic, highly appealing book for public and school libraries. Not to be missed!
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I’ve been holding my tongue for a few months now. Makes for awkward ice cream eating, but a man is supposed to suffer for his art, right? Thankfully, I’ve finally been given the greenlight to Paul Revere it through the cyber-streets hollering: New books are coming! New books are coming!
That’s right. My latest tales have found a home at Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Here’s what Publisher’s Weekly’s Children’s Bookshelf said about the deal:
Joy Peskin of FSG Books for Young Readers has acquired world English rights to Aaron Starmer‘s Riverman trilogy, about a girl who claims she is visiting a parallel universe, where a nefarious being called the Riverman is stealing the souls of children. The first book in the trilogy, The Legend of Fiona Loomis, will be published in winter 2014, followed by The Quest of Alistair Cleary in winter 2015 and The Myth of Charlie Dwyer in winter 2016. Michael Bourret of Dystel & Goderich did the deal.
Of course, I’m ridiculously excited by these developments. And I hope (I’m pretty sure, actually) you will dig these books. I hesitate to tell you much about them right now, but I can say that the first one, titled The Legend of Fiona Loomis, is the most personal and realistic thing I have written, while also being the most fantastical. A contradiction? Maybe not as much as you would think.
Let the record show that a few incredible people are fully responsible for this happening:
- Nova Ren Suma, author of the luminous novel Imaginary Girls, was beyond kind when she vouched for me and my writing. As advocates for artists go, Nova is without peer. And good god can she write the breath out of a room.
- Michael Bourret of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management is more than an agent. Honest, impossibly well-informed, and unrelenting in his support of his clients, he’s one of the people who’s daring the book industry to live up to its potential. I’m not sure how he treats his mortal enemies, but he’s a great man to have on your side.
- And finally there’s Joy Peskin, editorial director of Farrar, Straus and Giroux Books for Young Readers. When I first spoke to her about the project, I was astounded by her contagious enthusiasm and by the way she understood my story better than I did. Her reputation for shepherding projects that are both daring and entertaining cannot be exaggerated, but it’s her uncanny insight into storytelling that will truly guide The Riverman Trilogy from scrappy beginnings to a shiny spot on the bookshelves. Do you have a better editor? I’m not sure that you do.
So there you go. A new day, some new books. I’ll be updating you about the writing and revision progress and with other news as it comes in. In the meantime, to give you an idea of the tone, plot and themes of the first book, The Legend of Fiona Loomis
, I ask to listen to Daniel Johnston’s Some Thi
How do you feel about middle-grade novels that deal with life's harsh realities? My novel, May B., focuses on a child who has been abandoned, who faces starvation and possible death. Several young readers have confessed parts of it are scary. I'm okay with that. What I'm not okay with, though, is leaving my readers in a place of despair.
Here's a quote from the amazing Katherine Paterson on just this topic:
I cannot, will not, withhold from my young readers the harsh realities of human hunger and suffering and loss, but neither will I neglect to plant that stubborn seed of hope that has enabled our race to outlast wars and famines and the destruction of death. If you think that this is the limitation that will keep me forever a writer for the young, perhaps it is. I don’t mind. I do what I can and do it joyfully.”
-Katherine Paterson, A SENSE OF WONDER: ON READING AND WRITING BOOKS FOR CHILDREN
I love Ms. Paterson's idea of a "stubborn seed of hope", something that grows beyond painful circumstances, something that can anchor both the character and reader in a better future to come.
Do you shy away from heartache in the books you read or write? Why or why not?
Twenty debut middle-grade and young adult novelists. Twenty-two signed books. All for one lucky winner.
The giveaway opens today!
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Your books have been set in medieval times, during the Gold Rush, the McCarthy era, and other time periods. As someone whose career has been built on historical fiction for children, why do you think the genre is important, both for you as a writer and for readers?
I think for readers historical fiction is important because it helps them to see beyond the boundaries of their own experience
. It helps them to stretch and to see what life is like for others. This helps illustrate both how we are the same and how we are different,
and can give readers more empathy.
As a writer the story always comes first. Then it seems to fit into one time period and a place. I also like to stretch beyond my own boundaries and to see our commonalities
. One thing historical fiction does for writers is that it helps us to look at a time when we know how things turn out, which is very unlike our own.
