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The Minnesota State Fair is pretty much the biggest thing that happens in the state of Minnesota every year, and for the last five years a big part of it is the Alphabet Forest, an oasis of literary fun launched by the brilliant artist and author Debra Fraser. This year I had the good fortune (and fun!) to be a part of it. I told kids about my Topps League books and helped them design their own baseball cards. I even wore a blue ribbon (just like my favorite porcine literary hero). While I didn’t see any orb weavers making words, the kids sure did. Proud to be a part of the Great Minnesota Great Together and one of its newer traditions.
I was very pleased to hear from a librarian at the American International School in Monrovia — a new iteration of the school I attended back in the 1980s, and which Linus Tuttle would have attended in the book Mamba Point. I wanted my book to be read in Liberia, and now I know it has been — I even have proof!
These kids hale from the U.S., Zambia, Sweden, and Nigeria. The school formerly known as ACS and other international schools are real melting pots, and it made for an interesting childhood. I hope this book rings true for these kids, even though it is decades old and Liberia and the rest of the world has changed around it. Special thanks to Denise Burress, a librarian at the school, for the photos, to the kids for reading and posing with the book, and to their parents for letting me use these photos.
This is the coolest thing that’s happened this year in my book world, even cooler than knowing that Ron Gardenhire had one of the Topps League books on his desk, and that was pretty darn cool.
All right, meanwhile The Winter of the Robots has been out in the world. I use my Facebook page (go ahead and friend me) to link to reviews and events, and should do more of that here, because I do realize not everyone has been sucked into the Zuckerbergtronvoid. But here are a few notable ones, and I am sorry if I forgot any (the Booklist review is behind a paywall, sadly, because it’s great.)
The Star Tribune talks about me and some of my favorite local writers/favorite people. It was particularly fun to appear here with Anne Ursu, who was a key inspiration and connection in my pre-published days. Her book The Real Boy is my favorite middle grade novel of the year. I blogged about it here.
The Buffalo News includes The Winter of the Robots on this list of things for kids to read, do, and learn. Love that they combine it with Legos, where kids can begin their robot-building adventures (even programmable robots!)
And I am welcomed back to The Mixed Up Files blog by the great sciencey fiction writer (not a typo!) Jacqueline Houtman. Thanks, Jacqueline!
I started writing this book in the middle of a snowy winter. We don’t have a snow blower, and I had to hand-shovel every inch of what must have been six hundred inches of snow that winter. Much of my agony is transferred to Jim, particularly the part where he has to shovel the same snow to make room for new snow.
Unlike Jim, a pretty girl from across the alley didn’t come over to help with her dad’s snow blower.
Since then we hired a service.
Hate to drop a big spoiler on you, but this book is about robots. And by that I mean autonomous machines, not human characters with metal skins, like C3PO. I’m curious about the robotics of robots — how they’re made and how they work. So much has been done with the far-fetched side of robots, I felt like the nitty-gritty realities were a step into somewhat unexplored territory.
The book involves a lot of staged robot battles, the kind kids compete in for sport. I had a lot of fun writing those scenes and imagining the robots kids would make for those battles. There is also, as the jacket promises, the ultimate robot battle. Even the tallest part of the tale are based on real robots and what they can do.
But the robots are not the hero of this story, it is the kids who make robots. Jim (the protagonist and narrator) doesn’t know it at the beginning of the book, but he has a talent for programming. I think it comes because he has spent so much of his life trying to figure out what other people are thinking, trying to map input to output, reading their faintest signals. What will set his father off on a tirade? What does it mean when a girl offers the faintest of smiles? It’s a great relief to him when he delve directly into the brain of someone, though even his own creations sometimes surprise him.
So Jim is a muggle who turns out to be a wizard, but he can’t do this alone. His friend Oliver has years of expertise. Other characters bring a knowledge of cars and engines, necessary when they upscale the operation, and skills with the tools they need. They make a pretty good team.
I hope that kids who like robots like this book, and I hope kids who didn’t think they like robots will want to build one.
The Winter of the Robots is finally here! Here are some places you can buy it.
The Red Balloon can take orders for signed books and send them to you (order before October 20)
Indiebound (enter your zip code to find the closest independent bookstore)
Barnes and Noble (enter your zip code to see what local stores have it in stock)
And of course, Amazon. But you’re doing BOOKS a favor by pursuing one of the other options.
Strapped for cash? You can look on Worldcat to see if your local library has it… and request it if they don’t.