Karen Cushman Interview
:: Kirby Larson
When I first started writing, I lived and breathed the world of middle-grade fiction. It is my very first love.
When I first started blogging, I met fabulous blogger Anna Staniszewski and shortly thereafter we found that we had very similar reading tastes, and hence a “Book Twin” was born.
So I was very excited when Anna got her book deal for her middle-grade novel, My Very Unfairy Tale Life, which arrives in bookstores next week even though I did see it in the wild last night here in Atlanta and posted a pic on Twitter.
Here’s my summary of the book:
Jenny is not your average 12-year old. First off, she’s an Adventurer, which means she travels to magical kingdoms to take care of business. But don’t get it twisted, it’s not as glamorous or as safe as Disney World — especially when crazy unicorns want to stab her or creepy clowns want to take away her mouth. It’s also a drag when her two best friends don’t even remember her — thanks to a magic spell. Oh yeah, and her co-worker is a gnome who constantly performs duties not in his job description. And even if she could leave her work at the office, Jenny only has to come home to a ditsy Aunt who only shows love to her animals.
What’s an Adventurer to do?
Jenny decides she’s had enough. She doesn’t want to be an Adventurer anymore. But living in the real world is not what she expected it to be — it’s actually kinda boring. When she finds out that she may be the last hope to save a magic kingdom under an evil curse, she has has to make a choice: Does she stay safe in her world or return back as an Adventurer and succeed where others have failed?
This is a great middle-grade novel for girls who like their characters feisty and funny. Loved the humor in this book. My personal favorite was the gnome. This is going on my Christmas list for my god-daughter who is 9-years old. She will love it!
Congrats Book Twin on your debut! You’re making me want to write middle-grade fiction again. :)
By Eugene Yelchin, author of Breaking Stalin's Nose
Before immigrating to the US, I lived in the former Soviet Union. Once in the early 1980s, an official from the KGB called me in for an “informal” chat. A typical Soviet secret policeman, he locked the door of his office, put the key in his pocket, and invited me to discuss the political views of my coworkers. His goal was to recruit me as an informer. I had no idea what would happen to my family or to me were I to refuse, but I suspected bad things. The KGB terrified everyone, and I was afraid. But I could never become a snitch, either. For two straight hours, I played dumb, evading questions and pretending I didn’t understand him. He got bored, unlocked the door, and finally let me go. I felt insulted and humiliated, but I was not harmed. Had that happened some years earlier, when the ruthless dictator Joseph Stalin ruled Russia, I would not have gotten out of that office alive.
During his reign, from 1923 to 1953, Joseph Stalin ensured his absolute power by waging was against the Russian people. Stalin’s State security executed, imprisoned, or exiled over twenty million people. Not a single person, be it a government official, war hero, worker, teacher, or homemaker, could be certain he or she would not be arrested.
To arrest so many innocent people, crimes had to be invented. Stalin’s propaganda machine deceived ordinary people into believing that countless spies and terrorists threatened their security. Tormented by fear, Soviet citizens clung to Stalin for guidance and protection, and soon his popularity reached cult status. “The father of all Soviet children” smiled and waved at his supporters during parades and celebrations, while at night, in his Kremlin office, he was signing orders for innocent people to be shot without trial.
Paradoxically, when I was growing up in the Soviet Union, few people of my generation were aware of what had transpired under Stalin. During his lifetime, the crimes had been carried out in absolute secrecy. After his death, the secrecy continued: All evidence was classified or destroyed. Older generations, either still terrified or responsible for the crimes, kept silent.
But Stalin could not simply disappear; his legacy endured in the Russian people. They had lived in fear for so long that fear had become an integral part of their very beings. Unchecked, fear was passed on from generation to generation. It has been passed on to me, as well.
My book Breaking Stalin’s Nose is my attempt to expose and confront that fear. Like my main character, I wanted to be a Young Pioneer. My family shared a communal apartment. My father was a devoted Communist. And like my main character, I too, had to make a choice. My choice was about whether to leave the country of my birth.
I set the story in the past, but the main issue in it transcends time and place. To this day, there are places in the world where innocent people face persecution and death for making a choice about what they believe to be right.
—Los Angeles, California
This. You must read it. Go now!
by Craig Moodie, author of Into the Trap
SKIFF: (Old Ger. Skif) Any open boat that is propelled by oars, sail, or motor and used for any purpose.
Boats of all kinds play important roles in Into the Trap, almost becoming a class of character (although they have no dialogue).
You might have heard of the term “character boat” which is typically used to describe a boat with as many quirks as ribs.
The skiff Eddie takes out to Greenhead Island is one such character boat, complete with leaks and a recalcitrant Evinrude outboard. Just like Eddie’s skiffs, the skiffs I’ve known over the years have all had some number of defining peculiarities (not unlike the people I’ve known).
The clam boat I helped my old friend Chris Green and his dad Joe build was one big peculiarity. About twelve feet or so, it was essentially a box built out of sheets of plywood whose only nod to marine design was its slanted scow-style bow. It resembled the Higgins boats used for ship-to-shore transport in World War II. We painted it olive drab, too, probably because Joe picked up the paint on the cheap.
As rudimentary as it was, it floated, and we kept it moored in Round Cove in East Harwich and now and then took it fishing in Pleasant Bay out past Great Island.
Mostly we used it for quahogging. I spent many days puttering out of the cove and then opening up the throttle of the outboard to plow along to where the clam beds were in the open bay, and there to spend the day among the other quahoggers raking clams from their skiffs. The boat was no speedboat, and it was tender, meaning that if you moved, it moved with you. Taking a long trip in it wasn’t something I had the stomach for.
But it made a serviceable floating platform from which to put your long-handled aluminum bullrake over the rail, work the teeth of the rake into the unseen sand and mud below, and scrape up the blue-gray nuggets of littlenecks, cherrystones, and chowder clams in the rake’s basket, and then to empty the basket on the culling board.
You just had to remember to bail out the water that constantly leaked in before you put the rake back over again, or your boots would be ankle-deep in seawater before you knew it.
(Both photos are courtesy of NOAA. That’s not the skiff I used, but it’s certainly a character boat with a couple of characters quahogging.)
I'm participating in the Story Siren's Debut Author Challenge. The guidelines are below:
To read and review a minimum of twelve young adult or middle grade debut novels between the dates of January 1, 2012 - January 31, 2013.*
*The 2013 extension is so that December Debuts can be read and count toward the challenge.
RULES AND GUIDELINES
You must have a blog to post your reviews or be a member of Goodreads.
Your blog must be written in English.
Deadline to join is May 31, 2012.
Must be a young adult or middle grade title.
Must be the author’s YA or MG debut, released in 2012.
If an author has a previous novel published for adults or children, they can still qualify for the challenge.
If an author has a previous YA or MG title, they do not qualify for the challenge.
As many of you know, I've run monthly One Sentence Debut Reviews, covering three books each month (technically, I've only done 10/12 months, but you get the idea). Next year, for sanity purposes, I will lump my debut reads into three posts for spring, summer, and fall releases. I will continue to give away bookmarks/swag for books debuting in 2012.
Anyone else participating this year?
Got kids on your Christmas gift list who like, love or need books?
Allow me to hook you up with the 4:00 Book Hook, a fantabulous e-newsletter dedicated to children and YA literature. The latest edition features their annual holiday book gift guide and I’ve gotten the okay to post that section online :).
The holiday gift guide features author reviews and recommendations of some of their favorite children and young adult books on the market. With the wonderful variety of books for kids and teens, you’re sure to find something for your selective young reader.
For your convenience, I’ve uploaded the entire Holiday Gift Guide section of the 4:00 Book Hook–just click on the page links below:
4:00 Book Hook Page 2
4:00 Book Hook Page 3
4:00 Book Hook Page 4
BTW, my recommendations for three of my favorite recently-published picture books are on page 4.
Oh, and please don’t forget to buy your books from your local brick ‘n mortar bookstores or at independent bookstores online–not that nameless shameless one using books as loss leaders :(. This holiday season especially, let’s show support and love for true book-loving booksellers… just sayin’. :-)!
Happy gift giving and reading!
P.S. 4:00 Book Hook is a free e-newsletter for people who share books with kids: parents, home-schoolers, teachers, grandparents and librarians. Contact the 4:00 Book Hook at this email address for your free subscription: email@example.com
(The above image came from this article).