We had a great turnout (and a great time) at the Winter of the Robots launch party yesterday at the Red Balloon. Thanks to Holly and the staff and all the people who turned out on a cold rainy day to help me celebrate.
A few things about me and/or Robots on the blogosphere…
First, I talk about the source material on the CLN’s Just Launched blog.
Also, a review on Project Mayhem.
And today I talk to Sheila O’Connor about process on Smack Dab in the Middle.
This cover is so stunning that I honestly teared up when I first saw it. The artist is Tim Jessell, and you can see more of his work here: http://www.timjessell.com.
I now also have a page for The Winter of the Robots, which you can find under My Books above. I will post more info to that page as it becomes available (e.g., where to buy it, what reviewers said about it, etc.)
What is this book about? It’s about kids who build robots and eat a lot of cheeseburgers. Their robots fight each other, but even though the kids are rivals they have to team up and build a big robot to fight an even bigger monster robot that lurks in an abandoned junkyard. It is set in my own neighborhood.
I wrote about books & boys over at The Writer’s Block, the Loft Literary Center’s blog. Please check it out!
Since I have your attention, please see my two classes coming in winter/spring:
Beyond Farts and Firetrucks: Writing Books For and About Boys (online class, begins January 28). Here I am taking about it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d2XBWKjSYtw
Chapter Book Basics (face-to-face, April 13)
I recently guest blogged over at Geoff Herbach’s “I’m With Stupid” blog over here. Herbach is the author of Stupid Fast, Nothing Special, and the pending Stupid Fast sequel, I’m with Stupid. He’s a Minnesotan I’ve only seen in person once and that was in Chicago — go figure. Find out more about his excellent books over here.
Thanks to supergenius Jodi Chromey for helping me give my website the fresh new look it sorely needed. I really dig the new home page (that’s all Jodi’s handiwork). Updates on my books and events are now under “Latest News” (as they were on previous incarnations of the website), and everything else is where it’s always been. If you’re an email subscriber please click on over to www.kurtisscaletta.com and check it out.
Just in time for baseball season, two more Topps League books hit the shelves today! Chad is in his second season as bat boy with the Pine City Porcupines, and (as usual) doing his best to help the players with “magic cards” from his vast collection. In Book 5 he tries to find the right card to help the easily steamed manager from getting ejected, but catcher-comedian Wayne Zane’s suggestion, “Billy Smiles,” just makes things worse. A later attempt at mending the feud between the manager and umpire is even worse, making the famously cool-headed umpire blow his top. In Book 6, Chad tries to help a new player keep a hot streak alive, give an injured player a second chance, and break in an overly eager new bat boy. This has been an insanely fun series to write, and these books are no exception. Hope you enjoy them too!
The first professional review for Winter of the Robots has arrived, from the infamously toughnosed Kirkus Reviews, and they said all good things. I’ll link to the full review eventually, but the skinny is that Robots is “a deft mix of middle school drama and edgy techno thrills.”
Also, you should read what Aaron Starmer wrote about the book here, and you should read his new book The Riverman when it comes out next year.
I’ll keep this page updated with blurbs, quotes, and miscellaneous plaudits as they happen (knock on virtual wood).
The Winter of the Robots comes out on October 8, 2013.
Thread title was used without the knowledge or consent of George R. R. Martin.
Leading up to the release of The Tanglewood Terror, I posted a series of short thought pieces on the ingredients of that book called “Tangled Themes.” I can’t come up with a label as good for The Winter of the Robots, but I want to do a similar series.
I’ll begin with the bad guys. The Winter of the Robots has some, sort of, from the menacing dinosaur-styled robots (one of whom graces the cover) to morally suspect humans. I don’t want to give much away, but this might be my first book with a bona-fide antagonist. There are really none in my first three novels or any of my chapter books. I have foils, but no villains, especially not of the cackling Voldemortian stamp.
I don’t really believe in good guys and bad guys. Most of my favorite books and movies don’t have them, and in my own life my challenges have been overcoming a more frustrating kind of adversity that doesn’t have the courtesy to present itself as something with a head I can lop off. This is true in my books, too, where kids struggle with aspects of themselves and against natural phenomena and against well-meaning adults but not against wicked adversaries. They might be annoyed or frustrated with others, but those others are never evil… perhaps the worst thing anyone has done in any of my books is take a plastic bucket from a pig, for a few seconds.
I knew early on that The Winter of the Robots would be a different kind of story, with higher stakes. There is real physical danger and a real menace. There are actual criminals and criminal behavior, though at least some of it is indulged in by the protagonist and his associates.
But robots are just doing what they’re programmed to do, and the people who programmed them meant for them to do those things in a completely different context. At heart this book is about the real, complex form of “evil” as I have experienced it–people and machines doing what they’re supposed to do, convinced in their circuits that it is necessary.
The is a more palpable evil, too — lying, cheating, stealing, and other shortcuts people take to get what they want. It is always rationalized as necessary or at least permissible in the circumstances, to avoid a severe and undeserved fate. But the protagonists do it as much as the antagonists, and the only difference is a moment or two of reflection and regret.
It’s not really starkly different from the first form, and the worst things they do, they do for love.
The Winter of the Robots is the first book to be set in my neighborhood, which is called Victory. It’s the northwestern most neighborhood in Minneapolis, bordering two suburbs, and is mostly unknown to anybody who doesn’t live around here. At one point Jim’s mother jokes that Victory is the Edina of North Minneapolis, but you kind of have to be from Minneapolis to get that joke.
Our area was hard hit by the foreclosure crisis. Housing seems to be on the rebound, but crime is up. It’s a fine place to live but we have our share of urban blight. All of this is reflected in the book. Jim’s dad sells home security systems, and there’s background buzz about crime and abandoned houses throughout the book. I tried to do this honestly, without disparaging the neighborhood or exaggerating the problems.
The book is also largely set in bordering areas, particularly the Camden industrial area along the river where Jim and Rocky discover an abandon junkyard. I drive by that area every day and the book was largely inspired by the mysterious areas behind large fences that fade into the weeds. I had to fictionalize that area more, so street names have changed, etc. The burger place doesn’t exist but it’s the kind of place that would thrive there. The story involves a defense company, and it’s reasonable since two others exist within a mile or two of the fictional one. Otters live in my imaginary junkyard, and otters really do live in that part of the river bank.
In 2010 a tornado ripped through the neighborhood, particularly ravaging the area where the book (which I had started) takes place. I allude to the denuded park and other evidence that it happened. In fact, the whole story is possible because of that tornado, since a storm-hurled tree rips a hole in the fence that the kids use to get into and out of the abandoned illegal junkyard where all of this happens.
Locals will recognize another touch of Victory in the names of three major characters. Oliver Newton, James Knox and his sister Penny all get their names from a series of the north-south streets that go the length of Minneapolis. They go alphabetically from East to West, Aldrich to Zenith. The middle of the alphabet is James, Knox, Logan, Morgan, Newton, Oliver, and Penn.
The book never says so, but Jim (or James) lives on Oliver. His best friend Oliver lives on James.
I’m teaching a youth class for 9-11 year olds at the Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis this summer. The class is filling up, so if you know a kid who is interested, please sign ‘em up soon!
As a teacher I tend to draw from books other than my own, and this one is no exception.
Your Life is Hilarious: A Writing Class for “Wimpy” Kids*
Jeff Kinney, author and illustrator of the best-selling Wimpy Kid books, shows us how ordinary mishaps at home and school can be hilarious. In this weeklong class, we’ll look at scenes from the Wimpy Kid books (and others) for examples on how to find the funny in the familiar. Writers will practice creating their own comic scenes and leave with enough material for a funny story.
*Non-wimpy kids also welcome.
Sign up here.
My fellow Americans….
All right, campaign speeches aren’t my thing, but please vote for me in the Minnesota Book Awards Reader’s Choice poll over Facebook way. You can vote once a day until the end of March. And you can tell your friends. And they can tell their friends. I don’t even think they have to be Minnesotans or read books. I’m not saying “stuff the ballot box,” I’m just saying, you know, that there’s no proper screening. No ID, no registration. Just click on in and vote. Easy peasy. Even if I don’t win, maybe I can take a close enough second to demand a recount.
Today is April 1, the official release date for the batboy series. As I’ve said, the series concerns the misadventures of a ten-year-old chiropterahumanoid who disguises himself as a normal boy to avoid tabloid newspaper reporters and government agents. Of course he gives himself away sometimes, when he forgets himself and eats his own weight in mosquitoes on camping trips or sleeps hanging from a friend’s bunk bed during a sleepover.
:record scratch: OK, there was a little April foolin’ going on here. And really, that would be awesome, too.