In an effort to give readers a taste of MAY B., I'm sharing books with similar genres and themes. Today's topic: frontier stories. All descriptions are taken from Amazon.com.
The Long Winter - Laura Ingalls Wilder
The adventures of Laura Ingalls and her family continue as Pa, Ma, Laura, Mary, Carrie, and little Grace bravely face the hard winter of 1880-81 in their little house in the Dakota Territory. Blizzards cover the little town with snow, cutting off all supplies from the outside. Soon there is almost no food left, so young Almanzo Wilder and a friend make a dangerous trip across the prairie to find some wheat. Finally a joyous Christmas is celebrated in a very unusual way in this most exciting of all the Little House books.
Pioneer Girl: A True Story of Growing up on the Prairie - Andrea Warren
Pioneer Girl is the true story of Grace McCance Snyder. In 1885, when Grace was three, she and her family became homesteaders on the windswept prairie of central Nebraska. They settled into a small sod house and hauled their water in barrels. Together they endured violent storms, drought, blizzards, and prairie fires.
Despite the hardships and dangers, Grace loved her life on the prairie. Weaving Grace’s story into the history of America’s heartland, award-winning author Andrea Warren writes not just of one spirited girl but of all the children who homesteaded with their families in the late 1800s, sharing the heartbreaks and joys of pioneer life.
Prairie Song - Pam Conrad
3 Comments on Frontier Stories, last added: 1/25/2012
Always be a little kinder than necessary.
James M. Barrie
I have spent the day devouring this book. There is so much I could say, but I will keep it to this:
So often we hear we need more books where children can see characters like themselves. I wholeheartedly agree, though things shouldn’t end there. Kids need books where they meet children completely unlike themselves. They need to be able -- through the window of literature -- to examine the worlds of those who are different so they may in doing so embrace the common threads running through all lives.
Bravo to R. J. Palacio. WONDER is next year’s Schneider Family Award winner.
In response to a recent Times article author Tommy Greenwald read, he drummed up a little fodder for our blog:
Patricia O’Brien had five novels to her name when her agent, Esther Newberg, set out to shop her sixth one, “The Dressmaker”… A cascade of painful rejections began… Just when Ms. O’Brien began to fear that “The Dressmaker” would be relegated to a bottom desk drawer like so many rejected novels, Ms. Newberg came up with a different proposal: Try to sell it under a pen name.
Written by Kate Alcott, the pseudonym Ms. O’Brien dreamed up, it sold in three days.
-THE NEW YORK TIMES, FEBRUARY 23, 2012
I sympathize with Ms. O’Brien completely. The publishing world is a jungle, and I’ve never been particularly fond of jungles, what with the mosquitoes and humidity. So when it came time to publish my modestly successful children’s book, CHARLIE JOE JACKSON’S GUIDE TO NOT READING, I too decided to use a nom de plume (which is French for “unlisted number”).
I went with Tommy Greenwald because I thought it had a nice ring to it, plus it’s a name that makes you think of a kind, humble, extremely handsome person.
But if I’m not Tommy Greenwald, who am I really?
I’m not quite prepared to tell you.
I will, however, give you a hint: My actual identity is one of the following five people. Please examine the following choices carefully, then decide for yourself who you think I am. You may well be right. And if you’re not right, please be at least assured in the knowledge that you’re wrong.
Here are the possibilities:
MITT ROMNEY – I had to change my name because no one would believe I would spend time on something that would yield so little income.
JEREMY LIN – I had to change my name because people would expect a better vocabulary from someone who went to Harvard.
THE GUY WHO STARS IN “THE ARTIST” – I had to change my name because people think I can’t form actual words.
BARBARA KELLERMAN – I had to change my name -- even though you don’t know who I am -- because I’m Tommy’s mother, and I’m so desperate for him to be successful, I wrote the book in his name.
J.K. ROWLING – I didn’t have to change my name – I don’t have to do anything for anyone, as you well know – but I’m tired of people telling me how bloody brilliant I am all the time, and if I had to go on one more publicity tour (you know I love you, Oprah, but enough is enough), I may well have clobbered someone.
So those are your choices. What do you think? Who am I? And perhaps more importantly… did I really write this Op-ed piece?
Come to think of it, this would make a great mystery! Someone should write a book about it.