But the new series is about a completely different kind of bat boy. Chad works for a minor league baseball team called the Pine City Porcupines and uses his massive baseball card collection to help the players on the team overcome superstitions and jinxes. The books are full of great pictures by the talented Eric Wight, author of Frankie Pickle. The books are published by Abrams and Topps and the paperbacks feature collectible cards. The whole thing is really cool and fun to be a part of.
Find out more here and here.
(The first illustration is by my buddy Christopher Lincoln.)
I did not win the Minnesota Book Award in the category for Literature for Young People, which was taken by the deserving Brian Farrey. But I did manage to snare the Readers’ Choice Award, thanks to friends and fans like you who voted. It was a fun night and a pleasure to be a part of! Here are me and Brian with our beautiful granite & glass trophies.
I’ve recently done a triple serving of posts for other people’s blogs, and here they are….
1. Writing a stand-alone book with series potential for The Writer’s Dig at Writer’sDigest.com
2. Differences between writing middle-grade books and chapter books for Operation Awesome.
3. Saving the best (I think) for last, an homage to one of my favorite writers and a confession at Nerdy Book Club.
(Actually, I’m not sure I ever linked to this one, either… so make that a fourple serving!)
The folks at Guinness World Records have certified that the kids at Chaska Middle School East own the world record for relay reading. Thanks, Chaska MSE, for choosing my book, for including me in the reading, and for all your hard work and awesomeness.
A couple of reviews of Jinxed! have come out that I want to share… here’s a bit from Booklist…
Scaletta offers much play-by-play commentary, a revealing behind-the-scenes view of the players, and plenty of opportunities for Chad to save the day using information found in his large baseball card collection. Similar to the many titles by the late Matt Christopher, this makes a good choice for those not quite ready for Dan Gutman’s Baseball Card Adventures. To be appended with stats, a glossary, and trading cards.— Kay Weisman
Here’s a nice quote from Tulsa Book Examiner…
This book is adorable. It would be a great read for fathers and sons, or even fathers and daughters, if she’s into baseball. With fun illustrations and some great life lessons for kids, this is a book series that the whole can get behind.
By the way, in just ten days I’ll be returning to Dorset, Minnesota for the festival of authors and illustrators at Sister Wolf books… here’s more information!
1. If you are a teacher of grades 5 through 8, and would like to share Mamba Point with your class, please drop me a line (use the Contact Me form above). I will get every kid in your class a copy of the book (up to 25 students) and do a free Skype visit (face-to-face visits possible in the Twin Cities). Only one class will receive this package, so please make your case! I am particularly interested in reaching out to teachers who have one or more students from Liberia, or students who have Liberian parents. I would also love to hear from teachers who are including the book in a bigger unit about Africa. And, of course, teachers in Massachusetts and South Carolina, the states with Mamba Point on this year’s reading list, are welcome to throw their hats in the ring. The offer is valid until Sept 2 or until I find a suitable classroom teacher.
2. If you are a book blogger specializing in middle-grade, chapter books, and/or boy-friendly books and would like complimentary copies of the first four Topps League books, please drop me a line (use the Contact Me form above). I would be happy to get you a set. Please include a link to your blog if you want to take me up on this offer, but no bloggers will be unreasonably denied. I do expect a review, if I send you books, but there is no expectation of a positive review: say what you think, and no hard feelings. This offer is valid until October 1. Four sets are available.
Hope to hear from you!
I have an upcoming event in support of Minnesotans United for All Families, which you can read more about and register for here. If you live in the Twin Cities, I hope you can join an amazing group of writers to help support all families in Minnesota.
I rarely take a political stance on this website, but really, I would rather this not be political at all. I would prefer my friends and their families not be marginalized, and their rights not be put up to a vote. But they are, so all I can do is hope cooler heads and warmer hearts in Minnesota will prevail. Please consider joining me in opposing the amendment to ban same-sex marriage in Minnesota.
Here again is the link to register.
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Time is running out to sign up for my online class:
Beyond Farts and Firetrucks: Writing Books For and About Boys
10/01/12–11/11/12 | Reg $255.00 | Loft Literary Center Members $229.50
In this class, we will consider what strategies we can use to engage the elusive boy reader. We will begin by discussing the strategies that get many boys to pick up a book in the first place, such as humor, action, and high-interest topics. We will then delve deeper into what makes a book memorable and important, a “home run” book that turns a kid onto reading for life. Readings and discussions will primarily cover chapter books and middle grade books, with a few research-based articles on literacy to guide us. In preparation for this class, you may want to read Hatchet by Gary Paulsen and The Midnight Fox by Betsy Byars.
If you’re interested, please sign up here. Thanks!